How To Haggle Like a Pro

One pretty cool part of traveling the world is that instead of wandering the mall on an otherwise boring Sunday, you can cruise the local markets of the world instead, whether it be the San Lorenzo Market of Florence, Italy, the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, Turkey, or the German Christmas Markets. However, unlike the mall, you need to learn how to haggle like a pro in order to score some cool stuff without accidentally spending your dinner money. And, you need to do it while having fun – there’s no reason to be nervous about wanting to pay a price you think is reasonable and not being afraid to ask for it.

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1. Make someone laugh. Everyone, even seemingly conniving shopkeepers, are looking for a laugh, especially at their day jobs. So while haggling, if you can get a little personal with the shopkeeper; talk to him about the cool stuff he’s got or entertain his lame pickup lines with a friendly smile, you’re golden. He will be more willing to entertain your offers if he sees you as a friend instead of just another tourist.

2. Never be the first to name a price. There’s been many times when I was willing to offer a much higher initial price but then I heard the shopkeeper’s price before I even said a word. For this reason, don’t be afraid to ask, in a non-desperate way, how much something costs. And if they ask you in return how much you want to pay, either go for a major low-ball or ask, “Well how much are you looking to sell it for?”

3. Don’t be afraid to walk away. The best move you can make, even for an item you’re absolutely in love with, is to walk away when a haggle is totally not going your way because the shopkeeper isn’t budging. There will be times you will walk away, seemingly without a care, and no one will call you back. Guess what? Come back around in ten minutes and no one is going to remember you anyway. However, more often than not, you’ll get a frantic Wait! Wait! Trust me, they want to sell that crap just as much as you want to buy it.

4. Enlist a partner. It’s always good to have someone on your side who is as awesome at haggling as you are to say, only to strengthen your case, “Come on, that’s too much money. It’s not worth it.” There’s strength in numbers. If a shopkeeper knows it’s going to be two against one he is more likely to compromise. Pick a code to signal to your partner when you’re in need of some help.

5. Don’t be stupid. In Canal Street, especially if you’re a dumb looking girl with a fancy bag, people are going to mob you and try to get you to follow them for blocks and blocks to come to their shop (one that most likely is hidden in a basement or behind a fake wall). Be careful with this kind of stuff. Never get too close to a van, no matter how cute those bags are, and never wander down those sketchy stairwells. It’s never going to be worth it.

6. Lie. Twenty bucks too much for that crappy bracelet? Yes, I agree. Because you saw it down the street for $10… except not really. Don’t be afraid to make up a little white lie to get the price you want. No one is ever gonna know that you haven’t even seen the item yet besides in this shop.

7. Don’t allow yourself to be charmed. Obviously, it’s OK to flirt – this goes hand-in-hand with haggling. However, don’t think you’re the only one who is trying to charm – usually these suave shopkeepers know their game just as well and will tell you anything you want to hear to get you to buy that $300 leather jacket. Keep in mind that yes, laugh, smile, and be friendly, but you’re also the 18th person today that they have told has beautiful eyes.

8. Take your time. If you feel like you may be getting too caught up in the fun and are going to make a regrettable purchase, you can always say you’re going to think about it and come back later. I particularly like doing this for huge, overwhelming markets, because I don’t want to spend a ton on one item only to see it ten minutes later being sported for half the price. Take your time. Trust me, it isn’t going anywhere, especially if they tell you that it is.

9. Keep those wandering hands at bay. It may seem easy enough to grab something off a table when the keeper isn’t looking, but this is a really bad idea. All of these shopkeepers are friends, people, and even if yours doesn’t spot you lifting, somebody else will, and trust me, you’re going to be wishing there was a cop around if you get mixed up in this kind of sketchy business.

10. Never be taken for a schlub. Especially when you’re a girl, people think that you have money to spend and it’s easy to be taken advantage of. Show them that this is not the case. Speak confidently, don’t be afraid to bargain or walk away, and hold tight to the price that you want.

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Cruisin to Asia

Istanbul, Day 3 

We wake up early (ugh) and unfortunately, the power is out in Chill Out Cengo (double ugh). I figure I’ll just rough it and go for the cold shower, trying to think about how much better I’ll feel being clean for the whole day instead of cold for a few minutes. Now, I’m not sure which would have been worse, since it was so cold I basically spent the day covered in soap after showering in a Hostel film-esque shower by light of my cell phone.

