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India Travel Tips: Haggling

Below is a blog post I wrote soon after travelling around India (almost 15 years ago, where has the time gone?!) I wrote it with idea that I could help other backpackers on their own journey through the motherland. So please read it through the eyes of a young backpacker who had to save every penny (rupee) possible – and try not to judge me on my often ruthless approach…!

Haggling is a big part of travelling in India. It is almost like an art form. Personally for me, it was a steep learning curve. The first few days in India, I was fleeced by locals left, right and centre (I paid over £100 for souvenirs which probably should have cost me 10% of that). By about day 7, the locals feared me (not literally, but hopefully you know what I mean). Below are some pointers on haggling in India:

  1. Haggle for clothes, hotel rooms, souvenirs/gifts, trips/excursions and rickshaws (“tuk-tuks”) mainly. But there’s no harm in trying to haggle for EVERYTHING.
  2. A good place to start is 50% of the asking price.
  3. Judge their tone. Sometimes they will genuinely be giving the bottom line price, in which case there is no point trying to haggle. Through experience you will learn when there’s an opportunity to save you some rupees!
  4. Before you start to haggle, decide in your own mind what you think is reasonable to pay (by using your own judgment, but also shopping around). Go in lower than this price so that you have room for negotiation
  5. Keep it light hearted. There is no need for the situation to get heated. If it stops being fun, then you’ve gone too far.
  6. Be prepared to walk. Sometimes, the most effective way to get your price is by leaving. You’ll be surprised how many times they will (reluctantly) call you back and agree to your price.
  7. If they agree to your price, buy it. Nothing will anger a shop keeper more than you wasting precious time bartering a price down, and then changing your mind. This is their livelihood so it’s important to respect them.
  8. Always smile and be friendly. They are much more likely to be flexible if they like you as a person.
  9. Play good cop bad cop. IF there are 2 of you, one person should be the one who really wants the room/item etc, and the other one (if a couple, usually the male) should be the stingy one.
  10. Make a game of it. See who can get the biggest % discount on a specific item. Great to play at markets.
  11. If you are a backpacker, explain this to the seller. They assume all westerners have lots of money, but once you explain that you are travelling and have no income for a certain period of time, they can be more understanding and generous with discounts.
  12. Put it in perspective. If you’ve spent 30 minutes haggling for something, sometimes it’s worth taking that hit to just save time. Especially with rickshaws. (More often than not, you’ll find that you’ve been negotiating over the equivalent of about 10p).

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