Thursday, 25 March 2010

How to...bag a souvenir bargain

By Special Guest Blogger Laura Sigsworth

Laura’s Top Tips: Souvenir Hunting

The subtle art of bargaining is an essential skill for travel on the cheap. If you are anything like me, you will have an obsession for acquiring exotic yet useless items while abroad. This is a great time to haul out those bargaining skills, so here are my Top Ten Tips for Souvenir Hunting Abroad:

1.Have patience my pretty. Resist the temptation to nab something as soon as you see it. Most places have a standard selection of tourist fare which ranges vastly in quality. Take your time, scope out the selection, and have a clear idea of what you want when you enter the shopping area so you are not ‘persuaded’ that you really really need that gold plastic camel/ pen holder/snow globe.
2.Location, location, location. Be aware that you are not going to find bargains in hotel and airport shops. Consult your guide book and ask around to find local craft markets where prices are likely to be more flexible.
3. Speak the lingo. If you don’t speak the language, it is useful to learn some key words to use when shopping. Most locals will be delighted that you have made an effort, and this can go a long way to driving the prices down. ‘How much is it’ and ‘too expensive’ are useful, but so are general conversational phrases. If in doubt, ‘I am a student’ is a winner.
4. All the world is a stage. The process of bargaining is much like a charade. Particularly when you do not speak the local language, you will rely on exaggerated facial expressions and maybe some mime. Generally the script is always the same: you ask how much, they name an overblown price. You make a horrified expression and say ‘oh no! Too expensive’. Then you offer a much lower price, generally about 30-40% of the price they named (making sure it is less than you are willing to pay). They look horrified, but name a slightly lower price. At this point it is useful to play the student card. The process continues. If you are still not happy with the price, sometimes pretending to leave will bring it down a bit further.
5. Charm is everything. Confidence, coupled with a winning smile, will get you a long way. The buying process is not one to be rushed over. If you are asked (and if it is safe), stop for a cup of tea and a chat with the vendor. This way you get a bargainous souvenir, and some local insight!
6. Quality, not quantity. Take a good look at what you are buying. Are there any loose threads? Do all the zips work? Is there a ‘Made in China’ sticker on the bottom? If you want locally produced souvenirs, try and make sure that they are locally produced. Tourists are often misled by sales patter which presents plastic as stone and nylon as angora. If you are paying the equivalent of 50p for a cashmere scarf, the chances are that it is not 100% cashmere.
7. Worth not Cost. When bargaining, particularly when you are dealing with a different currency, it is easy to get overly absorbed in reducing the price. This is why it is key to decide what the item is worth to you. In this way, you will not find yourself arguing for hours over 20p. If you really want the item, and you can afford it, pay the asking price. Remember, that 20p is probably worth more to the vendor than it is to you.
8. If you have time... If you are staying in one place for a reasonable length of time, it is often worth having something handmade for you. In Africa, Asia and South America, you can frequently find craftsman and tailors working out of small workshops who are happy to take commissions.
9. Law and order. In many places it is illegal to export items made of coral, shell and other naturally occurring materials, not to mention damaging for the environment. Make sure you are aware of local customs regulations so as not to get in a pickle at the airport.
10. Buy local. Wherever possible, try and buy directly from craftsmen themselves, or from co-operatives or NGO craft organisations. That way you know that the money is not being siphoned off by Big Business.

Most of all.... enjoy!
NB: All of the above is subject to location. I would not suggest that you try these tips in the designer boutiques of St Tropez.


  1. Think many of those mantras fit day-to-day life too x

  2. ahh this is very nice :) i especially like that my camel/snow globe/pen holder is held up as a glorious example xx