How not to throw money at your problems while travelling

Try to follow these three rules and you can hopefully keep money in your pocket even when …. hits the fan.

1.       You Have time

2.       Ask – you never know unless you ask, then ask again, then ask someone else

3.       Don’t self wallow, it wasn’t that bad a day or experience – As Louie C.K. said “You’re flying!!!! Travelling at hundreds of miles per hour, over the earth. Don’t you realize how incredible that is!!”

While travelling inevitably something comes up. Your booking isn’t in their system, you forgot to set your watch back, your visa gets denied, your car breaks down, something gets stolen and the list goes on. There are some things that come up like very serious crime that would fall outside this list, but this is for more common travel problems, the mundane ones.

                Our most recent trouble was first no visa’s issued at a border, then no visa issued at an embassy, then a rental car company not accepting Amex or Visa Debit/Credit. With all of these things when the problem first occurs you think to ‘throw money’ at the problem. If the border denies you see if you can pay extra to settle it at the border, get a plane to your destination, or get a taxi for 300km to the embassy. But all these options cost hundreds of pounds and some of them aren’t even an option. Another situation we often had was again a man made problem, that when you get to the bus or ferry someone informs you that it’s all sold out or just about to leave and you need to make a decision. The thing about all these situations is that you do need to make a decision but you have longer than “RIGHT NOW!”. In both these situations you have time. So rule 1 - “Move quickly, but don’t rush” (thanks Dad).

                During this time you have time to figure out a solution, this is also where Rule #2 comes it, “You never know unless you ask.” (thanks again). I used to hate as a kid when my Dad would force me to ask a question instead of him doing it. Why did he put me in these uncomfortable situations!? But now it all makes sense, we have found that despite the world being built on systems it is invariably still controlled by people. It is usually a person who is causing your problem (or a person’s interpretation of policy), and usually there is a person who can solve your problem. At the border we talked our way behind the border counter. There they explained the rules and actually showed us the new regulations (which were not posted anywhere), therefore explaining our problem. When we arrived at the embassy we talked (nicely) to the woman behind the counter about our situation, usually there is a 5 day waiting time but because we actually talked to her she said “just bring your information and we will see what we can do.” In other words, it takes 5 days for those who just accept the sign but since you asked we can help you today. This also works over the phone, if you didn’t get the answer you liked, just try calling that office or whomever a few hours or days later. Inevitably you will get a person who can help you, or more often the case is willing to help you because they know what they are doing and the unhelpful person usually covers their ignorance with just telling you “that’s not possible.” Or go to your hotel/hostel/internet café and ask/check online if you can. With touts and other sellers when you are trying to buy something in a short about of time will often tell you that the bus/taxi/ferry/safari is about to leave or that a deal will expire right now!!! That may be mostly true, but mostly the bus and deal is still on for at least the next few minutes. So take some time, shop around a little, haggle etc. If the seller thinks they might make a sale they will take time, which means you also have time to ask around for a better price. If you do happen to miss a bus or ferry very rarely in this world is there not another one or another route. If you miss the bus sometimes there are long distance taxis, or other bus companies run the route but they are just not as well known. If you do miss the bus or have problems with a sale or missed a service don’t think you are the first to have this happen to you. Many travelers come across problems ranging from transport to sales to police, don’t wallow or try to take the easy way out!

                So rule 3, don’t think you are the most unlucky person in the world! Sometimes on bad days we try to take out the problem with money. Had a bad day so you get a hotel room way outside of your budget, or eat an extravagant meal, or get a private transport service, or go to the club and make it rain. We heard a story about a young guy who while backpacking across Africa just kept 50$ in his passport so when he got stopped by the police they would just let him go. This is a horrible solution, it both breaks his travel budget and screws over the next traveler coming through - they will look like a walking ATM. This traveler probably had a bad experience with being hassled by the police so now he is just trying to buy his way out. A bad experience is usually washed off after a chat, beer and food. When you recover and get to your hostel or guesthouse you usually feel better after having something greasy, a beer then telling about your horrors. After that you realize that life is actually pretty great. You realize the joy of being halfway across the world and the comfort of simple food and drink. You are halfway across the world and actually you got there pretty quickly compared to 50 years ago….. life is pretty great!

                 There are many more small things to write about, but I think these are the big three. When you have a problem you have time, ask questions until you get the right person and right answer (I think I also got some grades changed because of this), and regardless of the outcome try to remember that life is pretty great – you are out in the world to experience it for both the good and the bad things. And maybe if that doesn’t make it better get a few more beers in.