Travel Tips Bargaining in Egypt

Published on February 27th, 2016


10 Tips for Bargaining Like a Pro

10 Tips for Bargaining Like a ProGiven my life-long passion for exploring the off-the-beaten-path corners of the globe (40+ countries now and counting), I’ve surely had my fair share of experience bartering for most every trinket and tuk-tuk ride on the Planet.

From 20,000 dong ($1) “xe om” motorbike rides in Vietnam to luscious handmade wool rugs in Morocco. Delicately carved ostrich eggs in South Africa and luminous batiks in Swaziland, to exquisitely woven “huipil” blouses in Guatemala. Nubly knitted sweaters in Nepal, tattered antique textiles in Mongolia, and tiny carved bone earrings in Borneo. And here in Ecuador? Daily bartering for the freshest vegetables and fruits at my local, open-air mercado, as well as the daintiest of silver filigree earrings in Chordeleg.

In short, in most every corner of the globe, I’ve happily bartered for every day staples, as well as exotic treasures to remind me of my travels.

While many travelers and expats are reluctant to negotiate in markets and souvenir shops in foreign lands, my own experience confirms over and over again:  not only is bartering the norm in most every corner of the developing world, but it helps to keep the local economy stable and strong.  For it’s not just travelers who barter for trinkets. Trust that all the locals too, barter daily for most everything.  Indeed, for we expats – NOT bartering for local foods and services in our adopted country can seriously upset the local economy – artificially pushing prices up for the folks who earn but a fraction of even the most frugal gringo’s fixed income.

And besides – with a few guidelines, the lovely art of bartering can be a most fun and welcome “dance” for both vendor and foreigner.

Win-Win Bargaining

Bartering is but a simple skill that anyone can learn. Just follow these few tips, and with a little practice, you’ll soon be enjoying “win-win” bargaining. Nothing particularly mysterious or difficult about it mind you, but there are a few guidelines to ensure that BOTH vendor and foreigner have a good time:

1.  First and foremost – let me first state emphatically what bartering is NOT. Bartering is NOT a means of getting the absolutely LOWEST price on some trinket that’s caught your fancy. It’s not at all about slowly and painfully wearing down a vendor to an insulting pittance (indeed, a humble worker who – when it comes to that stunning hand-woven textile you’re haggling over, likely spent hours upon hours, perhaps even WEEKS, laboriously weaving it by the light of a kerosene lamp) just so you can have bragging rights to how incredibly CHEAP you got that fabulous trinket for.

Rather, bartering is a pleasant means of getting a fair and reasonable price that benefits both merchant and buyer – while coincidentally having a lot of fun.

Now then, before you begin to “dance” you’ll of course want to know a few of the basic “one, two, cha-cha-cha” steps to happy and successful bargaining.

Warming up for the “Dance”

2.  Learning a few words of the local language, while not absolutely essential, will go a long way towards making the bargaining “dance” a graceful waltz rather than a clumsy polka. For starters, at least learn the words for “please”, “thank you” and of course “how much?” For numbers you can simply use your fingers, else – if the digits get too high, just jot them with a pen on the palms of your hands!

3.  Do your homework. Most folks get ripped off simply because they don’t know the going price for whatever item or service they’re after. So do spend an hour or so just wandering amid the various shops and listening to other travelers’ negotiations (or lack thereof) to establish the range of prices for whatever it is you lust after.

4.  Look disinterested when browsing the vendor’s goods. Ask the prices of many items, not just the one you’re after. That way, you can get an idea of the vendor’s (starting) pricing. At this stage, just ask the price, and then simply say “thank you” and move on to another item or another shop.

Now then, you’re fully ready to bargain – read on for additional tips:

Time to Tango

5.  Always begin bartering with a bottom line in your head as to how much you’re willing to pay, then start by offering the vendor about a third less than that. Don’t worry, you’ll never get the item for your first offer, but you’ve now tipped off the vendor that A. you’re not the usual naive tourist, and B. you’re ready to dance the “bartering ballet”, and the vendor will likely be delighted to have a little fun with you. Which brings us to THE most important rule of bartering:

6.  NEVER barter unless you’re serious about purchasing the item. It’s the unspoken rule of bargaining that you’ll inch up if the vendor inches down. Though you may not get him/her to come down quite a far as you’d like, it’s exceedingly rude to walk away after the vendor has come down near to the amount you had in mind initially.

