If you’ve read Backpack ME before, you know that Ashray is Indian and that I am Portuguese. But there is at least one thing in which I am [stereotypically] more Indian than him: I love a good bargain! Not only I like negotiating a transaction until I reach a price that I think is fair for both parties, I love how Indians generally perceive being money savvy. Bargaining it’s not about being cheap! In India, getting a good deal means that you are smart and know how to spend your money in the best possible way.
If you are not from India, whenever prices are not clearly stated, chances are you will be quoted higher rates than locals. This applies not only in markets or street stalls. If you are a gora, this may even impact the price you pay for a room in a guesthouse, for example!
In popular holiday destinations like Goa, you must be even smarter about the way you spend your money. People on vacation are generally more careless about prices, because they simply want to relax and have a good time. Local businesses know that and, in many cases, they will try to squeeze more out of you… because they simply can!
I am not advocating that you should negotiate with local businesses until you reach a price that is not beneficial to them. Specially when it comes to street vendors or small shops, there is certainly no need to try and negotiate prices a few cents down, when you know that money makes a bigger difference to them than it does to you. But when it comes to bigger expenses, there are several things you can keep in mind, to end up paying a fairer price:
Pay Attention to the M.R.P.
The Maximum Retail Price (aka M.R.P.) is printed on a lot of packaged products sold in Indian shops. If you go to the average grocery store, products like water or snacks will have the M.R.P. printed somewhere. This is, hands down, the easiest way to certify that you are paying the correct price. Shops may sell products at the M.R.P. or a little lower. But charging above the printed amount is illegal, unless you are in certain establishments, like high-end restaurants and hotels. In some fancier places, they sometimes cover the M.R.P. and state a different amount on the printed menu. If you are dining out in such a place, you need to suck it up. But if you are visiting a regular shop, don’t let them fool you!
Talking about fooling, it’s worth reminding you to always double-check your restaurants bills, specially if they are hand-written. We’ve been scammed (or almost!) more than one, dining out at beach shacks in Goa. Make sure that not only the items included are the ones you actually consumed, but also that the total amount is the correct sum up of everything you need to pay for.
Don’t Behave Like a Tourist
Beyond the amazing world or M.R.P.s and fixed prices, you are going to have to fend for yourself! Out in the real world, that’s when your bargaining skills are going to be put to good test!
Whether you are trying to buy a small souvenir from a street vendor, or make a larger purchase on a market, do what locals would do, and never accept the first price you are told. If you act like you know what you are doing, vendors will take you more seriously. There is no need to be arrogant, but don’t be too soft either. What does this translate into, exactly? Let’s see…
1. Mention that the price is way too high and be ready to do a counter offer. Do some research beforehand if you are buying a particularly costly item. Do not think about the prices in your home country’s currency. Think local and be aware of the general cost if living in Goa.
2. Learn how to say some words in Konkani, the local language in Goa. Not only the seller will feel like you are not fresh off the boat and unaware of local customs and prices, but they will instantly develop a soft spot for you. If someone likes you, they will not feel comfortable taking advantage of you! A good start would be Kitlem? (How much?) and Ekdom mar rog! (Too expensive!).
3. Show an interest in the product, but do not act like you are dying to buy it. The vendor must know that there are other shops out there, and this is not the only option for you. Otherwise, they may take advantage of the situation.
4. Whatever price you are offered, do not take it personally. Don’t act as if you are offended. Keep up the good spirits, because bargaining is as much about human interaction as it is about prices.
5. If the vendor is too inflexible though, walking away after making a couple of counter offers can end up helping you towards sealing the deal.
6. Use religion and superstition to your advantage. For example, say that you want to pay 70 Rupees for something, because 7 is your lucky number. Learn more about this technique, reading our article about Tips for India That You Won’t Find in Guidebooks.
7. Remember that in touristic places prices are generally higher. For the best buys, go to places where locals shop. Around Goa, this means leaving the beach areas as much as possible. And even if you are surrounded by locals, bargaining may still be required!
Haggle for Accommodation in Goa
Even though most guesthouses and beach huts offer a standard rate, that doesn’t mean things are set in stone. Specially if the place doesn’t look too busy or if it is off-season, there is always room for negotiation! Based on the number of days you are planning to stay, feel free to suggest a rate for the entire booking. If the other party is not flexible and you’d still like to stick around, negotiate extras such as complimentary breakfast if not already included, or an upgrade for a room or hut with AC or with a view towards the beach. There’s always a little something extra to be enjoyed!
A Special Note About Transportation
If you land in Goa’s international airport and you are planning to hop on a taxi to get to your chosen beach, you can get a pre-paid car with a fixed price. Elsewhere in Goa, though, you’d be extremely lucky to take a ride without negotiating fiercely beforehand. Do a little research to understand what a fair price would be depending on the distance you are planning to go for, and negotiate accordingly. Keep in mind that, often times, it is beneficial for both you and the taxi driver, to hire the car per hour, instead of per distance covered. If you are planning to visit different locations, you can negotiate for half a day, or even a full day. You will generally save a lot of money by doing this!
Scooters are a very popular method of going around Goa’s beaches. If renting a bike for a day in a touristic spot can easily set you back on around USD10, doing so for longer will certainly bring down the price. Furthermore, it’s recommended to shop around and compare different agents, keeping in mind that those closer to inner roads do tend to be cheaper than the shops right in front of the beach, which get the most obvious amount of business. If you want to take things a little further, get together with a group of travelers who are also planning to rent, and negotiate a group discount. Maybe you can meet other folks on your guesthouse or simply have a look to notice who is asking for prices, and suggest you hunt down a good deal together.
Remember that there is no shame in haggling in and around Goa. It’s part of the local culture and, if you want to spend your money in a smart way, that’s just what you have to do! Furthermore, no one bargains like Indians do. So if you want to master the art of haggling like a pro, there is no better place on Earth to learn!