Travel Writer Annoyances – Haggling Abroad

I don’t fly 7,500 miles to haggle in a fish market. Apparently, that’s a highlight of any trip if you happen to write  Frommer’s travel guides. At least that’s what I can infer from my Frommer’s South Korea travel guide.

I guess the writers think this all somehow makes them more worldly, this process of saving a few won on a kilo of mandarins or a dried hunk of squid. It’s literally nothing to the bank account, a dollar here and there. But these travel writers make it sound like it makes them plugged in.

Oh, please. I’ll bet they turn to jellyfish when faced with a real haggling challenge. So here’s a word for you Frommer’s/Lonely Planet/Insight guide types: Save your haggling “skills” for a worthwhile opponent who really is sucking undeserved money out of your pockets … someone like the finance manager at your car dealership.

That’s right – stand up to those characters. Show your steely-eyed bargaining prowess when it counts. Do your homework. Come prepared. Rebuff questions like “what do you want to pay a month””. Say no to inflated destination charges. Don’t let anyone get away with running a credit check when you have your own financing lined up. That’s where you’ll save enough to finance at least part of your next trip if you really know how to drive a hard bargain.

But seriously – lay off the little old ladies trying to make a living. Shell out your 3,000 won. Take your bag of mandarins. Enjoy the Vitamin C. And maybe drop in and comment about why you take such pleasure in putting the screws to someone for a slightly better deal on a bucketful of fish parts/vegetables/knick-knacks. ‘Cause I can’t figure it out.


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By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.


  1. I wish I was a better haggler in more domestic settings. Having never traveled outside this country, I imagine I would just pay whatever price is listed. Lucky for me, my husband is a great negotiator! 🙂

    Great post! 🙂

  2. From my experiences in China, India, Costa Rica, and Peru, I can definitely say haggling is mandatory. While I haggled when still a traveler, I definitely became better at it upon becoming an expat. Some travelers (check my link below) recommend waving cash in front of a vendor who won’t budge. That’s simply rude. In China we expats would often put the amount we were willing to spend on an item in one pocket. If they wouldn’t come down, we’d show them that that’s all we had. It worked well.

    There is something to be said about one’s decision to bargain when traveling. Can we go so far as so say it means the difference between being a traveler vs being an expat? Or is it a tourist vs well-seasoned traveler? Can’t say that I’ve learned how to bargain from a travel guide; It’s something picked up after being gypped several times abroad. And of course it doesn’t make me more connected; just less robbed.

    Overall I’ve found Latin America to be the easiest to bargain in. India wasn’t fun. Once, in a store, a friend heard the sales person ask an Indian for half the price he’d asked of me for an item. My Indian friend got all up in his business and shamed the sales person. I ended up buying nothing.

    Check out the opposition’s opinion:

    This is one of my favorite posts– not only can I see your almost visceral reaction, I actually disagree with you (not so common).

  3. From where I`m looking, there`s a difference between “ex-pat survival skill” and “tourist fulfilling the guidebook Top 10.” And it`s a matter of degree – are you negotiating because you are getting overcharged for a serious purchase? If that is the deal, go for it! But in my fish market sort of example, I say blow it off and save the skills for the big purchases.

    Etiquette is definitely another matter – the gestures and explanations seem to be almost a ritual in certain regions. I’m assuming you’ve seen “The Life of Brian” and it’s awesome haggling scene?

  4. ha! This made me laugh as it does always seem guidebooks tell you to haggle down a price at markets. I couldn’t agreed more. It’s not worth a few cents in many cases, especially when that vendors clearly needs the money.

  5. Haggling is usually couched as “if you don’t haggle, they don’t respect you.” So I feel sort of compelled to do it, even if I feel like I’m cheating them. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    If I had some basis for knowing what the ‘real’ price is (like I just saw a local pay), then I’d feel more inclined to do it. Otherwise, I’d rather not bother. Good to know there’s a contrary opinion out there.

  6. I have to say as well that haggling is usually couched as “if you don’t haggle, they do not respect you.” So I feel type of compelled to do it, even if I really feel like I’m cheating them. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If I had some foundation for understanding what the ‘real’ price is (like I just noticed a nearby pay), then I’d feel much more inclined to do it. Otherwise, I’d instead not hassle. Good to know there is a contrary opinion out there.

  7. Respect doesn’t play into it for me. Whether someone who lives half a world away respects me … well, it won’t make me lose any sleep. And like Nichole said earlier – it’s great if you’re an expat. Then it matters to not have to pay more than you have to. You should see the electronics markets in Seoul – they’re all about the haggling! They chased after me a few times, but the prices were just so skewed that it didn’t make sense to buy from them.

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