Now then – you’re committed to bargain in good faith, then here’s a few extra tips to bargain like a real Pro:

7.  Feign DIS-interest. Of course you WANT whatever trinket you’re currently coveting. Indeed, likely LOVE it, else you’d not have initiated the bargaining dance to begin with (see tip # 6 above). Nonetheless, try not to show that eagerness to the vendor. Better to feign some reservation – an air of nonchalance that you could (reluctantly, but nonetheless easily) go on with your life without tucking that particular trinket into your backpack.

Mutter things like “But I don’t really know where I’d put it/wear it.” Or… even if you absolutely ADORE the color, size, detail, etc. of said lusted for item, if the vendor is not coming down near the bottom-line price you’ve got in your head – you might ask questions like… do you have it in any other colors?” (i.e. this isn’t my perfect color, I might need you to come down a bit for me to buy my 2nd choice color), etc.

8.  Drag in an accomplice (a.k.a. a long-suffering but agreeable travel chum) who can play “bad cop” to your “good cop”. As you dither over the vendor’s (allegedly) “last offer” (i.e. just another shuffle-step in the dance – more often than not, earnestly vowed at several – ever lower – price points), school your chum in advance to impatiently step in and say things like “I’m in a hurry, let’s go!” Or “Remember? We saw the same [fill-in-the-blank] for less at the shop near our hotel.” Or “Come on, you don’t need that! Where are you going to put it? You don’t have any more room in your backpack.”

9.  As a last resort, if – after a few offers and counter offers – you can’t get the vendor to budge closer to that bottom-line price in your head – try smiling sweetly, shaking your head sadly, and… begin to slowly walk away. Rarely will you get out the door without one last counter offer from the vendor – his (true) final price.

10.  Don’t forget – the age-old “VOLUME DISCOUNT” tap-dance routine. If you plan to buy more than one of the same item (e.g. gifts for friends back home), DO bargain for an extra “volume” discount. Indeed, even if you plan to buy two or three items from the get-go, begin the bartering with a single item. Later, if the vendor isn’t coming down as low as you’d like, casually suggest you might like two or three of that item, so it’s fair to ask how much for 2? three? four? Likewise, when the vendor seems to have reached his lowest price on a single item – that’s the time to suggest a bit lower price should you buy several different items in his shop.

Pardon Me but – Would you like to Dance?

Above all – MAKE IT FUN. The bartering dance is much like flirting. Offers and counter-offers, ever inching up and down to a price that’s agreeable to both partners in the “dance”. Infusing the dance with friendly jokes, lots of smiles (and a few feigned frowns) is all a part of the game. Think of it as a little Shakespearean play – turn on your charm and show the vendor that you have a sense of humor. Remember, the vendor is fully aware of the “dance”, so twirl and cha-cha to make it fun for both of you.

I hope these simple guidelines will encourage you to try a little “dancing” of your own. Give it a go. Even if it’s only baby-steps at first – a single counter offer. You’ll get better with practice, and soon it will be fun! Not only will bartering save you a few pennies, but I can guarantee that it will add a whole new level of authentic local experiences to your travels.

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About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

16 Responses to 10 Tips for Bargaining Like a Pro

  1. I definitely needed these tips. I lack some of these skills! Great job!
    Agness of eTramping kindly contributed to world literature by posting…The Sensational Sydney Cruise: Exploring the Sydney Harbour by BoatMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Glad my tips helped, Agness! It’s not rocket science (i.e. not so much “skills”) – I think it’s more “attitude”. Looking at it as a great opportunity to interact with local people and have a little fun.

  2. James says:

    I’m almost too good at bargaining… to the point where the deal is paramount. But I liked your point that it should be advantageous to both buyer and seller. One time I chose one stall that sold everything that I wanted and used all my tricks to drive the final price way down. I think the seller relented because he really needed the money. It was a country experiencing a bit of a downturn, there were hardly any buyers and lots of stalls selling the same thing. I felt bad about it afterwards, so now I kind of ease off… If the seller starts off with a price that’s fair, showing that he’s not trying to rip me off, that’s worth a lot of my good graces!

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes indeed James – it’s all about respect. The vendor after all, is just like you and me – trying to make a living, educate his children, etc. And most recognize when you’re bargaining in good faith (i.e. not offering an insulting amount from the get-go, inching up when the vendor inches down, etc.) “The Dance”. Absolutely not about wearing down the vendor to the lowest possible penny (dong) and taking advantage of him b/c he might be desperate for even that.

