How to haggle


“’Eres a bloke wot don’t wanna haggle!”

Haggling is hard to avoid in most of the undeveloped world. Only a fool or a rich man (or, more likely, both) tries to avoid it. It’s a way of life in most countries. You’ll just have to live with it.

Many cities that have a booming tourist trade offer special handicraft markets where visitors have the luxury of buying (at, naturally, inflated prices) without the hassle of haggling. But this is missing most of the fun: that Berber carpet is an infinitely better souvenir with the memory of those glasses of mint tea as ‘underlay’.

These days I spend more time on assignment in third world countries than I do at home. Haggling is a normal part of my daily life and I enjoy the opportunity it gives me to interact in a far more personal way than would ever be possible at Tescos.

However, yesterday I found myself unable to haggle. I was discussing a price for a selection of surfing images I was buying from a Balinese surf photographer. I was pushing him towards half his original asking price and could see that he was about to give in.

“I’m a photographer myself…” I was pointing out. Suddenly – and to his immense surprise – I caved in and accepted his first asking price. I spend a good part of my working life pushing to improve the slipping rates for editorial photographers and it had suddenly occurred to me that there was something hypocritical about the double standards that had been temporarily spawned by my Asian mindset.

There are few moments in travel when the elemental differences between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ hit you quite as powerfully as they do in the act of purchasing something. The simple fact that we have been able to afford a flight to their country puts us on a different economic planet but from that point onwards it seems tasteless to deliberately flaunt our (relative) wealth.

“It’s just a few dollars more,” a traveller will point out – “just pay it.” But while coughing up might earn you a few moments of gratitude (though not necessarily respect) from the vendor it is a bad way to look at things. Ultimately foreigners appear as cash-cows, to be milked of the wedge of rupees/baht/ringgit/dong that they see as worthless anyway. More dangerously it can boost the street-value of everyday items to such an extent that local people can no longer afford them.

On the other hand you should not feel that you have to drive the price down to the last possible cent. “Don’t worry,” an experienced backpacker will reassure you, “they’ll always make a profit.” But this is not always true: if it’s a choice between making a loss on a business deal or letting our children go hungry most of us would give in.

Haggling is a necessary and enjoyable part of travelling but the end result should be that both buyer and vendor feel that a fair price was reached. If you don’t shake hands and part with a smile the haggling was not well done.

At its best haggling is not a way of making a deal. It’s a way of making a friend.








When there’s no fixed price and you’ve got to negotiate, what’s the best way of going about it? David Whitley explains his own blundering haggling techniques.


For someone who has grown up in green and drizzly Britain, there are few things more intimidating than not knowing what the price of something is. The way it works is that you go into a shop, the price is there and you buy it for that price, yes?  Well, not everywhere it isn’t. This fixed price concept is very much a Western thing. And while we may think it’s the only sane thing to do, people elsewhere work on very different principles.


In many parts of the world – particularly in Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia – the right price is the one that the buyer and seller can agree on. And that means taking the time to negotiate it. Because of the system we’re used to, Westerners are generally terrified by haggling. How are we supposed to know what the real price is if it’s not written down? Will we get ripped off? Will we cause offence by aiming too low? What is it acceptable to say, and what isn’t?


For me, it’s the time-consuming nature of haggling that gets on my nerves. I find it a thoroughly inefficient way of doing business (and you’ll note that haggling is rarely the way in first world economies) but I can see the thinking behind it. Different things are worth different amounts to different people – look at auctions, eBay or trading in prison. It’s up to two people to come to an agreement.


But how do you go about haggling? I’m possibly the wrong person to ask, as I’m hardly the master of it. But I have worked out a few techniques to minimise the damage.


The first key point is to not get into negotiations if you have no intention of buying. That’s what really causes offence – when you’re totally wasting someone’s time. A polite no thank you should work – start mentioning prices and the negotiation has started. It’s assumed that you want it – you’re just working out the price.


Secondly, I’d argue it’s best to forget all about what the locals would pay or what the minimum price you can get the item for is. What’s important is how much you’re prepared to pay for it.


What follows is about technique. A lot of people aim deliberately low and then slowly work their way up while the merchant works his way down. I’m too impatient for that. My general method is to work out what I think is a fair maximum that I’ll pay, then duck a little bit below it. I’ll then stick to it rigidly, with good humour, while the merchant slowly comes down. It goes something like this: $20. No, $8. $18. No, $8. $15. No, $8. And pretty much so on until we arrive at $10, which I’m happy enough to pay. It’s often easier to just raise a little bit at the end to seal the deal – no-one likes being the person that gives way 100% while the other party gives nothing.


