May 15, 2012

Tuesday Travel Tip: Bargaining 101

Souvenir shopping goes hand-in-hand with travel, but when your adventuring through South America, Asia or Africa this process becomes a little more complicated than swiping your credit card. Haggling, even over small items, is not only expected, but also plays a big part in the cultures and everyday life of most of the world’s countries. Unless you plan on systematically paying an exorbitant “tourist” price for everything you buy, it’s necessary to participate in the bargaining game. Being skilled at bartering is an essential trick of seasoned travelers, but with a little practice even the greenest traveler can pick it up.

So, how does one learn to be a good haggler? Unfortunately, as John Navata explains in his article “Bargain when in Foreign Countries,” “most North Americans are terrible at bargaining.” But don’t get too down on yourself, “bargaining simply does not play much of a role in our everyday transactions.” Even more so, bargaining can be counterintuitive to our culture. To walk into a department store in America and try to haggle over the price of a T-shirt would be gauche to say the least. But keep in mind, you’re not in America anymore and in most countries the price is always negotiable.

Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

To help you get comfortable with bargaining before you burn a hole in your pocket, I’ve outlined a few easy mantras follow, so you won’t arrive at the market completely unprepared:

Never settle for the first price. Remember you are expected to bargain. This means the first price offered is often two to three times higher than what the merchant is actually expecting to get. Think of the first offer is an invitation for you to make a counter offer. You are a tourist and you definitely stand out. The very fact that you have the leisure to travel means you have money to spend. Merchants target tourists and will often list exorbitant prices with the hope that you will be naïve enough to pay it. Don’t fall into this trap: make a much lower counter-offer and see if you can both can compromise on something in between.

Decide how much you are willing to pay. Value, especially in bargaining, is in the eye of the beholder. How much you want something will affect your ability to haggle. Decide how much you would be willing to pay for the item, make that your maximum price and stick with it. Keep in mind, the merchant’s first offer is much higher than the price they are trying to get, so make your first offer much lower than the maximum you are willing to pay.

Don’t be afraid to walk away. Disinterest is key. If the merchant is sticking to a high price then walk away. Being disinterested in the items for sale gives the buyer the advantage. If the seller is interested in making the sale, then the act of leaving will force them to drop their price. Of course this doesn’t always work and you may end up walking out empty handed. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide just how much you want that item and if you are willing to pay their price.

Make an effort to use the local language. There’s a local price and a tourist price. No matter how hard you bargain, you’ll never be paying the local price. The goal is to get a close to the local price as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to speak in the native language. People respect when you make an effort to learn their language and participate in their culture. Even trying to bargain in the native tongue can drop the price significantly.

Have fun. More than anything, remember to enjoy yourself. You’re traveling in a foreign country and have the opportunity to participate in a different culture, so appreciate it; these chances don’t come often. If you approach the process with a positive mindset your likely to get way more out of the experience. If this is your first time haggling, you are guaranteed to get ripped off at least once. Don’t let this intimidate you, instead learn from your mistakes, keep a smile on your face and enjoy the game. You’ll meet some interesting people and certainly learn a lot.

Having to bargain over even the smallest items can be shocking and intimidating at first. But if you’re willing to embrace the learning curve and put in a little practice, bargaining can be enjoyable and educational; and it will certainly save money. 

May 9, 2012

ABC follows "The Girl in the Picture" and Friendship Tours World Travel to Vietnam

In January, Kim Phuc, the Vietnam War’s famous “Girl in the Picture,” teamed up with Friendship Tours World Travel in Santa Barbara, where she shared her story of the accidental bombing, the photograph and her journey to forgiveness. A generation of people will never forget Nick Ut’s 1972 Life Magazine cover: President Nixon once doubted its authenticity, and historians credit the photo with helping end the Vietnam War. Now, almost 40 years later, the photo, “The Girl in the Picture,” still symbolizes what words cannot convey about the horrors of war and instructs us on the lasting impact of photojournalism.

Our journey to forgiveness continued in March when Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Nick Ut and Vietnam War correspondent, Chris Wain joined FTWT in Vietnam, where they and a group of our students revisited the site where the story began and the photograph was taken. ABC News video journalists David Ono and Jeff MacIntyre also accompanied the group to shoot a documentary to commemorate Nick, Kim and the photo that changed both their lives. The first segment of the footage, released May 8th  and streamable here, explores  the role of educational travel in promoting peace through global consciousness. David Ono and Jeff MacIntyre follow FTWT students as they visit Kim’s family home, the Coadai Temple and the infamous highway (Route One), where Kim Phuc first met Nick Ut and Chris Wain.

It was almost 40 years ago, when on June 8th, 1972 South Vietnamese soldiers dropped napalm on the small village of Trang Bang, nestled in the countryside about 25 miles Northwest of Saigon.  The firebomb struck the Caodai temple, where many villagers had taken refuge, surrounding them in a wave of liquid fire. Among the children who emerged screaming from the firestorm was a 9 year-old girl (Phan Thi Kim Phuc), her clothes ripped off and body ablaze. The children fled down Route One towards a group of journalists who had been stationed only 400 meters from the explosion. Among them, photographer Nick Ut, who just had time to snap what would become one of the most haunting images of the war, before rushing Kim to the hospital to save her life.

"Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?" --Kim Phuc, "The Girl in the Picture" from “The Long Road to Forgiveness”

It’s hard to imagine how a story that began as a lesson in the abominations of war could evolve into a saga of friendship and forgiveness, but Kim Phuc has demonstrated that love is much more powerful than hate.  Kim and Nick remain close friends to this day, and as time progressed, Kim began to see the image as a powerful gift; she could take control of its symbolism and use her profile to promote peace. Now Kim Phuc is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for a Culture of Peace and has become an international symbol of civilian suffering brought on by war. Kim established her non-profit, The KIM Foundation International to help children who are victims of war. Children who, like herself, needed treatment to care for wounds, burns and broken bones inflicted during conflict. 

At FTWT, we believe that it is essential for youth to have a global consciousness in matters of war and piece. As Kim explained in “The Long Road to Forgiveness,” love, hope and forgiveness are the most powerful weapons in the fight towards peace. Armed with cameras and open hearts our students joined Nick Ut and Christ Wain on a journey into Vietnam’s living history. By revisiting the places of past atrocities, by putting a face to the once faceless “enemy” and victim, Ut and Wain shared with us an invaluable lesson in the power of both journalism and friendship. 40 years later, long after American troops receded from the beaches of Danang, Nick’s photograph and Kim’s message resonate as loudly and as clearly as ever before. Violence is not the only way to leave a lasting impact; words and images can reveal truths that even bombs and bullets cannot destroy.