Seven Things Guide Books Don't Tell You - pt. Seven
Nothing is as it appears!
Every shopkeeper, tour guide and taxi driver is trying to up-sell. I say this not to be cynical but when you think about it, it’s their job. America is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, so it is assumed by citizens of other countries that if you are American, you are rich. You can try to explain to them that you are traveling on a shoestring and that you saved for years to take this trip, but you are wasting your breath. After all they are trying to make a living, and chances are you DO have more money than they do. Even so, the constant dance of haggling can be exhausting when faced with it day after day, multiple times a day. Most times the tactic of wearing down the customer works for them. Most travelers are there for two weeks and then return home and start back to work, so paying an extra five or ten dollars for a souvenir is much easier than dealing with hassle.
I have discovered that the best way to deal with this is to, first of all, accept it, and secondly to approach them first with your deal, one tactic that works if you already have an idea of a fair price for what you are about to barter for you can either offer a price yourself, for instance when a taxi stops, open the door and say, “I can give you (whatever you feel is fair in the currency of the country) for a ride to the embassy. Don’t be afraid to walk away either, most times they will accept your offer in the end. Always be patient with them even if you are not feeling it, and settle on a price that is fair for both of you. Remember they are making a living and probably have families, so don’t just shoot for the lowest you can pay, shoot for a fair deal.
Don’t give money to beggars on the street. Fight the urge to give coins to the mothers with children asking for money to buy food. For a foreigner not used to seeing people in such pitiful states, it can be very confronting, and, unfortunately, too many foreigners feel they MUST do something to help them. As a result, they start doling out money. The problem with this is that giving money only perpetuates the problem and encourages begging. Even in cases where the person is clearly disabled chances are the money will not go to him anyway, these people are commonly paid a small pittance and work for someone else.
The most difficult beggars to turn your back on are the children, or the mothers holding babies. If you feel you must do something, carry a bit of bread or fruit with you and give that instead. In India, it is common practice for women to rent babies and toddlers from other women to use for begging. When we traveled through India I made a habit of carrying food that even babies could eat, such as bananas, soft biscuits or hard boiled eggs.
The lesson of “Nothing is as it appears” is a difficult one for Americans. We are used to paying for a service and receiving what we paid for. Once we booked a three-week trip through Rajasthan which included a car and driver, and all accommodations in the cities we would visit. My husband began asking about the details of the trip, what was included, what was not included . . . at one point the man put his hand up and said, “Sir, expect nothing and you will get a nice surprise.” At first my husband was taken aback and reminded the man that we had just given him a couple of thousand dollars and that should pay for a few expectations. But in the end, that man had made a very valid point. If you get too caught up in the logistics of things, you miss the unexpected gems along the way.
Because, after all, when traveling long term on a short budget, nothing is as it appears. Sometimes it’s better!