OK, I’ll almost certainly never end up with the best price like this, but I’ll also never end up paying more than I’m prepared to. And that will do for me. 


Do you have any particular haggling techniques? How do you go about getting the best price? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.




False economies



David Whitley looks at the ridiculous things we do to save money on the road – and realises that they often end up costing far more than the options we avoid.

I have a tendency to travel hand luggage only – even for three or four weeks away. Most people think this is because of airlines charging exorbitant fees to check bags in, but it’s not. For me it’s about mobility. There’s a joy in being able to walk straight out of the airport without having to wait by the carousel. I also tend to move from hotel to hotel, and walking a few hundred metres is an awful lot easier if you’re not trying to lug the biggest bag in the world around with you.

In fact, once you go away for more than a week, travelling hand luggage only is one of the world’s great false economies. Any money you save on airline fees is inevitably spent on laundry. That won’t stop people arguing it’s a great money-saver, however. It’s not the only false economy in travelling either. I’d argue that sleeping in a dorm room can be one of them. If the room is so unappealing to relax in, you’ll end up relaxing elsewhere – most likely a pub, where you’ll spend the savings on beer. Not, perhaps, a bad investment.



Taking a cheap flight between two destinations that are relatively close and well connected by bus or train is another. Sure it may be quicker on first glance, but once you factor in the time and money spent getting to and from the airport, there’s probably not much in it – particularly if the train or bus goes city centre to city centre.

The one I really can’t understand, however, is people who whoop with delight at the prospect of saving on a night’s accommodation by taking an overnight bus, train or flight. Sure, you might not have to pay for a night’s accommodation, but you’re also losing a night’s sleep. And when you get to your destination, you’ll feel so exhausted that you don’t want to do anything. Except, perhaps, mill about until your room is ready and immediately go to bed for a few hours.

Even if you book a sleeper on a train, you will most definitely not being killing two birds with one stone. Because, unless you have been blessed with astonishing superhuman powers, no-one ever gets a proper night’s sleep on those things. The rooms are too cramped, the beds too narrow and the surroundings too noisy.  If the overnighter is the only way of getting there, sure, do it. But don’t kid yourself that you’re making a smart investment.




Tax breakdown



Okay there's been a lot of puff, spin and bull recently about the increase in UK APD this year. Up from £10 in 1994 to £81 now. Don't really want to get into the politics of it, but it did get me thinking that there is a general ignorance as to the sheer number of governmental taxes, airport fees, and the biggest chunk - YQ (basically a non optional charge from the airlines) that now abound. So I thought I'd choose an average route and breakdown the taxes and surcharges for you all. The airfare can be found here by the way.


A Route

London Heathrow - Bangkok - Singapore - Sydney - Auckland - Fiji - Los Angeles surface San Francisco - London Heathrow


Taxes, fuel surcharges, and my personal favourite - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Fee 

81.00GB UK departure tax
34.49UB London Heathrow tax (all those seats and free WIFI!)
14.20TS Thailand: Domestic Passenger Service Charge
Singapore: Passenger Security Charge
3.00OP Singapore Aviation Levy
6.90SG Singapore: Passenger Service Charge
30.50AU Australia: Passenger Movement Charge     
33.20WY Australia - Passenger Service Charge
4.60IA Auckland tax
14.60KK New Zealand tax
52.70EY Fiji Airport Departure tax
2.00EZ Fiji - Airport Service Charge 
2.00FA Fiji - Airport Development Tax
1.60AY United States: aviation security surcharge
3.10XA United States: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Fee  
2.80XF United States: Passenger Facilities Charge
4.40XY United States: Immigration and Naturalization Service Inspection Fee
3.40YC United States: Customs User Fee
373.00YQ Fuel surcharges - a charge that the airline pocket (therefore, not really a tax)
20.70YR  YR is an airline surcharge, normally for insurance.       



There's a lot of them isn't there? However in the airlines defence, in 1990 I went round the world for the first time; UK India SE Asia Bali Australia New Zealand Fiji Hawaii LA New York UK. It cost £1100. The same route these days would be around £1700. A pack of Marlboro Lights in 1990 cost £1.50. Now over £7. Makes you realise what great value a RTW really is. We sell them by the way.


By Stuart from

Local Prices




David Whitley wonders whether some ‘overcharging’ and discriminatory pricing is justifiable