Dear Backpackers: Stop Calling Yourselves Poor

Dear Backpackers is a new series addressing issues within the backpacking and budget travel community. If you would like to contribute, please contact us with your pitch.

Dear Backpackers,

Please stop calling yourselves poor. Please stop telling cab drivers and market vendors that you’re broke. Please stop haggling over pennies and asking for pity because you blew your savings account getting drunk in different rooms around the world.

Because I’m most familiar with Central America, I’m going to contextualize this first using Costa Rica. But I know this stuff happens everywhere.

Budget backpackers, especially the ones making their way through Central America on the Gringo Trail, often complain when they get to Costa Rica. It’s too Americanized and touristy. Well, you went to Tamagringo for a bachelor party and stayed at a Best Western, so of course it was. But that’s another discussion for another time.

Here, I want to talk about the most common refrain: it’s too expensive.

  • For context: According to Expatistan and Numbeo, the cost of living in the United States is 26% higher than the cost of living in Costa Rica, yet the average salary in the United States is 600% higher than the average salary in Costa Rica.

It really rubs me the wrong way when I hear budget backpackers, who likely gave up the chance to make a salary at home that’s 4, 5, or 6 times the local average income to travel, complain about how much everything costs non-stop. What really irks me is the sense of entitlement it’s often said with…as if all Central American countries/Latin American countries owe them $8 hostels, $2 cab rides, and 3-course meals that cost as much as a beer back home. They SHOULD be cheap.

Backpackers demand cheapness for a reason, and it’s not just because they’re “broke”. It’s because they’re white traveling in brown countries. Because they’re Americans/Brits/Australians traveling in the “Global South”. Because let’s be real here, you barely ever hear this crap in Paris or London, which are far more expensive. Brown countries have an obligation to make themselves cheap and ripe for our exploitation, right?

I’ve overheard 100 too many tourists arguing with service people (cab drivers, bartenders, bus drivers) over some petty 2 dollars, claiming to be ripped off because the tourist doesn’t understand how to count the local currency (and that is the problem, every time).

I once sat on a full bus in Costa Rica while a couple travelers from Germany argued with the bus driver about correct change (a difference of less than a dollar) for TWENTY MINUTES while the entire bus waiting for them to get off so we could continue our journey. They yelled in English because they didn’t speak Spanish, and they were actually just confused because they paid in U.S. dollars (NOT the local currency) and didn’t understand the exchange rate. Looking back, as an English speaker I should have grown some ovaries and walked up there and confronted them.

The point is, how often do I hear tourists arguing with service people in white countries about prices or accusing them of ripping people off? Never.

Price inflation is a problem in Costa Rica…in fact, it’s one of the biggest issues they face as a country right now. But it’s a problem for locals who LIVE here (and make, on average, around $600/month), NOT for travelers who made a CHOICE to forgo their (much higher) income. That extra $2 service charge on your bill that you’re so angry about? That’s going to a real human being who deserves a real living wage just as much as you (if not more, considering they’re employed and the ppl complaining often aren’t..no offense, I was an unemployed backpacker too, I’m JS.)

Another example: A video that recently went viral of a Nepali woman chasing a British tourist who refused to pay full-price for a cup of tea that costs her the equivalent of less than 2 British pounds.

The video, of course, does not present the whole story. The Daily Mail didn’t bother to go beyond getting the British woman’s account of what happened, which is typical. According to a Nepali local to the area who encountered to story in a Facebook group:

“The story behind is the tourist stayed overnight on a tea house for free [hence the part in the video where the Nepalese woman says ‘room free’] as she was agreed to eat and buy a food from them. The tourist is aware of cost but in the morning she bargain to lower the cost and paid lower then the cost in the Menu and left tea house without paying a full amount. The video didn’t show everything. That is the reason why the tea house lady got mad at her. This incident happened 10-12 days of far walking distance from the motor access nearly at the elevation of 5000m. Now imagine if you were that tea house lady how much would you charge for one cup of tea? Everything has to be shipped either by helicopter, human power mule, or Yak. every tea house has fixed priced provided by conservation area project. There is no over charged price at all. Everything is written in the menu. The tourist lady went beyond the limit.”

According to another commenter regarding the hike:

“Higher up the mountain you go, the higher the price. It reflects the time and effort by the men and donkeys going up those mountains.”

As the story spread and the truth came out, it became clear that the British tourist had actually stolen from the Nepali woman and then painted herself as the victim in her recounting of the story to the Daily Mail.

