Thursday, March 10, 2011

Is There a Right Way to Spend Money When Traveling?

I ran across this article from the New York Times through a CouchSurfing friend who posted it on Facebook. Some of the more interesting points involve the author's rules for "econ-travel."

Is there a “right” way to spend, tip and give money when traveling?

The idea of “responsible tourism” has taken hold in recent years, largely in the guise of eco-travel, in which environmental factors become central. But one stumbles into many other ethical issues when traveling. One of the most unavoidable — especially when in the developing world — is how to help.

But what if you travel on your own? Are there ways to make your spending matter? How much should we tip the bellhop? How aggressively to bargain? When to give to panhandlers?

Repeatedly confounded by these questions, my wife, Joan, and I started to compile an informal rule book for what we call “econ-travel.”

1. Fix a daily or weekly budget.

2. Overbuy gifts for yourself and others. “Crafts are the best thing to buy; they have people’s dreams woven into them.”

3. Don’t bargain down price, bargain up quantity. Too many people want the cheapest price regardless of the seller's income potential. Bargain according to what you think is fair, but is also a win-win for both you and the seller.

4. Try to be more than a consumer. Local citizens “may be economically poor but they are often culturally rich,” says Harold Goodwin, professor of Responsible Tourism Management at Leeds Metropolitan University in England. So, engage in their culture by getting off the large bus and taking an interest in how they make their living. . .The rule is simple, Mr. Goodwin says: “Treat them as you would like to be treated.”

5. Let others earn a living by helping. I’ve learned to relax and let someone else carry my suitcase. It’s a rational way for local residents to feed their families, and certain people have turned luggage-carrying into an art.

6. Don’t give to panhandlers. Handouts send a multitude of wrong messages about dependency and the value of work. Plus, handouts encourage more begging, often by children (an awful alternative to school). Long-term change never starts with a quarter or even $10 stuck into someone else’s palm.

7. Instead, buy stuff on the street. The hawker’s life is a tough one, always a fight against weather, traffic and crime. So if you want to help, buy more than you usually might. . . Why not bolster that small-business spirit?

8. Sample local food. Tourists in the developing world often eat at a limited number of hotels or restaurants deemed safe by guidebooks. There’s logic to that, especially where food-borne illness is concerned. But you’d be missing out on part of the reason you travel in the first place.

“Buy food and beverages from local producers, taste the locally produced foods and enjoy this as part of your holiday experience,” Mr. Goodwin says. For instance, you haven’t really tasted a banana if you’ve never had one grown for immediate consumption (compared with ones modified for export and sold blemish-free in United States supermarkets). Peels help keep the fruit safe, as does boiling in the case of a cup of local tea. The winners are the farmers, who often are at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

My favorite quote from Rule #2 is, “Crafts are the best thing to buy; they have people’s dreams woven into them.”

I'm also personally fond of Rule #3 since I encounter numerous travelers who are only interested in the cheapest prices without considering who their stinginess is really affecting. It makes me rather sick when I hear behavior like this.

1 comment:

  1. this is brilliant. i always try to support locals (even here at home). i like #3, too, supporting locals with quality. :)