It’s important to note that budget travel, especially when haggling, does not mean getting the cheapest possible deal on everything. Saving money is the aim, but saving money at the expense of someone else is not.
The aim of a budget traveller should not only be to save money but at the same time, promote the economy of the country. And although it may seem counter-intuitive, going somewhere and just spending loads of money is actually not productive to the overall economy either.
It needs balance.
Let’s take tuk-tuks for example since they are prevalent in almost any travel story. Tuk-tuks (or rickshaws, moto-taxis, jeepneys, etc) almost never advertise their price. They know their customers come from all walks of life and a rich person might happily pay $10 for a ride that should cost $3. However, due to the nature of haggling, some people might try to get a ride for $2 or even $1. If it’s a quiet day, the driver might accept that just to make some money.
This doesn’t mean you should try to get a ride for $1 that should cost $3. This is not productive to the local economy. While he might take you at that price, he’s losing money and you’re giving travellers a bad name. At the same time, it’s equally as bad if people are all paying $10. If all tuk-tuk drivers are earning far more than they should, locals in other businesses will quit their jobs and all start buying tuk-tuks. The result? WAY more tuk-tuk’s than required and not enough business for any of them.
For any economic system to work, the price must be right. Not too high, not too low.
So what is budget travelling? It’s about knowing what the price should be and aiming for that. Of course in certain situations, supply and demand will affect your bargaining power. A shortage of tuk-tuks and influx of customers might mean you’ll have to pay more but this is where the responsibility of the driver comes in. He might make a quick buck overcharging you but in the long run, he’s not doing himself any favours. Unsatisfied customers will find other means of transport and he’ll put himself out of business.
When you are looking for ways to save money while travelling, don’t do it at the expense of the local community. You wouldn’t go to a hostel and try haggling on the price. If it’s £5 a night it’s £5 a night, no question. But you can save money on accommodation without ripping anyone off – by housesitting, Couchsurfing or camping. Even sleeping in a hammock on a beach or in an abandoned building is fine – as long as you don’t make a mess or upset anyone.
You can also save money on things like transport by hitch-hiking. This is not costing anyone anything – the person giving you a lift is usually going that way anyway. It’s still nice to offer them something, especially if they’re going out their way. Nine times out of ten they won’t accept it because they genuinely just wanted to help you.
Pay it Forward
Haggling, or bargaining, is great. It’s part of the travel experience and an important aspect of the economy, even if it is unregulated. However, it shouldn’t be seen as a way to get something as cheap as possible. The people you are buying from work long hours to provide these goods or services. One-off tourists have no interest in the future of a country’s economy, but for travellers, this might be a place you end up living or working in the future. If people can’t put their kids through school, next time you visit, crime could be worse or the quality of services deteriorated.
Spending that little bit extra is not just an investment in them and their country, it could also be an investment in your own future.
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