But anyway, a shuttle comes to pick us up to go on a boat through the Bosphorus Channel and the Black Sea to Asia after we fuel ourselves with Starbucks (again) and I sit next to a rando on the shuttle, who proceeds to tell me about how in Egypt, she is a tv broadcaster and has her own talk show. She tells me all about my sign as an Aquarius and gives me her email and tells me that if I come to Egypt, I better give her a buzz. Not a bad deal for a 20 minute bus ride.

When we get to the coastline, we get on a ferry which takes us to Dolmabahce Palace, a majestic and jeweled-out palace that I should be appreciating but really I’m just tired as hell. The views aren’t too shabby from the coastline though, and I can imagine why the sultans didn’t want to leave. Too bad all I can think about it ZOLTAN!

ZOLTAN

After we get back on the boat, we get another traditional Turkish meal as our ferry sails over to the Asian side of Turkey, a country that is split on part Europe and part Asia. We don’t do much on the Asia side, basically just get harassed and eat waffles, but whatevs I went to Asia!

Asia... NBD. I'm a boss.

On the way back, we stop at the Maiden’s Tower, a tower that overlooks the city. It was built because a sultan got a fortune that his daughter would die before her 18th birthday by being bit by a snake, so he locked her up in the tower until her birthday. When she turned 18, to celebrate, he came to free her and brought a big basket of fruit… in which a snake had snuck inside and bit her as it got inside the tower.

Later that night, we run through the rain to get to where our pub crawl meets, a weird hodge podge of people that includes us (already a weird mix in itself), a 40ish computer program from Seattle who insists he doesn’t have a job because of the “caste system,” an army medic stationed in Naples, and two girls from Amsterdam who are clearly already wasted. Plus, of course, the leader of our pub crawl, a dad-aged Turkish man named Ali, comes with us and feeds us shots, who turns out to be the best dancer of all. Guess some things don’t fade with age.

Being out and about in Taksim Square is a funny thing. Sometimes you hear American music and you dance along, eager to have found a piece of home. While other times, much like being far from home in the first place, you hear something quite different and you just go with the flow.

Mosques, Bazaars, and Magic Lamps

Istanbul, Day 2

The second I walk outside, I’m counting my lucky stars that I’m in nice warm Istanbul where a jacket is optional when it’s monsooning in Florence and I was wishing I had my thicker winter coat. However, the sun doesn’t last for long and soon it’s rainy and chilly anyways, but whatevs. We go to breakfast at some kind of little place nearby, where we get a pretty nice mix of stuff as well as the traditional Turkish tea, a happy change in the mornings when I’m used to cappuccinos that fulfill my calorie intake for the day (not that this matters).

We then take the subway- myself, our tour guide, a Catholic fashion student from New York, the Venetian aspiring lawyer, and a quiet Psychology major from Colorado, and we head off to the center of Istanbul, where the mosques, the Grand Bazaar, and other main sights basically are. There, we meet our tour guide for the day, a Turkish girl named Elif who is currently hanging out with her boss, a mom from Colorado who got bored one day, sold all her stuff, moved to Greece, and is now chilling out in Turkey for a while.

Elif first takes us to the Blue Mosque, which is supposed to be open but is closed. She takes us two other times later, where it is also closed. Apparently signs and opening times are of no hindrance, understandable because this is a place of worship firstly, not a tourist picture point.

Blue Mosque

So instead, we go over to Hagia Sophia, which from the outside, isn’t  very much. When Elif tells us it costs 25 Turkish lira to get inside (about 14 dollars), I’m trying to deem how socially inappropriate it would be to tell her that she can find me on the bench outside when she’s done, chillin by the fountain and eating pretzels.

Hagia Sophia

But instead I take out my wallet (okay, fine, dinky change purse thing) and we go inside the kind of dilapidated building. Which is no longer a dilapidated building on the inside. Damn.

Instead, it is a cluster of textures and colors, golds and browns and oranges, all intertwining with one another and becoming such an opulent masterpiece that it’s hard to believe someone made this and didn’t just throw some colors on a canvas and call it a day. We spy the Sultan’s Tower, which is where the Sultan himself worshipped from afar, and then we make a wish on this wheel thingy as we spin our hands in it. I’m not telling you what I wished for, so don’t even ask.