If you can’t believe this kind of thing happens regularly, budget tourists from wealthy nations plain stealing from locals in less wealthy nations, here are a few more recent examples: Drunk Americans Steal Wooden Elephant on Koh Samui (Thailand), Australian Tourists Paraded as Criminals After Stealing a Bike on Gili Islands (Indonesia), British Tourist Caught on CCTV Stealing Tuk Tuk Driver’s Wallet (Thailand). Of course, the second article STILL gives the white Australian tourists the benefit of the doubt and paints them as the victims just because they had to wear a sign around their necks, a punishment more lenient than what they would have received for theft in their own country.

australian backpackers stealing from indonesia

I’ve seen it happen. I’ve watched tourists straight up try to walk out of bars in Costa Rica without paying their tab on multiple occasions. Sometimes they feel the price was unfair (the beer was $2 at another bar, and here it’s $2.50), and sometimes they just didn’t want to pay. And in the same breath, these people complain about being ripped off. I’ve seen tourists ask for goods and services, things like a produce or language lessons or a 5-minute taxi ride, for free.

Would these people ever do these things in their home country? Would you ever go to the farmer’s market and just ask if you can have a bag of fruit for free? If you think your Applebee’s steak was overpriced by $1, do you just walk out and not pay? Why would a tourist think they just deserve to get stuff for free, specifically in these countries? Two words: white privilege.

You are probably not one of these people. I’m sure you’ve never stolen from a taxi driver. But the attitude that many backpackers have — that they deserve low prices, that they refuse to overpay, that locals are ripping them off, that white people are good until proven bad and brown people are bad until proven good — it’s these hidden, insidious beliefs that enable the behaviors mentioned above, and much worse.

No one is asking you to start staying at luxury hotels or throwing money at people. At the very least, just check your privilege, and try to be kinder. I get that in YOUR country, you’re not rich. I get wanting to squeeze as much sweet travel time from your budget as you can. But at what cost? Sometimes we take it too far. Besides, shouldn’t we be contributing back to the countries we visit anyway?

I’m not saying you can’t travel on a budget. I do it. But when it’s leading people to argue with a bus driver over a dollar or panhandle in Asia to fund their trip, it’s too much. (Not sure why the second one is a problem? Read this: here’s why asking Asian people to fund your travels is wrong.

What do you think? Have you encountered (or perhaps partaken in) this behavior while traveling? How do you strike a balance between budgeting and exploiting?

Post Author
Elizabeth Aldrich

Completely insane and totally rational. World’s most optimistic cynic. Founder, editor, and head author at Temporary Provisions. Find me on Twitter @LizzieAldrich and Instagram @TemporaryProvisions. I’m a freelance writer and full-time traveler, wannabe farmer, amateur beer-connoisseur, aspiring renaissance woman. Check my work at www.elizabethaldrich.com.

Comments

24 Comments
  1. posted by
    Gudrun
    Oct 4, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for those well-chosen words 🙂
    This is exactly why I always refuse to be “part of backpacker community” – because the general attitude when travelling is based on more than on the kind of luggage we chose.

    I travelled quite a lot, private and business, and it always makes me… something in between sad and angry, when I am confronted with all kinds of this “backpacker`s view” on the rest of the world.
    For me, it seems like some strange mixture of “western, wealthy arrogance”, exaggerated self-value, added to the expectation, that one´s entitled to the attention of the world – everything should be structured to fit the picture those people build for themselves – more imaginations than real pictures, of people, of places, of the way things are working.

    It never occurred to me to behave like this, I never try to “be a local” when I am travelling, or “one of them” – I am a real person with my own history, there are places where I belong to. I do not need to pretend how very much adapted I am when I am in fact a foreigner. I know, how less I know, and I am always eager to learn more, but I am a visitor, I see things like a visitor, I interact like a visitor, and that´s not a bad thing for me.

    All those “individual backpacker places” – and I saw quite a few of them, in my first travelling years, more or less by accident – they have the same superficial “wanna be individual” spirit, and every one insist on being a very special snowflake around, really feeling the flow, and “being local”.

    This combined with moaning over prices and the narrow-minded expectations to find the world everywhere like one think it should be is what annoys me most about the so-called proud backpacker’s community, and why I avoid this company, even when I am travelling with a backpack 😉

    p.s. yes, I already stopped discussions about 2 dollars by interfering as a white traveller able to speak the language needed. And I will do every time I come close to one.

