Is it Really Worth Saving a Dollar?

When travelling through South East Asia and probably other parts of the world, you meet all sorts of different travellers.  You meet the package tourist, the flashpacker, the stinky backpacker, the know-it-all backpacker and also a bunch of “normal” backpackers.  But there is a subset of these people that I am really interested in.  It’s the stingy traveller.  The type that will do anything to save a dollar. At times, I’m this person and it annoys me no end because in most cases it’s nonsensical.

Myanmar: Local Transport
Myanmar: Local Transport

I’m particularly frail when it comes to transport – taxis, tuk tuks, becaks, etc.  I will tend to argue for extended periods of time, refuse countless offers of transport and even walk miles just to prove the point that I won’t be ripped off by a taxi driver.  Ripped off, as in, not paying an extra 50 cents or a dollar over what I believe a reasonable price to be.  And I base my pricing on the wages which I know the local populace are getting.  Now, in the heat of battle, it all seems fair – why should a local person get an extra dollar for a short ride when the daily wage is $3?  And from an economic perspective, it does make sense.  There are farmers slogging their guts out in the ricefield for $3 in the beating sun, yet a taxi driver lounging under a tree all day waiting for a tourist to sting can make double that for a short ride.  From a moral perspective, however, it’s probably not right to quibble over a dollar and from a convenience perspective, I’m certainly doing myself a disservice!

Myanmar: Budget Accommodation
Myanmar: Budget Accommodation

As far as saving a dollar goes, the same issues apply to accommodation.  Sure, you can screw down prices to almost nothing, but if you spend an extra couple of dollars when travelling in SE Asia, you can really boost the quality of your digs.  Moving from $4 to $6 can mean attached bathroom, better outlook, less noise and a generally more pleasant stay.

What about food?  Many places in Asia are dirt cheap.  $1 for a substantial meal.  But occasionally, it’s nice to have an even nicer meal that might cost double.  Yes, $2!  I’ve met lots of people that will refuse to pay the extra dollar because it’s essentially a doubling of the expenses for the night.  But come on…  it’s an extra dollar.  And for an extra dollar, it might mean an even more awesome meal than the dollar meal.  More food, better produce and perhaps some meat that might otherwise be missing.

Myanmar: Samosa
Myanmar: Samosa

Some will argue on the flipside that the cheaper you travel, the longer you can travel.  Spending $20 vs $22 per day means you get to travel for 10% longer. For some, this might be wise, but for me…  I’m usually getting travel weary in the last 10% of my journey anyway and getting home a little earlier is no big deal – and I get a more pleasant experience while I’m at it.  What’s your view on saving a dollar?

5 thoughts on “Is it Really Worth Saving a Dollar?

  1. I think a lot of people get caught up in bartering that the conversion often gets lost in the moment. That is not to say that people don’t barter the extra dollar on a $3 purchase, because it happens a lot too. I know when I have travel, I try to forget what the conversion exchange rate is and base prices off local currency. Then when I barter I use other prices I pay as reference. Granted, it works out to more being spent in Europe than it does for Asia and other poorer countries.

    I remember having to pay 30 pounds for a taxi in Egypt on my own, but then my tour guide got me a similar route for 15 later. Did I feel ripped off? Kind of, yeah. But then I realized it was the difference between $3 and $5. From then on I tried to get taxis for 15 pounds. I think people get caught up in other deals they received that price increases from others are perceived as being ripped off. Most of which are true, yes, we’re being ripped off. But I think after immersing yourself in the currency it is a bit more difficult to realize it isn’t much until after the fact.

  2. We met up with some friends while we were traveling through Southeast Asia in 2007 and decided to travel with them for a few days. My husband and I are frugal travelers, but this couple took things to an extreme. It got to the point where it was interfering with our own travels, and we ended up parting ways (amicably) a few days earlier than we had originally planned.

    I think it’s important to be aware of what you’re spending, but I also try to remember that the locals that I encounter on my travels are trying to make a living.

    Thanks for stopping by MSW the other day. I appreciate it!

    1. Yeah, it’s really strange that whole frugality business. I like to stay in nice places when I travel generally with attached bathroom. But I still fall into the bad habit of haggling too hard and obsessing about money issues. I’m sure it puts off others I travel with! 🙂 But I think the answer as with everything is balance. Make sure both parties are getting a fair deal and that any negotiation is done in good spirit.

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