5 Tips on How to Bargain on the Road

Written by Marco Morawec

Topics: Travel Advice

Growing up in a western country does teach you that almost everything has a fixed price. Bananas, hotel rooms and taxi rides cost a certain amount of money. Sure there are differences between places and companies, but generally most of us don’t start bargaining at the hotel front desk or when buying a few bananas.

Jump in a plane headed for South America and things change radically. Prices are no longer fixed and everything can be bargained for. Most of us (including myself) are hopelessly lost and have a hard time adjusting their long-learned cultural norms to the new situation.

To put you on the fast track for your next travel adventure I compiled a list of what I think are the four basic bargaining skills necessary to save some of your hard earned pesos.

Never accept the first price offered

The first price you hear is almost all the time way to high and basically just the starting point for the bargaining conversation that follows. I usually take about a third of the starting price and offer it back. See how your new friend reacts to that and take it from there.

Shop around and tell vendors the price differences

Nothing works better to receive a quick and steep discount than telling one vendor the cheaper price from one of the shops around the corner. It doesn’t always feel right to do so, but again you are here to learn the bargaining game so simply try it out and see what kind of reaction you’ll receive.

Ask for prices in the local language

Nothing worse than asking for any price in English. Not only does it put you in a bad bargaining position, it also shows zero respect towards the local culture and language. Or would you give somebody a good price who doesn’t even bother to learn a few words? I wouldn’t! That said, pick up a dictionary and learn a few phrases. It will get you a much better price and many more smiles from the locals.

Ask a random person on the street how much they’d pay

This little exercise will give you a great reference point and might be the best way to understand the differences between local and foreigner prices. Never expect to receive the same price as the locals do – you don’t live of two or three dollars a day so don’t even start complaining – but maybe you pay only double instead of 5 times as much.

On top of saving money this will get you out of your comfort zone (approaching a random stranger on the street far away from home), keep your learning curve super steep, and practice your language skills. You will win on all fronts!

A special note on choosing restaurants

If you don’t see any locals eating in your restaurant of choice you are probably paying too much and can find the same deal cheaper around the corner. My rule is that at least half the tables need to be occupied by locals. If the place is packed with locals, try to get a table yourself and order what everyone else is eating. You’ll be surprised how high the quality of the food is and how low your cuenta (bill) will be. Plus you get to practice your Spanish and maybe make some new friends.

To sum things up, remember to do the following:

  • Never accept the first price offered
  • Shop around and tell vendors the price differences
  • Ask for prices in the local language
  • Ask a random person on the street how much they’d pay

What are your favorite tips to save money on the road and bargain with the locals?

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8 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Andrew O. says:

    Awesome, Marco!

    This is great advice, all of it. Your website looks fantastic. Live the dream, hermano!


  2. Doris says:

    I would add: Never look too entusiastic about the thing you bargain for… I mean, it´s not that you want it so bad you would pay SUCH a price for it… ;-) But I see you learned a lot since the last time we saw you.. ;-) Cuidanse mucho!!

  3. john says:

    Nice to be visiting your site again, it has been months for me. Well this piece that i have been waited for so long. I need this post to complete my assignment in college, and it has same topic with your content. Thank you, huge share.

  4. Maile Yawata says:

    Marco, here i am reading your great travel tips which i will definitely apply the next time i’m on the road. hope to see mariko this weekend
    and you…who knows when?

    • Marco Morawec says:

      Aloha Maile, I’ll be in Hawaii in September and definitely stop by your place. How could I not – it’s a Hawaii highlight :)

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