  2. posted by
    Ellie
    Oct 4, 2017 Reply

    Just wanted to say in general that your posts are right on! Love this one and the one about boycotting travel blogs… Just keep up the great work and keep challenging the narrative, it’s awesome!

  3. posted by
    Alex
    Oct 8, 2017 Reply

    Hi everybody,

    I gotta say that I dont totally agree with what has been said so far in that article.

    I went to Costa Rica in the beginning of the year and I was really upset by the way lots of local people working in a branch linked to tourism treat the average tourist. Never give you the real price, never give you the right change etc. It is not about arguing for 1 or 2 dollars, it is just asking to be treated, as a foreigner, with decency and honesty, which appears essential to me for a country whose economy is for a large part based on tourism.

    The tourist that you’re taking as an example in your article were apparently wrong and didnt have a reason to argue but, at the same time, it should be said that, 1 or 2 dollars for a bus ticket, when you’re travelling for a long time, it does matter, a lot.

    Last thing, in my opinion, if you compare the average incomes, you also need to put that in perspective with the cost of life in the related countries.

    ++

    • posted by
      Elizabeth Aldrich
      Oct 8, 2017 Reply

      Alex,

      Thank you for your response. Some points in regards to what you said here…
      1) I’m sorry that you feel you experienced dishonestly as a tourist. However, please keep in mind that your experience as someone who comes here for 1 or 2 weeks, or even 2 or 3 months, is still very limited. Please do not generalize an entire country. Dishonesty happens everywhere, but this post is also here to encourage travelers to analyze their own reactions when they feel they’re being treated dishonestly and question whether or not their misunderstanding of cultural norms, currency, and the like has anything to do with their reaction.
      2) As I mentioned in the article, if you are coming from a wealthy country and traveling in a less wealthy country, you gave up the opportunity to make a higher income in order to travel the world long-term, which is something that many people (including the vast majority of Costa Ricans) will NEVER have the opportunity to do. Many Costa Ricans do not even get the chance to travel their own country as much as tourists do. So, when travelers find themselves on an extreme budget because they’re enjoying the opportunity of traveling full-time instead of working full-time, them needing to haggle with someone who has far fewer opportunities than them over a dollar is just not something that I sympathize with. Live minimally, that is fine — but don’t shift that burden to people who live minimally by necessity and not by choice.
      3) I thought that my post made it clear that price inflation is a big problem in Costa Rica and thus the cost of living is very high, especially in comparison to their wages. It’s one of the most expensive countries in Latin America, and some things cost as much as if not more than the United States. You visited, so you should know this. According to Expatistan, the cost of living in the United States is 26% than in Costa Rica, yet the average salary in the United States is 600% higher than the average salary in the United States.

      • posted by
        Anna
        Oct 16, 2017 Reply

        I’m so sorry but obviously you just wrote with that comment ‘Yes I can get ripped off because someone is poorer’. Every single dolar I made I earned by myself working and I’m not going to leave it just because someone couldn’t. I earned in my country in Europe 1$ per hour and I accept the price if I go to Western European prices. You know why? Because they are clear. No matter if I’m EU citizen or a tourist I pay the same. So if I travel I want to pay the same as inhabitants do for the same service. Because not all white people are so rich. And if you let locals to rip you off every time, because of 1$ difference, in few years it will be 10$, and it will start to be harmful even for rich Americans. We live in capitalism days. Time to accept indifferences.

    • posted by
      Elizabeth Aldrich
      Oct 9, 2017 Reply

      Typo on my response: According to Expatistan, the cost of living in the United States is 26% higher than the cost of living in Costa Rica, yet the average salary in the United States is 600% higher than the average salary in Costa Rica.

  4. posted by
    Barry
    Oct 11, 2017 Reply

    Economics fail. You do realise the extra tourist price difference isn’t going to the worker in most cases it’s going to the owners of the capital exploiting the situation.

    • posted by
      Elizabeth Aldrich
      Oct 11, 2017 Reply

      Hey! Glad you brought up economics, I have a degree in it. 🙂
      So, firstly, most of the places I’m referring to and most of the places where these things happen are locally owned. Tourists rarely try to haggle with or steal at mega supermarkets or major hotels. Furthermore, corporately-owned entities don’t charge a “tourist tax” as it’s something it’s not a recognized form of prices, except in the rare case that they provide discounts for locals with identification. Finally, corporations that cater toward tourists and do upcharge as compared to local businesses actually tend to be much preferred by tourists and backpackers are much less likely to complain about the increase in price there, because those corporations are white-washed. Take the new chain of Selina hostels in Central America for example – in every location where they’ve popped up, their beds cost significantly more than a bed at almost any other local hostel. However, they’re expanding massively and doing so well because budget travelers don’t care and are willing to pay the extra price in this case, because the company is largely run by and geared toward westerners.