Inside Hagia Sophia

Even though as we’re leaving it’s raining harder and harder, nobody minds, especially when we get our beloved Starbucks (thank the Lord for caffeine) and then finally get inside the Blue Mosque, deemed because of its blue topped towers. Entering the mosque, since I’m wearing leggings, I have to put on this skirt they give me and wrap my head in a scarf as well as put plastic on my shoes. People have been confusing me for a Turk all day, but now I really look legit. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is less touristed out and more a legit place of worship, surrounded by seemingly floating candles and people kneeling on the red carpeted floor.

Blue Mosque

After the mosque and a traditional Turkish lunch of meatballs, which are more like meat sticks really, we go to the Grand Bazaar- probably the most anticipated destination thus far of girls. I was expected an atmosphere similar to Canal Street in New York or the San Lorenzo Market in Florence, lots of stands with hassling men, but instead, the Bazaar looks a lot more like the Ponte Vecchio on steroids with all the jewelry and ceramic elephants and magic lamps under covered streets, making it look more like a cheap mall. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones to stampede the Bazaar, and the lack of negotiating and abundance of overpriced junk and confused tourists reflects this.

Grand Bazaar

We also stop by the Topkapi Palace, a pile of different museums that hosts a lot of the sultan’s jewels and other sultany stuff (this isn’t a word but that’s okay). Perhaps the coolest thing we see is the special exhibit of a couple of the stone soldiers found of the Terracotta Army, which I oh-so-subtly took pictures of (and then got yelled at).

Terracotta Army

Plus, we stopped by the Hippodrum, the old square center of Istanbul where there a few relics to remind those who pass by of the breathtaking history of the city, including the Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius and the Serpent Column, a gift to Turkey that used to be way taller and have three heads on its snakes but now has none…? Whatevs, it’s cool Istanbul.

The City of Lights

So what is the City of Lights? Why did I name this post that? Honestly, I have no idea. I know Paris is supposed to be the “City of Lights” but after my weekend in Istanbul, I am going to have to politely disagree. Especially considering it rained the entire weekend, trust me when I tell you that city is lit up like a damn Christmas tree.

Day 1 

First of all, when I paid like $125 for my flight to Turkey, a place that doesn’t have a great reputation to begin with, I was kind of expecting a Ryannair-esque flight with Turkish Airlines; you know, the obnoxious 70’s blue upholstery, the fighting for seats, the lack of anything free, and the abundance of stewardesses in hooker outfits. Instead, I got a four-course meal, a row to myself, and some cool Asian music to listen to. Not a bad deal.

Flying into Istanbul reminds you pretty quickly that you’re going somewhere unlike anywhere else you have been lucky enough to visit. As you float over the water, you see the little boats dotting the coast with their lights shining, not too far away from the big opulent mosques and the sparkles that can only exist in the fifth biggest city in the world, which hosts 13 million people.

The Maiden's Tower

Thankfully, since I am directionally challenged, I met another girl on my tour group while getting off the plane who was on her way to the same hostel as me. No really, thank God. A Colombian who was currently studying in Venice, she told me about her ambitions to be a lawyer all while discussing the lack of partying in Venice. Basically, my perfect mix of person.

As soon as the packed shuttle dropped us off in Taksim Square, which isn’t very near the mosques and otherwise attractions and coastline in Istanbul but instead hosts the array of bars and clubs and waffle stands, I became even more thankful I wasn’t alone. Not many of the broken cobble-stoned streets have signs, not many people and speak English, and not many people are girls. Weird. Instead, Taksim Square on a Thursday night bustles with piles of men all clamoring over each other in drunken stupors, whistling and cheering and staring. Besides the men, there are also an odd abundance of cats, who beg just like dogs and crowd the streets just as much. Apparently, as a guide later tells us, the city breeds them for people who can’t afford pets to play with.

We also stop to snag some baklava, a traditional Turkish dessert that is a little croissant-like pastry that is filled with honey or chocolate and lots of other sweet stuff. Who would have thought Turkey would be such a hub for desserts?

This all may sound very un-charming, but actually, it is. It’s a jumble of people in an orderly hustle who are singing and yelling and laughing, their faces lit up by the golden and pink lights in the windows. However, after all day travel, I was still happy to stumble upon our hostel, which was basically someone’s converted house with a couple extra bathrooms thrown in (thankfully).

Chill Out Cengo