Henning lived for several years in El Salvador, working as a teacher. He is Co-Founder of the SAY ZONTE! project. Writing for this blog is his way to give s.th. back to “el pulgarcito.”
Travel on a budget in Central America?
Travel on a budget in Central America? Sure, why not?! It’s not that difficult, and there are hundreds of blogs and websites that tell you how to do so.
They’re well-written and well-researched, providing you with useful information about how to save money while traveling.
But I would like to show you the “other side of the coin” and give you my opinion about the “travel on a budget-hype. “
Is El Salvador the best place to travel on a budget?
We recently received a comment on one of our posts, How to travel El Salvador: Transportation Tips.
A reader observed that the price for a scooter renting start-now in El Tunco wasn’t reasonable at all.
This person argued that US$25 for 24h was way too expensive compared to other places in Asia and even Europe; and that you could even rent a scooter in Asia for US$5 per day.
In addition, prices in South- and Central America would generally be too high, keeping a lot of people from visiting countries like El Salvador.
Well, maybe US$25 for a scooter rental in El Tunco might seem too high. However, only the owners of the start-now can tell you how much they pay for their employees, insurance, rent, electricity, internet, water, social security, taxes, and the loan for their scooters.
They know how much they pay to repair the scooters, and only they can tell you what they had to invest in their business to maintain it and improve it.
The cheaper the better?
But I see a general problem with all these “travel on a budget guides.” They sometimes seem to generate a type of tourist that travels with the mindset “the cheaper, the better.”
Please don’t get me wrong: It’s ok to save money, it’s ok to bargain if you feel that something is overpriced or you are a well-paying customer, and it’s ok if you’re on a budget because you don’t earn that much money.
No doubt: as a tourist, no one wants to get ripped off. No one wants to pay for overpriced services, food, or accommodation. Most people who travel, work hard to save their money in order to have the chance to know another country finally.
A flight to El Salvador, for example, is not that cheap. You have to pay for the airport transfer, tours, accommodation, food, surfboard rental, etc. You can easily spend US$1500 or more in 2-3 weeks for your trip to El Salvador. Even for most European and American people, this is a lot of money!
Travel on a budget: The other side of the coin
But the other side of the coin is the following: I guess sometimes it’s worth spending a bit more for excellent services, food, and accommodation instead of traveling as cheaply as possible.
Why not staying a bit longer in one place, investing your money in something that means something to you? Learn how to surf, do some volunteer work, get to know some local people, learn a language, or relax instead of rushing from one country to another?
Another point is that even as a tourist, you expect a certain level of quality. You don’t want lousy food, you require your scooter to be safe, and you want your tour guide to be as professional as possible.
So maybe it’s time to change our mindset a little bit. Even if you travel on a budget: why bargain with a tour guide who is doing a great job? Why negotiate with someone who puts all the energy and effort into his business?
Why not paying US$2.50 for a beer in a beautiful place (and drink one less)? Sometimes less is more ;-). Why not paying US$2 for a handmade brownie that took the person who made it a lot of time?
Don’t travel on a budget – travel consciously!
I don’t want to point the finger at anyone. Every traveler should decide for him- or herself if traveling on a budget is the best way to discover countries like El Salvador.
Everyone’s budget is different, and there are a lot of ways to save money on your trip!
But there are also different ways to leave a positive impact on countries like El Salvador – even as a tourist traveling on a budget or being a backpacker.
Try to see the effort someone is putting into hers or his business – and then decide if you want to value this effort somehow!
If you don’t agree or you have any suggestions on how to travel more, consciously please let us know!
The social dimension of “traveling on a budget”
The social dimension of the “travel on a budget” hype is visible. Wages in El Salvador are meager, especially in the service sector. Yes, businesses should pay their employees fairly!
But the other side of the coin is that smaller companies can’t afford to pay higher salaries to their employees (and even for themselves, of course) if you always expect the lowest price as possible.
If you spend US$5 for a dorm bed, US$5 for a scooter, and US$5for food each day, what is the positive impact for the local people in any developing country?
Let’s be honest with ourselves! We force people into the informal sector, which means not paying taxes, ignoring standards for the protection of the environment, offering lousy services, and overall providing low quality.
Also, it’s not possible to pay an employee fairly if the prices are getting cheaper and cheaper, and it’s not possible to invest in your business if there is almost no benefit of having one.