      Secondly, almost none of these situations involve a “tourist tax”, although that is briefly mentioned. All the situations I spoke about in Costa Rica were situations in which tourists were being charged the exact same price that locals pay, and STILL complaining.

      Thirdly, this post isn’t about the economics of the “tourist tax”, it’s about the behaviors, views, and prejudices behind this kind of budget travel. BUT I am going to be working on a post in the future on the economics of the “tourist tax” because it is a complex and interesting issue. While I don’t really sympathize with the western tourist who has to pay an extra dollar for something, there are valid arguments to both sides. In a nutshell, sometimes that extra money does go toward supporting someone. However, as locals in places that are suffering from price inflation, like Costa Rica, have brought up before, tourists that come and agree to pay MUCH higher prices end up inflating prices for locals as well and making businesses not want to cater to locals. I’ll be sure to talk about your argument re: the tourist tax benefiting corporations in my article.

      • posted by
        Katie Featherstone
        Oct 15, 2017 Reply

        Great come-back! 😛

  5. posted by
    Elizabeth
    Oct 11, 2017 Reply

    Totally agree. In Utila this is a HUGE problem as the 70% of the tourism are cheap backpackers looking to not pay any money at all. It has happened to us they come with an online reservation and then take a walk into town and plenty places offer them free accommodation just to make their place look busy with tourist looking people.
    Or like the recent case of two cheap girls that booked on a $8 tent on rainy season and didn’t wanted to change into rooms because of not paying $4 more and then had many complains harrasing us online, I get often sick of hearing them talking about how much they have travelled around the world and what goes to my mind is : but all you’ve done inside our hostal was heating your 2 minute noodle,check on the phone and then go to see which bar is giving free drinks today.
    I don’t think that’s a cool way to travel, locals see you as an abusive another cheap backpacker. I have seen them doing their own washing in the shower rooms to not pay $5.
    If you are traveling you must make sure you are going to support local businesses don’t become a cheap backpacker because is “Moda” you don’t look cool Mr. “Everything is So Expensive. OMG”

  6. posted by
    Louise
    Oct 12, 2017 Reply

    I think over the years, as backpacking has become more the norm, these types of travellers has increased. I’ve travelled a lot myself but research a little about each country and culture before I go. This gives me a small but essential understanding of the local people I will meet. I feel totally blessed to have experienced the things I have and to have travelled so much. Knowing that I am doing things the local people of theses countries I visit will never do, not even people from my home country. I feel the younger backpackers today don’t have this same sense of value in what they’re doing when they travel. I do believe though, when they use comments like ‘it’s so expensive here’ etc, they are comparing to other countries within the similar vicinity, ie Central America. I would say that about Argentina but in relation to South America, not the rest of the world. Backpackers today should be aware and understanding of how locals see them though. To travel the world is financially incomprehensible to the majority of the population. I’ve let things go if I get charged a little more than locals, but I still get annoyed when I know I am being totally ripped off. This comes across as dishonesty, which can ultimately reflect bad on a culture. Every country benefits from tourism but it’s the people not in the tourism business who don’t see it. They are usually the ones who try to rip you off. I totally agree though, that backpackers should have an ethical responsibility to support the local communities they are visiting. Otherwise they’d have nowhere to visit!

  7. posted by
    Ashleigh
    Oct 12, 2017 Reply

    I visited the Philippines last year and made a special trip to get a tattoo in a Kalinga village. Before I went I did some research on how to get to this village and found that you pretty much need a guide to navigate and set you up with a place to stay. I found a facebook group that connected guides from the village with travelers and reached out to one of them. She agreed to meet me in the closest city and I would pay her the equivalent of $5 in addition to covering the cost for both of us to travel there. She told me ahead of time what to expect, that it would cost $2.50 for me to stay at her aunts house. I knew what my budget was, it was only about $30 for the entire journey and the tattoo. The day before I was meeting my guide I was in another village where I encountered three white young travelers and they were asking me about how I was going to get to the next village. I told them I had arranged a guide and that the cost was the same whether it was 1 or 4 people, and they were welcome to split the cost with me. That would be about $1.25 each btw. Those travelers told me they didn’t want to spend that much and they would just try to figure out how to get there themselves. I wished them luck and carried on. Late the next day they showed up in the village, but because they hadn’t arranged anything they had no where to stay, and there are no lodgings besides their homes. My guide arranged for them so that they could stay with her cousin. Do you think they offered anything to her as a thank you? Nope, they did not. They used her generosity and gave nothing in return. It infuriated me and in the end I gave her a few bucks more as a thank you for taking care of them. She didn’t seem to mind but I felt that it was very wrong for them to take advantage all in the name of “we’re traveling on an extreme budget and can’t afford a quarter”.

