5 skills to learn before you go backpacking

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2. Know your maths

Paying for a meal or bus ticket in a new country can sometimes feel like playing with Monopoly money. Which means knowing your mental arithmetic for converting currency is a must.

In Zimbabwe in 2008, for example, the government issued a laughable Z$100 trillion note (the equivalent of US$300). As travellers to Victoria Falls around that time may well remember, it was easy to get fleeced if you didn’t know your sums, especially when counting-out paltry $500 billion notes (US$1).

3. Master the ethics of haggling

Look up the dictionary definition of haggling and you’ll find this: “to bargain or wrangle, specifically over a price or an agreement”. What it doesn’t say is how even the simplest of head-to-head transactions, be it over a rickshaw ride in Delhi, or an impulsive sombrero purchase in Oaxaca (a trap we can all fall into), can turn into an existential ethical dilemma. You may have got a bargain, but in return you’ve deprived a family and hungry children.

Conversely, you may have been ripped off by a scoundrel, leaving you kicking yourself for not knowing better. Maybe the dictionary definition should adapt to calling it immersion therapy.

In real terms, bartering is no more than an age-old game like chess. Your opponent will never bet against themselves, so it’s just a matter of resilience. The provider also knows you can afford it more than they can, so the question is who has the greater need?

Learning the knack of recognising what a product or service is worth, not just to you but to the seller, takes time but is a key survival skill. Some say you should start at half of what is offered, others say two-thirds.

Even if you pay slightly more than you’d like, you’ll almost always come out richer for the experience. And remember, there’s no glory in saving a few pennies. Because nobody likes a Scrooge.

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