South by Southeast: Ugly bargaining

Welcome back to Gadling’s series on backpacking in Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. Most visitors in Southeast Asia are on a tight budget. Lucky for you, the prices here are very negotiable. As I’ve learned during the past two months, everything from the price of my guest house, to my tuk-tuk to souvenirs, is up for negotiation. For a traveler living “on a shoestring,” it’s a been a useful skill to master. But sometimes there’s a difference between bargaining your way to a good deal and just plain “ugly bargaining.”

While in Myanmar, I watched in horror as a backpacker haggled with a woman over a dollar of bananas, walking away shouting in disgust that “he’d been ripped off.” In Laos, I listened as a girl berated our minivan driver for “leaving 30 minutes late.” Ultimately, this kind of “ugly bargaining” gets travelers nowhere. When we get aggressive over small sums of money, it makes locals more jaded about their interactions with foreigners. Not to mention the money involved, while small to you, can mean a great deal to a local.

Bargaining in Southeast Asia need not be an “ugly” affair. If done right, it’s an interaction that benefits everybody. You, the traveler, get a good deal and the local merchant earns some much-needed foreign currency. Everybody goes home happy. Wondering how to do it right? Check below for a few tips.

Rule #1 – Everybody Can Win
Bargaining is not winner-take-all. In a good bargain, both the buyer and seller get something of value. Don’t aim to make your bargaining session a contest with winner and losers. You’re trying to make a purchase, not prove a point or show off your haggling-savvy.

Rule #2 – Stick to Your Word
Negotiating for anything is built on trust. If either side feels the other won’t fulfill their terms, it’s much more difficult to agree on a price. Once you’ve settled on an amount, commit to pay for it. Don’t walk away and check elsewhere. Don’t back out. And if you have no intention of completing a transaction in the first place, don’t ask for the price.

Rule #3– Be a Good Guest
When walking around with plenty of foreign currency in our pockets, it’s easy to assume a mindset of superiority. When we shop at home, we expect a particular level of service will come with our purchase. But in Southeast Asia, mass tourism is still a relatively recent phenomenon – English is a second language and infrastructure is often unreliable. When your bus leaves 30 minutes late or the the power is out at the restaurant, freaking out at the staff is poor form. Don’t stand for poor service, but a little patience and a smile goes a long way. It will work out…promise.

Rule #4 – Keep Perspective
Long-term traveling means sticking to a budget. But don’t let your own budget get in the way of the bigger picture. Sure, you might be saving a few bucks, but the gap between your income and the average merchant in Southeast Asia is huge. A week’s wages for you could be more than they earn in an entire year. If you don’t get the price you wanted, consider the extra as a gift for their assistance.

Rule #5 – Smile
Not every bargaining session works out perfectly. Maybe a merchant still managed to get a few extra Thai Baht than you planned. Or you’ll hear another traveler bragging about a great deal that was better than your own. In these situations, remember to smile – a few dollars lost in a bargain isn’t the end of the world.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

South by Southeast: How to budget for long-term travel

Welcome back to Gadling’s new series about Southeast Asia, South by Southeast. Starting in October, I’ll be spending the next four months traveling through this much-discussed destination. But as exciting as it is to travel for several months, you can’t just get up and leave overnight. Medical arrangements must be made, backpacks selected and most importantly, you’ll need to do some budgeting.

Perhaps the most daunting obstacle for anyone considering this type of long-term trip is deciding how much money to bring. It’s not an easy question to answer – search around online and you’re likely to find all kinds of responses, ranging from the extravagant to the frugal. So how does one create a budget for long-term travel? And how in the world do you save up the money to make it work? Let’s take a closer look at how to do it, in five steps.

1: Decide Where You’re Going
The most important factor in your budget is the decision of where to go. Although you don’t have to pick a destination when you’re planning a trip, it helps to choose regions you want to visit and consider general costs. As a rule of thumb, travel in North America and Western Europe is most expensive, whereas South America, Southeast Asia or Africa are far cheaper. For my trip to Southeast Asia, I took the region’s cheaper cost of living into account, deciding I could afford to stay longer and stretch my dollars farther.

It’s also worth considering how much you plan to move around. Will you be visiting multiple regions of the world? Or will your trip cover just a few neighboring countries? If you only have a week to see all of Southeast Asia, the flights are going to get expensive quick. But if you’re able to take your time, you might be able to save lots of money on cheaper bus, boat and train rides.

2: Get Some Inspiration
Lots of numbers get thrown out when it comes to travel budgets. According to general wisdom, $20-30 per day is enough for Southeast Asia. This includes a basic, clean guesthouse, three meals and a few activities. If you want high-end hotels, it can cost much more. Regardless of how you travel, wouldn’t it be great to have real-world examples? Thankfully, there’s plenty of resources online to help answer this question.

For general budget queries, head to the message boards at Bootsnall or Lonely Planet, where questions such as “How long will my money last in XXX?” and “Is $XXXX enough for XX months?” are frequent topics for debate. Even more helpful are the budgets of long-term traveler Megan and backpacker David, who posted detailed spreadsheets of their expenses online. With these figures it’s much easier to know what’s realistic and what’s not.

3. Don’t Forget the Extras
The general assumption of long-term travel is you’re on a tight budget. But keep in mind there’s a difference between “tight” and “idiotic.” For every expense you planned in your head, consider there are 10 others you haven’t. There are visa fees to enter some countries, immunizations, and of course, the occasional splurge on a nice hotel. Consider these “other” costs as part of initial budget. You’ll thank yourself later when you have the money to cover them.

