In reading other travellers’ blogs I have discovered that the least discussed subject is – money.
All sorts of topics and interests are covered and shared, but rarely is money one of them. And let’s face it, it’s moolah that enables us to be out there wandering the world and that pays for our iPhone data packs, accommodation, food and drink. Perhaps it is a hangover from Victorian times, when the genteel (the only ones who could afford to travel) never discussed their financial circumstances; to do so was considered to be in extremely bad taste. If there are any of these old-fashioned ‘genteel’ folk travelling today we’re unlikely to meet them anyway, they would be getting chauffeured to and from their 5 star hotels while we’re using shanks’ pony and public transport to get around (by choice, I might add. Oh, OK, I confess to hiring the odd rental car here and there). And, in the case of the contemporary mega-rich traveller to whom money is of no consequence whatsoever (football, film or rock stars, or the aristocracy), our paths don’t seem to cross; they travel in a different stratosphere.
The reluctance to discuss the affordability of travel overseas on web-talk is probably still rooted in Victorian pride, but perhaps inversely: we just don’t want people to know how little, relatively speaking, we may have.
There is often camaraderie amongst travellers you meet – after all, you are generally there for the same reasons, and perhaps trying to side-step the same conga-lines of tour groups :). But if any disparity in your financial circumstances is raised, hinted at, or made pointedly, it can draw a barrier across the encounter. Generally, there is a clear reluctance to mention filthy lucre and, for some reason, this extends to online blogs.
Most of us travel to an established (often loose) budget. Personally, I’m happy to state that when travelling we often find things outside our budget and agree to say “no” to temptation – of course we may regret that decision later, when back at home reminiscing about the journey. We usually seek out or pre-source lower-cost (but clean and comfortable) accommodation to slow down the haemorrhaging of our bank account and keep a loose tab on expenditure, but we’re certainly not anal about it.
Let’s open up this subject a little and see if we can play it out
Travellers you meet ‘on the road’ will be financed by an almost infinite range of means, but most will not have infinite funds and can be slotted into one of five categories:
- Working people who are taking their annual leave or holidays – usually well-funded but who will nevertheless be travelling to a budget
- The young who are taking a break from work or study, usually with lots of time but little money
- Those who travel on Credit, young or older, with the intention of repaying the debt – sometime – somehow – plus interest
- Retired folk who have the time and, usually, adequate funds to enjoy extended holidays or travel. Their funds are often backed up by investments
- The perennial traveller
Let’s explore these five categories
- Working people tend to plan their bookings and schedule ahead due to their limited available time-span. They tend to stay in mid-to-high cost hotels and their budget, even if only loosely adhered to, allows them ‘loose purse strings’ when it comes to peripheral, ancillary costs like side trips, eating at high-end restaurants, or the purchase of ‘souvenir’ trinkets or clothes.
- The young we’ve met and seen while travelling tend to have very little spare cash – not that this in any way detracts from the enjoyment of their personal adventures – and will seek dormitory-type accommodation and opt for the cheapest sources of food which, incidentally, is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps because of their forced closeness with other travellers, their being mostly single, and perhaps their innocent lack of concern about the world’s ills, they tend to have a helluva good time of it, too.
- Some travellers simply take out a bank loan to ‘bankroll’ their travel (usually only a holiday) and tend to plan and work within that budget, facing the music (and the accounting) when they return home. These folk wouldn’t travel too often.
Credit Card travellers tend to spend freely, and while they may also have a great time, don’t have a real grip on the true cost of travel – or money? Consequently, they are poor judges of the worth, or value of the incidental, or even comparative, costs of travel – or comparative costs of living. They tend to be spendthrifts, in stark comparison to all the other categories of traveller.
- Being unfettered, retired travellers tend to be the most liberated both financially and time-wise. However, though they may no longer have the shackles of financial restraint, this doesn’t mean that they will necessarily travel by the most expensive means or seek luxury multiple-starred anything. Some do, but for many, just being free of money worries gives them the ability to explore further, wider, and to linger longer in order to fully absorb their travel experience. Living in comparative luxury doesn’t come into it: most have quite a degree of that at home. You will find this category the most relaxed: they are mostly well-past being ‘on the make’ or seeking a frenetic ‘night life’ like the younger, single travellers. They are mostly out there to absorb all they can about a foreign culture; their interests are diverse and widespread and their conversational range most entertaining and interesting, as befits a long life.
- The perennial traveller is a rare beast. They are, arguably, the more ‘authentic’ traveller as they will travel year in and year out, usually sourcing their funds from work along the way. They may sometimes exchange whatever talents they have for food and accommodation, or supplement their income by selling written articles to magazines or, in the case of the more tech-savvy, creating a professional blog-site that has sufficient followers for it to attract paid advertisers. These travellers rarely stay in ‘starred’ hotels or eat in Michelin starred restaurants, but their experiences are nonetheless the most authentic of all the travelling categories simply due to their being ‘at it’ for so long. They can be a source of much travel wisdom, too.
Cost and the vagaries of foreign exchange rates
We live in Perth, Western Australia. For us, travel to nearby Asian countries is quite affordable and the exchange rate often extremely beneficial. This situation is comparable to that of the British, in particular, because of their strong currency and linking airline network. For them, holidaying around the Mediterranean can be extremely affordable. The same applies to other Europeans and North Americans because of the strength of their respective currencies. However, when it comes to our travelling to Europe the currency exchange rates conspire to impoverish us.
It is not so much the airfares. Though one big hit to the pocket, bought in our own currency and given the distance involved, they are quite reasonable and seem to have decreased over time. No, it is in the need to exchange our currency to that of a much stronger Euro or British Pound where we lose – big time. New Zealanders suffer even more than the Australians – their dollar being even weaker. We Down Under folk are always playing catch-up with the big dollar boys, the USA, Britain and Europe, but we never catch up. Our currencies are always weaker. Spending in those overseas countries can be a painful experience when, in quiet moments – ‘when the carnival is over’ – you calculate the damage done to your already-diminished bank balance by unfair exchange rates.
It’s only money, innit!
I often wish Europeans would appreciate how costly the exchange rate makes travel ‘up there’ for us, but it is not something you can lay on them – you just sound like a moaning colonial (not dissimilar to the ‘moaning/whinging Poms’ epithet we use down here :). The assumption is always that “you made it this far from your country; you must have plenty of money.” They appear to care little, or to have little understanding of the forex situation.
Of course, when we visit countries where even the Australian or New Zealand dollar can expand, sometimes in vast multiples, it is hard for us to argue that we can’t afford anything – we are clearly far better off than the majority of their population and, yes, there are times when in those countries that a little generosity is called for.
There have been times, when in the countries where our dollars shrink, when we’ve been generous to those we meet (and sometimes to ourselves) but, shy about our circumstances, we never let on how some of those spontaneous splurges affect our declining bank balance – oh, how Victorian. But, well, those are usually fun occasions anyway. And what the hell, it’s only . . .
How about you?
I like this quote from a fellow, but erudite, blogger – flahertylandscape. It brings to mind the labelled groups of tourists we encounter when travelling (often from cruise ships) as they are hustled and bustled around by their flag or umbrella toting guide:
“Tourists and part-time consultants are like seagulls. They swoop in, eat, relieve themselves and swoop out.”