      And I’m not sure I agree with “…if the seller starts off w/ a price that is fair…” as a criteria for intent to “rip you off”. He/she is a businessman after all, and it’s only sensible to initially inflate the price (why do you think “The Gap” and their ilk can afford to have 50% off sales?) 😉 It’s then up to you to counter-offer with a more appropriate amount – else… just walk away if you don’t want to bargain.

  3. LaVonna says:

    While I agree with your suggestions, You might want to edit your piece. Bartering is actually the exchange of goods or services without coin.

    • Dyanne says:

      I agree LaVonna, “barter” is generally reserved for an exchange of goods or services (leastwise in my native land) – which is why I used “bargaining” and “bartering” interchangeably throughout the post (and tossed in a stray “negotiating” for good measure). Indeed, “haggling” or “dickering” could work as well.

      Point is – I rarely let rigid linguistic definitions (which I think you might agree can often vary by country and even region) inhibit my creative literary license to concoct an entertaining story. And in this case, happily – it seems that you, along with my other readers pretty much understand what the post is about.

  4. marty mclaren says:

    Thank you for this, Dyanne! Masterful, very useful. Makes me want to start traveling’!


    • Dyanne says:

      Well hey there dear old Seattle friend! Good to hear from you. And yes, yes – should you ever need a nudge to get you traveling – lol, I’m definitely your girl! 😉

      Hoping all is well with you, Marty!

  5. Marlene says:

    Great post, Dyanne. I just returned from a trip where so many of my fellow travelers were afraid to bargain, hated it, or didn’t realize how it is part of the local culture. I wish they’d read this before! I’m experienced so was able to help a bit. I’ve shared this on my FB timeline as well as my blog page.

    • Dyanne says:

      Glad you enjoyed it Marlene (and thanks for sharing the post!)

      I understand that some are hesitant to bargain as it’s not a part of our Western culture. But as you know – it truly can be fun for both vendor and shopper and best of all (as I mentioned to another chum below), it’s often one of the few opportunities to genuinely interact with the locals.

      I can’t begin to say how many wonderfully authentic little mini interactions I’ve had in markets all over the globe – just from bit of bargaining!

  6. Ted says:

    I never though of it as a dance. Good idea Dyanne. Recently found that spending time in an area, making friends with the sellers (usually repeat items like food/drink) and returning again and again, you can see the prices go down to local level.
    Ted kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Lord of the Rings, a Travelers GuideMy Profile

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes, absolutely Ted. Here in Cuenca, I have my favorite mercado ladies (one for my fruits and veggie, another for my meats, another for seafood etc.) and have built quite a little relationship with each of them (I gave them each a small “regalo” – gift – for Christmas). I treasure these small relationships and because of them, I know for certain that I’m getting the best prices.

      btw, l.o.v.e. your “Lord of the Rings” post/analogy to traveling. I only read one of the books long ago, but am thinking now, a few clicks on Amazon to add them to my Kindle is in order! 😉

  7. Debbie swansburg says:

    Hi Dyanne,
    Tried to sign up for the travel tips but somehow the form won’t take my info. Not sure what’s going on.

    • Dyanne says:

      Yes – thanks for the heads-up Debbie – I see that for some strange reason, the 30 Tips form has suddenly glitched. I’m working on it now, and hopefully will get it fixed shortly.

      Sorry for the inconvenience. I can add you to my TravelnLass list and send you the 30 Tips – just need your email addy (maybe you could send it via a pm in Facebook?)

  8. I HATE bargaining. In fact I don’t like dealing with sales people at all and, not surprisingly, I’m really bad at it. When I say “I’m just looking”, I’m really just looking, but no one seems to believe that. I wasn’t aware how exactly really bad I am at bargaining until a vendor in Laos sold me a refrigerator magnet for less than the price she had said even though I hadn’t counter offered and had my money out to pay the original asking price.

    • Dyanne says:

      I understand that some folks don’t like to bargain Suzanne. But as I said – it can actually be fun for both vendor and shopper.

      Maybe it would help if you didn’t think of them as “sales people”, but rather – as just plain folks like you and me. Bartering in foreign lands is a opportunity to interact with the locals and I’ve had some of my most memorable travel experiences – playfully bargaining for something I didn’t even want! 😉

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