Although it’s been suggested $20-30 per day is enough for my trip to Southeast Asia ($900/month), I’ve left myself a bit more to handle unexpected incidentals. That’s not to mention several hundred dollars I spent pre-trip on immunizations and anti-malarial drugs. Take these costs into account.

4. Get Creative About Earning
By now you’ve figured out where you want to go and settled on an estimated budget. Hopefully you’ve also left padding for those extra expenses. But a good question remains – how on earth do you earn this money? You do have a life after all, and putting it on hold to plan a long-term trip doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit. Instead, you need to get creative about ways to save up. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Bring lunch to work. Those meals out add up quick.
  • Coffee drinker? Brew it at home.
  • Have a mortgage to pay? Can you rent your home while you’re gone?
  • Sell stuff you don’t need. It’s amazing what people bought from me on Craigslist.
  • If you have a car, could you sell it and take mass transit instead? Or a bike?
  • Have friends over to your house instead of going out to eat or to the bar.
  • Take on a second job. There’s plenty of freelancing and web-based jobs like blogging you can do from home.

The key is to find a combination that works for you. Not everyone can give up their car, or stop paying their mortgage. Perhaps you even have children to care for. Whatever your circumstances, patience and commitment to a plan make all the difference. If you want to travel bad enough, you can find a way to make it work.

5. Remember You’re Coming Back (eventually)
It’s a great feeling to be able to spend the money you’ve been saving during your travels. But don’t forget that at some point, even if you extend your trip, you’ll probably want to come home. Remember not to spend your travel fund down to the very last dime – you might need a few bucks when you get back to rent an apartment and cover basic expenses during the transition.

Gadling writer Jeremy Kressmann is spending the next few months in Southeast Asia. You can read other posts on his adventures “South by Southeast” HERE.

Gadling Take FIVE: Week of October 12- October 17

This week Gadling picked up another blogger Mike Barish who considers Lunchables unusual food.

When I browsed the week’s offerings, money popped out as one of the prevailing themes. With the stock markets doing a roller coaster act, forgetting that the ups give riders a reprieve, it’s no wonder.

  • Scott’s post on American Airlines possible plan to do àla carte pricing offers great suggestions for getting the most umph out of the dollars you fork over for flying.
  • In another managing your travel money venture, Grant outlined how a person can take a short cut to Gold status for Hilton Hotels. Gold status offers more perks and deals.
  • When it comes to traveling in Europe, Jeffery delved into how the current financial crisis might be making European jaunts a cheaper venture for Americans. Considering that I’m heading to Denmark in December, that’s happy news.
  • Aaron wondered just how rich he is and found out that he’s the 730 millionth richest person in the world. His post points out how you can find out your own financial standing in the world. Perhaps the news will give you the feeling that you can afford at least a mini vacation to the next town over.
  • And to round it off, although there is more, Jerry is on the quest for cheap travel in Iceland. He’s already scored a $400 RT ticket. Not bad, Jerry.

Also, for anyone who is looking for some Gadling glory, check out our series Catching the Travel Bug. We’re looking for your stories and will publish our reader submitted favorites.

Summer travel woes? How about a staycation?

Summer vacation season is upon us here in the United States. Normally the first day of June is our green light to pack a bag, jump into the SUV or hop on an airplane and head out for some well deserved time off. But a variety of forces are conspiring this summer to hold some of us back – high gas prices, continued airline surcharges, and high food prices. It’s been enough to inspire its own trend – the “staycation.”

Several newspapers have been reporting on the phenomenon, in which many Americans are choosing to travel much closer to home this summer on shorter weekend trips or even just maximize their time in the backyard by investing in outdoor furniture or backyard grills.

Are you kidding me? This has to be one of the lamest trends in recent memory. I understand times are tough but there are plenty of creative ways to make that trip to California or even, YES, Europe, happen this summer. Use your frequent flier miles. Cut back on that bottle of wine at dinner. Pack a picnic lunch instead of eating out. Skip a few trips to the bar. My point is this – travel is one of the most important experiences you can have during your lifetime. If there’s a place you really want to visit – don’t let finances or getting time off at work or fears of terrorism be your excuse.

And if you still need inspiration, just look at blogger Grant, who is considering a 4 day trip to Shanghai for the Fourth of July. If he can make it happen, so can you!

Credit Cards & Travel

Turn away right now if you’re looking for advice on how-to avoid those hidden credit card fees that seem only to appear when you make a purchase in a French pastry shop in Paris or any foreign transaction at that. I’m not here to talk about those matters tonight. Instead I’m passing this Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story onto those who are interested in learning some history on their plastic pocketbook pals and wish to explore who deserves the credit for credit cards. My initial thought was no one should get credit for creating those debt generating cards, but on the flipside I couldn’t imagine life without them. Sad, but so true. When I want to book a flight to California I head to www dot ‘x’ travel search engine dot com, enter the credit card digits and wa-la! I’ve got an e-ticket to L.A.! I know who to fault when I carry a balance for too long – myself. But who is to thank?

Even though credit card references date as far back as 1890, when European merchants offered them as perks to their better customers, it is Frank McNamara who deserves most if not all for crafting the world’s first broad-use charge account. McNamara is said to have gotten the idea for the Diner’s Club card after an experience in 1949 where he left his wallet behind in another suit while dining out and though his old lady saved him from royally embarrassing himself it bothered him so much that he went and had a chat with his lawyer. The story goes on from there and a club for diners with a card to tote was created, but I won’t be the one to tell it in full. It’s an easy read if you give a half-hoot about credit topics and want to give thanks to the right man this Thanksgiving. Just think about all the trips you’ve charged on a card or the souvenirs you’ve plucked up because of the plastic!