  8. posted by
    Amanda
    Oct 12, 2017 Reply

    Hey Elizabeth,

    Thanks for the refreshing articles you’ve posted this October. I stumbled upon them through a facebook group, and what you’re saying really resonates with me.

    I recently returned to Canada after spending a year and a half abroad- first in New Zealand for a year and then six months in Asia. I’ve been struggling to wrap my heart and my head around these complexe travel thoughts since I’ve come back. I started travelling in 2013, mostly in Europe, but this recent time spent in Asia has definitely highlighted many of the circumstances you bring up in your article.

    I continually ask myself if such a thing as an ethical western traveller can exist? If so, what does that person look like? Should we be staying at home and focusing on building stronger community within our own communities, instead of traveling? I like to think that I travel consciously and with respect for all the people and places I encounter, but of course I say that through the perspective of the privileged, western and half-white part of my identity.

    In your previous article, I saw you linked to another blog on ‘decolonizing your travel’. Can you point us to more good reads about this topics ?

    Thanks for opening up these important travelling topics for discussion!

    Amanda

  9. posted by
    Isabelle
    Oct 13, 2017 Reply

    I came across your post and AHHH I AGREE WITH YOU. SO MUCH. I’m from the Philippines and have heard of backpackers who live cheaply here because they feel the $500 they’ve spent flying here is enough. That places where our natives live (which is cheaper) like Sagada, Batanes, etc. should be worth less than how much they earn…which, arguably, isn’t saying a lot. I’ve travelled fairly and have seen first hand about backpackers who are begging on the streets to fund their travels. And honestly? It makes me mad. Coming from South East Asia, we have to have a visa to enter your country and prove our financial capacity to stay during our vacation. Many backpackers coming from America and Australia in Thailand don’t need to do that, and end up begging from people who live in a third-world country. One where their weekly income is NOTHING compared to theirs. I just wanted to share this with you because I never thought someone else would have taken notice and actually call them out on it. So, thank you. I hope your post reaches more people.

  10. posted by
    traveler
    Oct 15, 2017 Reply

    Well, i care about price as I have no job and not sure what will happen with my life when the money runs out. I also would rather jump off a bridge than live in Trump America. I ,however agree. I don’t steal, cheat locals or bitch about low cost food. I pay it and just eat simple. I also get the “locals price thing” however, do not think it is okay for people to overcharge someone drastically for being western. Like 7 times the taxi price or whatever. You used the phrase Brown countries but it happens in Ukraine, balkans , Moldova etc. I don’t think it is about brown countries as much as developing countries. Saying something is two expensive when you can find it across the street for the same price is understandable but yeah, it is annoying when backpackers beg in the street of a country where poverty is an issue. I saw some backpackers begging next to syrian refugee kids and it really pissed me off. I get fed up with some of the behaviours mentioned in your post.

  11. posted by
    Franziska
    Oct 15, 2017 Reply

    I agree with you on everything in the article and I have to say, I know I want a certain level of comfort no matter what country I am in and so I have to spend money on it. If I find a bargain awesome! If it’s not super duper cheap, fine as well, I am on vacation and not trying to make a living, turning every penny around like the people in the countries I am traveling to.

    Maybe I just read the article to wrong way but you seemed to suggest that tourists shouldn’t complain about being “ripped off” because they’re in a place of privilege. Though, yes, if you pay 1-2$ more than a local, you really shouldn’t mind that much, I still think this isn’t always just black and white – the bad white tourist and the helpless local. I’ve had so many wonderful encounters with incredibly generous local people that I am really thankful for. But I also had a fair share of bad experiences. I remember going to Rio with a friend of mine who was from Brazil but his German was fluent, so we talked German in the taxi ride to his grandmother’s house. When the taxi stopped the driver told us in English a price that was 3x as high as the normal price. And when my friend started arguing in Portuguese with him, he started laughing and told us he thought we were tourists and he always charges them 3x as high as locals. Now it’s not that it would have ruined us financially to pay this price but I don’t deserve to be ripped off just because I am from a rich country. It’s a two way street and I hope every traveler sees it in their heart to tip extra or don’t argue about a few dollars. But I also don’t want to be treated like a AMT.
    Not I don’t think you meant this kinda situations, I just wanted to give that perspective as well 🙂

  12. posted by
    ruggedmom
    Oct 15, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for bringing this issue up. I do read a few travel forum before going somewhere and notice tourist/traveler from certain country always complaining about many things.

