Finding the Balance: Traveling Cheap, Where Do We Stand?

Backpacking here and there, the drive to travel cheaper made me more conscious of most of my expenses. From the activities that I wanted to do, to the things that I needed to buy, I’ve tried to be more practical. Throw in the fact that in the world of tourism, some shops deliberately mark up their prices, some touts try to rip you off, some tours have ridiculous extra fees and surcharges, and the existence of local vs. tourist price that even when you’re a local traveler, they charge you with the latter.

Truth be told, I hate the feeling of being deceived and cheated. I can’t stand being overcharged or ripped off. The price, no matter how small, doesn’t really matter to me. It’s a matter of principle. It doesn’t only make me feel stupid, it also make me lose faith on how some people can actually do that.

On the other hand, this consciousness somehow allowed me to use one of the innate local skill that we, Filipinos have: the art of haggling. It’s quite fascinating, you see. The ability to gauge the actual price and get it at that rate, or, the ability to charm your way into getting a discount or some freebies. Those things give me a sense of success whenever I get my way no matter how small it is. There’s some kind of gratification after the so-called challenge.


It was during my recent trip within my country, the Philippines, that actually made me look deeper into the idea of haggling. The principle of overcoming the so-called tourist price was far challenging than I thought. Because as exciting as it was, I came to a point that missed that invisible line and overstepped it.

It was in Port Barton that it truly hit me during a conversation with a friend of mine. I remember how I’ve been too proud of getting good bargains that I almost lost my sense of awareness of the poverty around me. I’ve been too blind by trying to travel way cheaper that I almost missed the fact that I actually saved for this sabbatical, and those that I’ve been asking discounts from probably earn just a few hundred pesos a day on high season.

I could only hope that they could afford to feed their family 3x a day and send their children to school.


I imagine the amount of payment that they are actually willing to accept when tourists barely come. In some less popular tourist destinations, they probably won’t get tourists at all. Because even if a lot of people all over the world love to travel, there are a lot of places around the world to cover too. And even if they step in the country, sometimes the weather does not permit.

6403Dried fish and some souvenirs at Camiguin

It’s disheartening to realize how some of us would be willing to pay for a US$ 4 latte from a huge franchise while we’d almost rather not buy that dried squid that we actually want for not giving us that US$ 0.2 discount. They’d be lucky to sell 10 bags of it that day.

And that US$ 15/person fee in a 10-passenger boat tour that some of us feel bad about? A boat tour that would take you to 5 destinations within 8 hours and basically wait for you to be happy before you jump from one place to the other? You would think that the accumulated US$ 150/day is more than enough for all of them, confident that they’d get that every single day anyway.

6406 6405Boats at Port Barton

While the gas they’d have to use for the whole day is probably just US$ 20 to 40, and the food they’d buy for you is probably US$ 20, there are at least 2-3 workers per boat who would share what’s left of the money. Plus, they might need to pay a commission to whoever called you in for the tour. This leaves them US$ 25 each, more or less. You’d also have to consider that the high season in the country runs during the summer. Two whole months at its finest. In most days, the rainy weather comes in, the long weekends nor the holidays almost seize to exist, just as the tourists start to leave. And in those days, they could only hope that there was something left of their 2-month earnings.

Overall, standing behind the principle of being righteous, of being a responsible traveler is rather difficult, more challenging when you try to dig deeper and do better. It’s confusing. It could be tougher that what it seems to be.

Where do we stand?

Which principle do we want to get behind at?

You want to save for travel to go longer, farther. Sometimes, you bargain even if you have a change to spare. You also hate the idea of being overcharged or worse, cheated. It doesn’t matter how small it is.


At the same time, you know that by being there, you are helping out the local tourism industry. More jobs, more merchandise, more means for their local livelihood. You want to look away when you’ve been deceived, because what’s a dollar or two anyway? But you appreciate honesty and integrity so much, that sometimes you feel so self-righteous to look for it in people. And when people do good to you, they don’t even have to ask. You are more than happy to give it to them.

I guess, at the end of the day, we need to find the balance.

If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you really know that it’s overpriced, walk away. If you’ve been ripped off, take a breath and think that they probably need the money. Walk away.

If you can, pay it forward. If the “extra” price is nothing to you—really, then just give in. Give it. If you feel like you want to pay more, you’re happy with their product, or if you really like their service, give them a good tip.

Don’t be too frugal to the point of sacrificing your joy and even your humanity.

If only money isn’t a big fuzz in the real world.


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