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Travel Tip Tuesday – Shopping

Shopping while traveling is a time-honored tradition.

I think most of us are inclined to buy something when we are abroad. It could be anything from a cheap knock-off handbag or watch, to a handmade trinket or even a nice piece of local art. There are entire industries in many travel destinations that cater to this need. We like to collect shot glasses from different places we have been, and as of late, I have been collecting a few handmade bracelets from cities I like in Vietnam.

Not knowing how to haggle resulted in the most expensive shot glass in our collection!

Whether you are buying a life-size replica of a Terracotta Warrior in China or a replacement selfie stick in a market in Hanoi, you need to be prepared to barter!

In the US and most Western countries, we buy things differently from the rest of the world. We simply go to a store with carpet, air-conditioning, and perhaps a guy playing piano to acquire the things we want or need. We have large sprawling stores with even bigger parking lots available for us to buy things. Most familiar to the Western shopper is that the price is plainly marked on everything. We may have even received an advertisement telling us about a sale or a new lower price!

Traveler be warned: it is not like this everywhere else!

In most places you dream of going to on holiday, things are quite different. Instead of 166 stores covering 1.5 million square feet, you will most likely encounter small stalls in alleys and on street corners. One specialty shop may sell just shoes while another sells only shirts and shorts, and they may only be 100 square feet or less. If you come across a market, it will still have 166 proprietors; they will all just be crammed into a space about the size of an American grocery store. In these markets, they sell everything from souvenirs and clothing to produce and fresh meat. Unlike the stores you may be used to, nothing has a posted price.

Typical street front store in Hanoi, Vietnam  CLICK BELOW FOR CLIP!

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Bargaining or “haggling” is a way of life in these places. It is common and something that you need to be accustomed to, or you may end up paying too much. You may also discover that locals pay a different price than travelers. This is commonly known as a “Tourist Tax.”  Here are just a few tips to help you get along:


  • Be polite and respectful, and don’t forget to smile. The proprietors are good, hard-working people trying to make a living. They are not used car salesmen out to take all of your money.
  • Have an idea of what something should cost. You do not want to offer too low and offend them.
  • Only ask how much something costs if you intend on buying it. Nothing is more frustrating to a shop owner than a looky-loo who is just wasting their time.
  • Start your counter-offer at 60% of what they ask, then see where it goes from there.
  • If you are firm on your price, be prepared to walk away. Many times, they will call you back.
  • Remember that in many parts of the world, you may be literally haggling over a few cents, so try to keep some perspective.
  • Never offer the first price; let them start.

Our Tour Leader in Nha Trang showing us how it is done!

Haggling can be an entertaining experience, if you do it the right way. It is a great way to get to know people, and there are usually many smiles and laughs. It is important to remember that they want to sell you something as much as you want to buy it, so you just need to find a common ground that benefits both of you.

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1 Comment

  • Peter Tang 4 years ago Reply

    While not a hard and fast rule, I was taught to start at 50% of the initial ask price and then go from there.

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