  13. posted by
    binki
    Oct 15, 2017 Reply

    why are these tourists going to third world countries?

  14. posted by
    yi
    Oct 16, 2017 Reply

    western backpackers… us asian folk ARE poor 😛
    ok not all of us… but u get my drift

  15. posted by
    Elena
    Oct 16, 2017 Reply

    Really good blog post! Although to be honest I wouldn’t generalise it to the whole backpacking community.

  16. posted by
    RAJIV VERMA
    Oct 17, 2017 Reply

    Perfectly written piece.
    I have seen something like this for myself at least once.

    And I am happy that I made sure they don’t just get away fleecing the small vendor just because they were ‘white’!

    Heck, the menace is not just limited to the ‘white privilege’.

    Imagine this, a tent-covered tea-stall vendor, the only in tens of kilometres on either side and a much-needed respite for travellers, at a height of around 18000 feet in high – up in the Himalayas sells piping hot noodles and tea. Snow covers the entire region for as far as your eyes can see.

    The charges of the stuff he sells up there, 15-30% more than what it is in the nearest town. Won’t you happily pay that and even be grateful for finding something at that place between nowhere? I am sure you would. But not everyone.

    Someone alighting from her luxury SUV who stopped there for a cup of tea won’t. She haggled and cribbed about being ‘ripped off’.

    Such people who don’t respect other’s hard work would NOT have been allowed to travel in the first place if I would have my way.

  17. posted by
    Edgar Hernandez
    Oct 17, 2017 Reply

    Elizabeth,

    Loving this post. I traveled for 6 months overseas and I would haggle prices over cab rides or at markets because it seemed to be the custom but never over pennies. 600 rupees for a tuk-tuk we’d usually get it down to half that. I wouldn’t think about stealing and I don’t remember haggling over prices for food, usually it was cheap enough. I don’t understand why people would do it. Ultimately how much do you save? Also, the foreigners begging for money needs to stop. thye should be embarrassed knowing that some people in those countries could use it a hell of a lot more than them. Thanks for shedding some light to this subject.

  18. posted by
    TheWanderessAdventure
    Nov 4, 2017 Reply

    When you address the tourist tax, please be sure to discuss how Malaysia just implemented this tax a few months ago. It was originally supposed to apply to everyone staying at hotels, including the locals, but it got delayed due push back from the residents. It was adjusted and now it only applies to the tourist staying in hotels, guest houses, etc. 🙈🙀 It’s still not consistently implemented everywhere, especially at the smaller establishments, and I guess that’s out of fear that tourists will refuse to pay the costs.

    I totally understand your point in this article and I completely disagree with that type of “western” privileged behavior. However, I will and have addressed, not argued, a local when he/she has tried to get over on me. I don’t mind paying the cost, but I need store owners street vendors to be fair and make the cost the same for everyone.

  19. posted by
    Amanda
    Nov 16, 2017 Reply

    Great post!

    Years ago, I made friends with a couple of girls staying in a hostel in Thailand. They were young but seemed nice enough. One night one of the girls was out drinking late and didn’t want to walk home on her own, so she asked a local on a motorbike to take her back for a small fee. Because she was a “poor backpacker” she ran off without paying the guy.

    The next morning she was telling me the story and how the hostel owner was angry with her because the guy had come back the next morning demanding his money. The girl didn’t seem too ashamed of what she had done. She was even laughing it off as one of those “silly things you do when travelling” stories. I was disgusted with her behaviour, especially since it was over the equivalent of US$1.

    Ever since then I’ve always made sure to be fair in all my dealings with locals. I’ll haggle over stuff where it’s expected (like at markets), but I won’t be trying to get every last cent out of the seller. And unless the price is significantly higher than what the locals pay, then I won’t worry about the “tourist tax” they add to their prices. I’ve never been the kind of person to run out on a bill, but now I make sure that I never give locals the impression that I’m trying to cheat them. I want to be the “good tourist” that is respectful and deals with them fairly, and not the entitled arsehole that makes them hate all tourists.

    It was only a dollar, but that one event had a big impact on me and how I conduct myself when I travel.

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