Can low budget travel turn into exploitation?

In a recent article in Brave New Traveler entitled “When Does Budget Travel Become Exploitation?”, writer Ernesto Machado raises some interesting points about what happens when the “budget” mindset goes too far. In an example he gave, a foreign couple argued with the owner of a hostel, since they wanted to pay $10 less than the total.

The travelers lost the argument and almost missed their bus out of town. They left cursing at the owner, as if a great fortune (and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of victory) had escaped their grasp.

Still, it’s hard for me to imagine that those five dollars would have had a catastrophic effect on their long-term finances. On the other hand, multiply that amount times many travelers, and the effect on the local economy is huge.

Source: “When Does Budget Travel Become Exploitation” by Ernesto Machado, Brave New Traveler

The article also tackled other issues including hitchhiking and working in your destination. The latter poses a problem to the local economy, Machado writes, because it introduces unnecessary competition between local workers and foreign visitors. Also, some countries have strict rules when it comes to working without the proper permits – there’s a risk that you’ll be deported.

Personally, I see myself as a frugal, budget-conscious traveler. I stick to low cost accommodations so that I can stay longer, and I take advantage of free transportation if it’s available. Nevertheless, I don’t see my behavior as exploitative. I look for bargains whenever I can, but I respect the set prices unless it’s in a culture and area where it’s appropriate, and even expected, to haggle.

Do you think it’s possible that budget travel can become exploitative? Please share your ideas and experiences with other Vagablogging readers via the comments.

Posted by | Comments (11)  | February 26, 2009
Category: Travel News


11 Responses to “Can low budget travel turn into exploitation?”

  1. trababe23 Says:

    I can’t have an opinion on the quoted example, as I was not there personally, however I have had many and many personal experiences traveling, when the locals have tried to rip me off charging higher amounts just because I am traveling. I am actually from a “third country” myself. 99% of the times, my country is poorer than the ones I am in. The fact that I am traveling, have dollars or euros, and speak fluent english should not be a formula for locals to rip me off. Budegt travel is not exploitation, on the contrary, if we had more of it in my country, the economy would be better off. I also think it is not right to charge tourists a different rate than locals for some services, that is plain dishonesty!

  2. Eva Says:

    For what it’s worth – in the quoted example, the couple checked in without asking for a discount, made no complaints about their room during their stay, and then demanded the discount at check-out.

  3. Neil Says:

    For what it’s worth – in the quoted example, the couple checked in without asking for a discount, made no complaints about their room during their stay, and then demanded the discount at check-out.

    How do you know this?

    At any rate, I’ll agree that negotiating at checkout isn’t how the system works, and while probably that $10 discount would have been given up front, it’s dishonest to not honour the agreement.

    But we’ve all had experiences where people rip us off. I was in Quito last week. It’s the law that taxis use their meters, so no negotiation should be necessary. We asked our hotel and this is a no-matter-what situation – the meter rate is the taxi fare, double meter rate from midnight to 6am. It’s endlessly frustrating when the drivers throw out numbers $8, $10, or more because we’re white (there’s pretty much nowhere in the city you should be able to go for $3, maybe $4 if the traffic is heavy). Now, with a common language, I’d raise a stink, but my Spanish is roughly sufficient to order dinner, so what I’m left with is paying an inflated bill. Can I afford it? Well, yeah, it’s not going to affect my long term financial plans. But it’s not right and it’s not exploitation to get a fair rate.

    But really, the most ripped off I’ve felt was when I did everything right. I negotiated a fare in Damascus. 100 SYP, a rate well above the going rate (we were told a local would pay 30, a foreigner shouldn’t pay more than 80), but we agreed because we were newly arrived and only had large (500 pound) bills, so we asked the driver if he’d have change for that. He said yes. On arrival at our destination, he did not have change, and demanded American dollars – 3 of them. 100 pounds is about $2, probably closer to $1.80 really. It was that last dollar that left me feeling most ripped off, because it was a broken contract on the part of the driver. But again – we have no Arabic and their English wasn’t adequate for an argument, so what do you do.

  4. previously.bitten Says:

    I think the problem with this arguement, and it’s the one that has always existed, is that we assume people who travel have a lot of money, and can afford these five dollars here and there.

    Yes, I have some cash and can take a trip now and then (or in the coming year a whole year.) Some people may look at that and think “wow, he has money and doesn’t need to save those five dollars.” This is where the problem lies. It’s not that I have bundles of cash on hand. It’s that for my entire working and student life I have pulled those three dollars here and there.

    I have not gone out to eat with friends, I have called short nights at a bar, and I have spent many nights in low rent buildings so that I could, after years of this, amass the money.

    These same “little amounts over the course of thousands of travellers” is what has helped me get where I am. Yes, I understand, we should help the people who need it – but at what point are we allowed to help ourselves? I understnad that some countries have “tourist prices” over “local prices” and I’m already paying those – but this doesn’t mean, that I’ll gladly hand over an extra twenty dollars every week. That thousand dollars (at the end of the year) is my ability to make it back home again.

  5. previously.bitten Says:

    I would like to distance myself, however, from the couple in the original post. If I book into a room at one price, and think it’s not worth it – well that was my fault. I knew the rules and the price when I checked in. I would never try to aruge, later, over that fact.

  6. Eva Says:

    @Neil Because I read the original article this post is based on.

  7. jj Says:

    I look at bargaining abroad the same way I do bargaining at home. Sometimes, it’s part of the culture, and it’s engaging for both sides. Sometimes it’s tacky. And sometimes, it’s not really a bargain, it’s an unethical transaction with a desperate party – like bartering for access to an underage prostitute. We all choose which of these we will engage in based on our own circumstances, only the last is ethically impermissible.

    It’s less the how than the what.

  8. Sarah Says:

    Even while traveling on a budget, and even if you saved to get the money you needed buy not going out to a bar or skipping restaurants or films at home – traveling for the sake of traveling is a luxury.
    On the other hand – The money in your pocket is not free for all just because you can afford something they cannot. Travelers should respect the locals and the prices they set, and the locals should respect the money the travelers bring in, and in there own interests should treat them fairly, in order to keep the income they create coming.
    Travelers should never forget, however, how very privileged they are to be able to afford traveling at all.

  9. April Says:

    I think there is exploitive behavior on both the tourist’s and the local’s part in some cases. We take advantage of ultra cheap labor, food, and lodging like $10 hotel rooms and massages on the beach that run $5 for an hour and locals charge tourists much more than they charge other locals. I guess it is just part of the game however fair/unfair.