17 May 2009

Money and Value when Traveling

After all the amazing travel stories I decided to turn to a subject that is slightly more mundane, but still important - Money and how do you perceive / get value when traveling. In my travels I identified 3 different attitudes to money and value that people have when they are traveling:

  • People who complain how expensive everything is in comparison to what they can get at home
  • People who throw money around like confetti because the local currency has no value and they can’t believe how “cheap” everything is despite the fact that it might still be expensive for the people who live there
  • People who are always looking for something cheaper and will go out of their way to “save a buck” despite the fact that it is far cheaper than at home

When I travel I try to get the best value in local terms for my money, rather than continually converting back and comparing (although for items that I am buying to take back home I will make sure that it is cheaper). I take the "expensiveness" of a place into consideration when I am deciding where to go, but once that decision is made I am willing to spend what is necessary in order to get the most out of the experience (especially when you consider that around 50% of the total travel cost is just getting there and back).
One of the best ways of getting "local value" is by reseach. Prior to arriving in Dar es Salam and Zanzibar on a recent trip I found out what the expected going rate was for things like taxi rides and ferry tickets. It made life so much easier when I was accosted at the airport by taxi drivers that I knew whether they were giving me a "good price" or not. Unfortunately we discovered that the price we paid for the ferry was higher than it should be (even though it was lower than what I thought it should be), but that is part of the learning experience of travel. (The price for taxis was spot on!) The other way to get value is to cut out the middle-man. I very rarely use agents as I have never really found that they added additional value (cheaper, more convenient, other options) to the process of booking tickets and for activities all they do is pick up the phone to the person who actually provides the activity! On my trip to Borneo we paid less for 2 nights accommodation and climbing Mount Kinabalu by booking direct than I was quoted for climbing the mountain and 1 night accommodation through the operators!
Even with the "good price" that I got for climbing Mount Kinabalu, it was an expensive activity and many people complain about this. Yet you clearly see the law of supply and demand at work here. Despite the "high cost" there are still many people who come to climb the mountain. And if increasing the cost and limiting the number of people on the mountain is what is needed to be done to preserve this park for the future, then I think it is a good idea and am willing to pay for that. One thing I did notice, however, is that there were very few Malaysians on the mountain which is a pity as it is part of their heritage. Dual pricing - for locals and foreigners - is one way that attractions have tried to maximise their return, but still allowing for local ownership and pride. I first experienced this in Kenya in 1996 and at the time thought it was an outrage (and many people still do), but as time has passed I see that it has its place.
It is one thing comparing prices to your home currency when you are traveling, but if you move to another country when should you "give up" your home currency? I no longer convert everything into Rands as the result is meaningless as I can no longer remember what things cost in South Africa. It also doesn't help knowing that a glass of wine costs 4x as much, I can't do anything about it and all I'll do is detract from the enjoyment of drinking it.
So how do you view money when you travel? And what do you think about dual pricing? Leave your comments below.


Daphne said...

Hi Kim,

I'm glad you posted this. When I was younger and just started travelling, I converted everything into my home currency, and would be accordingly appalled or delighted depending on whether things seemed more expensive or cheaper.

Nowadays I do more or less what you do. If I'm getting fair value for that place, meaning that's the going price, then I don't convert it into any other currency. I just estimate what I'll need, buy enough of the local currency, then focus on enjoying the experience rather than calculating all the time.

As for finding good bargains, I love haggling when it's expected and part of the whole experience. When I feel the local seller is giving a fair price and doing business with integrity, I happily pay the price quoted and sometimes tell them to keep the change. So this really depends on the person I'm dealing with.

Daphne said...

PS: Great photo! Very professional looking indeed. ;)

Kim said...

Thank you Daphne. Looks like we'll travel well together!