Bargaining for backpackers

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What we talk about in this article

Haggling is a standard activity in many markets and shops around the world. Why not try it to get cheaper accommodation?

You can easily get better prices for hostels too. Most travelers stay in hostels or hotels as we do. These are great places to practice your bargaining for backpackers skills.

We discovered that learning a few negotiation skills can help you to get a better deal. If you booked the place through the internet, you probably already agreed on the price.

For bargaining, you actually have to go shopping and do some negotiating. Sometimes we book a room in advance for the first night, especially if we’ll be arriving late at night. Then we can still bargain for the following nights.

If we arrive early in the day, we just go shopping. Of course, it’s more convenient if time is on your side and if you can spend a few hours checking out hostels.

Keep reading this guide on bargaining for backpackers.

I never haggled before

The only time I haggled over a price before was when I was eight years old. I’d seen this super cool pocket knife and I had to have it… if I’d just had enough money. I didn’t. So I put on my sad face and told the vendor I was just a little short on money. He couldn’t resist the sweet and innocent droopy eyes of an eight-year-old kid. So he sold me the knife for 9 French francs instead of 10.

I’m still bragging about that victory today.

We got a great chance to practice our bargaining skills in Central America.

Bargaining for backpackers – How to do it

The nifty investigator

Before we leave for the next destination, we spend some time investigating. We check Tripadvisor or Hostelworld to see what’s available.

We try to figure out which is a good area to be in and what the regular prices for rooms are. Most of the time, we write down 2 top picks with their address and visit those first.

Sometimes, when we know there will be an abundance of hostels, we just leave unprepared.

When backpacking for longer periods of time, we only book the first night and take care of prices for the other nights when we get there. 

Bargaining for backpackers
Bargaining for backpackers

The sharp-eyed inspector

The first weeks of our trip we stayed in shabby places while paying a lot of money. We then decided we had to do a better job in finding decent hostels.

We learned to ask to see the room before we paid for it. Usually, there are multiple rooms available and you get to choose which one you like. If you don’t ask to see it first, they will just assign you one, which is probably not the nicest.

We also learned to walk away if we didn’t like the room or the hostel.

See the room before you decide! You can also point out the shortcomings of a room in order to lower the price. Although that is not a great way to make friends.

The dancing fool

If you start dancing and yell: “This room is so perfect”, prices probably won’t go any lower. You already bought the room and agreed to the price by being too excited.

Your behavior shows that you will pay almost anything to have that room. By keeping your cool and not giving away your excitement, you’ll find yourself in a better position to haggle. 

Bargaining for backpackers
Bargaining for backpackers

The poor backpacker

By just letting someone know the room is above budget, you give the hostel owner a chance to set a different price. This technique really works and you’ll know immediately if there is a possibility to get a better price.

The owner can start shaking his head and tell you he’s hardly earning any money on it. Or they just give you a better price.

The unimpressed partner

Having a partner or friend who plays the impatient traveler is a good asset. If your partner tries to get you to leave the place because you’re over budget or because the hostel isn’t really that impressive, prices will drop quicker.

Hostel owners still want to sell their rooms. If they start feeling they’re losing you as a customer, they will try to lure you in with better prices

Bargaining for backpackers
Bargaining for backpackers

The not-yet-checked-in

Unless the hostel is extremely small and you risk throwing over an ancient porcelain vase, don’t put your backpack down.

Putting it down means surrender and it shows that you have decided to stay in this accommodation.

Keeping your backpack on your back means you’re still a bypasser that needs to be lured in. You could easily walk away and have a good chance price will drop when you start moving away from the desk.

We found this method to be useful on several occasions and also noticed that bargaining was mostly over when our luggage was already at rest.

The never going away hostel bum

Always try to get a discount on more nights. Many hostels have a system that gets you your fifth or sixth night for free.

They might not offer it ready-to-serve, you’ll have to ask for it.

If you pay your room in advance for an entire week, the host will probably offer you a discount.

Bargaining for backpackers
Bargaining for backpackers

The hostel shopper

In some places and at some times we enjoy shopping for hostels while ticking off boxes on our hostel shopping checklist. We did this when we already had our backpacks in another hostel and tried to find a better room.

While walking through the city, we just walked into different hostels, luggage-free, and asked for room prices and if we could see them. Being luggage-free is such a good feeling since we’re used to carrying our backpacks.

Heavy loaded and sweaty we tend to be easy customers. The hostel owners know that you just want to drop that bag somewhere and start exploring.

Without a bag, you see different things and bargaining is easier

The coupon collector

Some travel guides have discounts on them. The hostel description can state: show this guide to the hostel owner to get your 10% discount straight away. Since we don’t usually buy travel guides, we didn’t know.

But we traveled with another couple one time and they did know. They showed their travel guide to the hostel owner and we shared the bonus. We also got a discount. So if you have a travel guide: check for these discounts.

You can also visit the tourist information center of a town and get yourself the free map, you might be in for a treat.

Mostly these maps have coupons for restaurants and attractions on it, sometimes even a hostel.

Bargaining for backpackers

Choose your favorite bargaining technique

Budgeting is always a challenge. That’s why we shared our simple tricks for bargaining.

The good thing is: you learn so much along the way. Of course, you’ll get better the more you practice.

Probably you even use techniques we didn’t mention. If so, please let us know so we can add them to the list and try them ourselves.

Choose your favorite negotiation technique and tell us which one it is!

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