Monday, March 10, 2014

A Word From a Budget Traveler: Money Hurts

A huge concern for a lot of travelers is whether a trip abroad is feasible to someone that lives on a budget.  Luckily, because a lot of developing countries have a cheaper standard of living, it's totally possible to plan out a trip overseas without having to be a cha-millionaire.  There are a lot of beautiful regions to visit as a budget traveler that'll have you experiencing a lot without emptying your pockets.  Regions like:

Southeast Asia
wow, they put your face on stuff
Latin America
Jesus waiting for a hug
live action Lion King
As a budget traveler myself, I've been enjoying my time abroad on a budget of $30 a day in Southeast Asia.  Off a budget like mine, it's not only possible to experience all the food, sights, and culture, but it's also enough to live quite comfortably, as long as you're ready to live out of a backpack.  

There is a problem, though, that I've encountered while living the backpacking life and it's the fact that locals have started charging ridiculously inflated prices for simple goods and services that should remain a small expense.  When I first started traveling, I thought it might be due to the increasing amounts of development that had swept through the region, but no, after a little more searching, I encountered the problem.  

I was trying to hail a cab in Bangkok, Thailand in order to get to the bus terminal when finally a marked cab pulled over and the cabbie rolled down his window to hear the destination.  After I told him that I needed to go to the bus terminal, he excitedly nodded his head and said, "No problem, my friend, 500 Baht for the bus station."  I immediately scoffed at the number and turned toward the next cab that pulled up from behind.  It normally costs 120 Baht in a metered cab to go to the station, but this guy was about to charge me five times more. No way in hell, man.

But, as I was picking up my pack to reach the other cab, a middle-aged man with some European accent rushed the cab before he left and yelled that he needed to get to the bus terminal.  The cabbie told him 400 Baht, and without a word or hesitation, the guy jumped into the back.  Wow, I was blown away.

At that moment, it became quite clear to me that the reason prices are getting so inflated in certain areas is because travelers on vacation are just throwing around money like they're in a rap music video.  By doing so, they are completely fucking up the prices for other travelers and creating an image for natives that all foreigners are wiping their asses with hundred dollar bills.

I never like to generalize, but I've grouped the offenders into 2 categories:
Rich Kids-  I've met plenty of them while site-seeing.  They're mostly from the West and usually have no sense of budgeting since they're traveling on their parent's dime.  By embracing YOLO and the high of being abroad, they tend to not to think about prices at all as they haphazardly fumble through wads of cash in the faces of poor street vendors.  They also tend to be even more liberal with their cash while drunk out of their minds.  Actually, so do we all.

The Financially Secured Family-  These families or couples that have worked a career and created a sound financial backing have finally found the time to travel abroad and spend their hard earned money.  However, once they arrive to developing countries they are willing to pay much more and tip generously to locals and vendors as a form of altruism.  They'll literally walk out of a cab and tip the cabbie double the cost of the ride because they have money and because it makes them feel good. 'Oh, you mean only $3 for the ride? Here take $20 you poor, poor, man.'

These are just two groups that I took notice of because of the frequency of the encounters, but regardless of classification, these lofty spending habits are doing more harm to the system than good.

But we're on vacation and want to live it up.  That's totally fine, just don't go above and beyond for every single purchase.  I'm not trying to say do less or buy less, I'm talking about aggressive overpay on simple goods and services.  While traveling, it's important to adopt the culture, and in places like Southeast Asia, haggling and bargaining is how business is conducted.  I will admit that haggling can become quite taxing, but as long as you don't gleefully agree to pay double the amount for something, the system will be fine and other travelers will be unaffected.

It's the least we can do for having more fortunate lives.  I disagree.  You're already contributing a huge amount by taking part in the tourism economy that fuels the region, so by flooding the market that's already benefiting the community with excess cash, you're inflating prices beyond the point of demand.  That means that vendors will value their goods and services past the demand of tourists, resulting in less business.  If you truly want to help the well being of others, don't inflate prices and learn to haggle.  It's as simple as that.

I'm not going to tell you how to spend your money; what I am trying to do is offer a different perspective on how money can do more harm than good in certain circumstances.  Traveling is great, I would want as many people as possible to go out and experience the world, to collect meaningful moments and gain a better world view, but in order for that to work, traveling has to stay affordable for everyone.  It's not detrimental to natives to pay the regular amount or to ask for a better price, in fact, it's fair.   It's our duty as travelers to look out for each other and travel responsibly.

So, the next time you want to spend an exorbitant amount of money abroad just because you can, just know that another traveler will be picking up the cost.  Don't be that guy.  Please follow proper traveler etiquette so that traveling stays affordable for all.


  1. Although I understand the point your making, I disagree on some levels. What you have to remember is that locals in South East Asia barely make enough money to feed their families. I mean, the minimum wage in these countries is paltry at best. You need to empathize in this case. If you were making a living in South East Asia working shit hours and driving a cab, wouldn't you try to earn some extra money for your family in any way possible? As a backpacker, trying to get by on a small expenditure while refusing to work or take some active role in a country's economy, yet expecting to get the same prices as a local, is an unrealistic expectation. If you want to get cheap prices, you need to work and live in those conditions.

    1. I definitely agree. The people in these countries are struggling but my point is not to say that travelers are entitled to the same prices or should look the other way to a person in need, my point is that this version of whitemans burden to give as much as possible does do harm. Tourism already helps and their situation isnt as dire as most people think. They have a job from the tourism either selling goods or providing a services but if prices keep inflating then less tourists will be able to travel to the region which will in turn decrease the amouny of business. Not to mention, the highly commercialized areas from rich tourists make certain areas off limits to the native people themselves, like phuket. I've backpacked around and I'm fine with paying a higher price compared to natives, but the inflation is getting out of control. I'm just providing a different perspective on the topic because the norm is to always think "of course giving more money is the right thing and will do only good things."