Travel tips for tight-arse backpackers
Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
115Trip End Mar 21, 2008
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° Buying stuff on the road: Never buy any of the following: soap, toilet paper, pens, or reading books. The first three can always be pilfered from hotels, hostels, etc. Banks and hotels are the best place to find pens. Reading books can be swapped at most hostels. Never pay at a book exchange - shop around!
° Travelling by bus: Try to get seats near the front of the bus or between the axles. These are the least bumpy bits and this can be a life-saver in places with bumpy roads and/or crappy old buses (usually the same places).
° Try to confirm if your bus will drop you in the centre of town or at some distant bus station. If the latter, you may spend as much money on a taxi into town (often the only available method) as you did on the five-hour bus ride to get there.
° Discounts at hotels: When you walk into a hotel/hostel that you may like to stay at, look how many keys are hanging up at reception. If there are a lot, that may be a sign that the hotel is not too busy and you can use that to ask for a discount.
° Touts: If a tout is walking alongside or following you, trying to sell something you do not want, then stop, look him in the eye and say, loudly and firmly, "No thank you", preferably in his own language. Never bother with reasons or vague suggestions like "maybe later".
° Key words: The main words to learn in any new language, in order of importance, are: "thank you", "yes/no", "sorry", and "1, 2, 3".
° Toilets: Pay-per-use toilets are the scourge of the earth. Avoid paying wherever possible. This is not to deny a poor local his livelihood but to discourage this terrible practice on principle. If the guy is in a little cage, he will probably not chase you so just ignore his angry cries as you walk out. If you do pay, get your moneys worth.
° Taxi rip-off avoidance tip 1: Find out from a hotel, policeman or other unbiased local what the fare should be from A to B. Have this exact amount of money on you, plus tip if you wish. Do not discuss money with the taxi driver - he will not bring up the subject. At your destination, get out, walk around to the driver window and hand him the money. As long as it is a fair amount, he will have no reason to get out and chase you.
° Crossing the road: When crossing a chaotic multi-lane city road, stand next to a local who is also crossing (down traffic from them). Follow their exact movements. If worse comes to worst, they will be the one that gets hit, not you. If there are no locals available, dense traffic is usually easier to negotiate than fast-moving stuff. In many countries, an outstretched hand gesture to a driver angled slightly downwards, as if petting a tall dog, generally means "hang on mate, I will just sneak in front of you" and will get you one lane further across.
° Using fancy hotels: Fancy hotels such as the Sheraton, Hilton, Hyatt, etc. are great resources that other people pay for. If you are foreign-looking (e.g. white in a place like India, Africa or the Middle East) and not too scruffy, hotel staff will not question your presence. These hotels are far too large and impersonal to know all their guests. Now you can use the luxurious bathroom free of charge (dont forget to steal toilet paper), take an air-conditioned break on the comfy lobby armchairs and ask the English-speaking staff any touristy questions you might have. If anyone does question you, just say you are waiting for your parents or, even better, for the rest of your delegation.
° Using fancy hotels, part II: If you are feeling particularly daring, you can try to use the swimming pool at these posh hotels. Do some recon first - location of pool, opening hours, security (is there a sign-in sheet?) and access to towels. On your actual mission, look purposeful and try to avoid the sign-in sheet if there is one. Do not mess around pool-side, get straight in as no one will bother you when you are in the water. If you do get hit with the sign-in sheet, calmly write down a common name (e.g. A. Johnson or B. Smith) in your worst handwriting. Tell the pool guy that you arent sure of your room number and your wife/whoever has the key, but you think it is 302 (or whatever). Worst case scenario, they call your bluff and ask you to leave (by which time you hve have a bit of a swim).
° Restaurants: Do not order any food unless you know how much it is. This includes drinks, even soft drinks. You can be absolutely sure that the one item you do not know the cost of will end up on the bill at twice the price of the rest of the meal put together. Also find out if there is a compulsory service charge.
° Taking photos: How do you take a photo/video of an unwilling subject who you know will not give you permission? Have a friend stand between you and the subject but just off to the side. Then pretend to snap your friend but actually get the subject you want. If the subject confronts you, zoom in on the photo of them on your digital camera but so close that they are not actually on the screen. Then say "see, not you".
° Student discounts: Ask for student discounts everywhere, whether you are a student or not. Some people who say "yes" will not even ask for student ID.
° Haggling: This is, of course, required in many countries and everyone has their own way of dealing with it. Our technique was to simply ask the merchant what his very best price for the particular item was. Invariably, the shop next door sold the same thing so we would say "okay, I will go next door and see what his best price is". This usually resulted in quite low prices, even if it took a bit of toing and froing.
° Large bills: Break large notes whenever possible as many small stores do not have any change on them at all. Good places to change are hotels, restaurants, clothes stores, and when buying train or bus tickets.
° When not to be a tight-arse: There are some occasions when money should not be your guide, even for the tightest of backpackers. In our opinion, this includes the following:
- tipping for good service (in countries where tips are normal, the lack of a tip is a disincentive for future good service as much as a tip is an incentive),
- medical treatment,
- must-see attractions.