Shopping is one of the best parts of traveling. You can find authentic souvenirs that will look great in your home or as gifts for a fraction of the price it would cost in the States. Haggling and bargaining is common overseas, especially with street-side vendors and at markets. These tips from experienced overseas shoppers will help you get the best price for your travel souvenir!
Be Friendly. Haggling should be kept light and fun, so make sure to smile and be polite. Sit and have a drink with the seller, and bargain while chatting.
Pretend You Have Done This Before. Sellers often decide how much to quote you from your initial conversation. They may ask you how long you’ve been visiting for and if you’ve spent much time there. If they sense that you have some experience, they will quote you less. Tell them you’ve visited several times before, even if you haven’t!
Do Your Research. Find out the standard prices of the items you want to purchase, either online or at stores in the area. Knowing the normal price will keep you from getting ripped off and you will know exactly how much of a bargain you’re getting.
Ask Specific Questions. How do they know it’s authentic? Politely ask questions about the quality and background of the item. The seller will lower the price if the quality and origins of the item are questionable.
Don’t Buy The First Thing You See. Chances are, especially at large markets like Marrakesh or Parisian flea markets, several vendors will sell the same thing. Take your time and look around to find the best quality and price.
Find A Reason For A Discount. Purchasing multiple items may warrant a discount. Look at the item carefully, and if you see any imperfections, don’t hesitate to ask for a lower price – without offending the seller, of course!
Know When To Walk Away. The best way to find out the lowest possible price is to act disinterested and walk away. If they can go lower, they will speak up when they see you leaving.
Look For The Destination Specialty. Certain destinations specialize in something, like silver or paper goods. Find out what it is and avoid buying the overpriced kitschy stuff. Specialty items are usually the things you won’t find in the States at all, or that you will find there for a much better price.
If you’re in Morocco:
- Leather: Make sure you smell the leather first. Some of the cheaper products achieve suppleness from pigeon feces and urine treatments and the smell is incredibly hard to remove. If possible, rub the leather with a damp cloth. Cheaply dyed leather will run easily. If it doesn’t smell good and the dye runs, keep looking! It’s worth the extra effort.
- Moroccan Hair Oil: This popular oil is made from the argan tree. Don’t buy it from street vendors as they often dilute it with vegetable oil. Head to the pharmacy instead and make sure to take a whiff. It should smell like roasted nuts!
- Ceramics: Only the plain terracotta tagines can be used in an oven. Make sure the lid fits tightly on the base because only well-sealed tagines circulate the air properly. Painted ceramics may contain led, so be sure to ask the seller about that and only use them as serving dishes, don’t put them in the oven!
- Rugs: You may want to save the rug purchasing for last, when you’ve gotten some haggling practice. Settle in and have a drink while the seller shows you some rugs. A good rule of thumb is to start at a quarter of the price they initially offer you and work up from there. If you’re planning to send your rug home, make sure they include the taxes and shipping in the price.
If you’re in Asia:
- Jade: Real jade is cold to the touch, and when held under light will reveal smokey threads of minerals. If there are bubbles it is most likely made of glass.
If you’re in the Middle East:
- Amber: Rub the amber against fabric hard enough so it warms up and then smell it. It should have a nice aroma, like resin.
- Camel bone/hoof: Light a flame near the object. It should smell of burning hair if it’s genuine.