Where in the world is budget travel?

Posted in Travel at 17:24 by RjZ

I’ve got bad news for you. Most likely it’s good news for the people you’ll visit, but budget travel destinations just aren’t as cheap as they used to be. It’s not a huge difference from a decade ago, and it won’t break the bank of most backpackers, but they’re not likely to get quite as far on their savings as they used to because, well, many of the classic destinations such as Thailand just aren’t so third-world anymore.

I hope you’ll agree with me though, that this isn’t really bad news at all. It means that many people (not all, to be sure) living in these budget destinations are better off. Here’s one sign that I’m right. Sure, there are more cars in Bangkok and Beijing than the roads are designed for, but cars are pretty invariable measure of economic success. Cars aren’t market priced alone like, say, local fruit is. For example, Indian auto manufacturer, Tata, is very excited to have announced the world’s cheapest car at $2500, but when I first visited Indonesia, more than a decade ago, I met quite a few people working in or around the tourist trade who were earning about $30/month. Cars are limited in how cheap they can get because at the end of the day, there’s still heavy pile of metal in them. Just because people make $360/year doesn’t mean local auto sellers can afford to start offering cars to them at prices they can afford.

Fast forward to Thailand, 2008. The majority may not have cars ,and I reckon something like 40% of the vehicles on the road were low powered motor-scooters, but there were plenty of cars. Nice cars. Sporty cars with flashy extras. Venture out to more rural areas and nearly 100% of the vehicles were more practical trucks, but there’s no denying that many Thais can afford automobiles. What that tells us is that many Thais make the same money, or near it, as people in the west do, simply because there is no reason to imagine that cars are magically cheaper in Thailand.

Well it’s about time too! Thailand is modern country with a sophisticated manufacturing and services economy. Bangkok is an unmistakable an incomparable world city on par with Paris, London, and New York. It’s almost a shame that I would write such a presumptuous post! Except that many people visit Thailand, and countries like it, because they can afford the expensive flight, only because once they’ve arrived it’s so cheap.

Rest assured, it still is pretty inexpensive in Thailand (whew !). Food is ubiquitous, delicious, and about a $1 per meal and hotels range from three star quality for Motel 6 prices to run-down-but-clean-and-safe-enough for a few dollars—where in the U.S. or Europe can you stay for a few dollars except for a friend’s couch? Travel around the country is also a great value. It cost $11 to take a bus from my home to the airport and about twice that for a deluxe bus with a meal and a (flight?) attendant for the all night ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Still, the world is changing and while everything hasn’t caught up to western prices in Thailand, I suspect it won’t be long before they do. While many of us may lament the end of true budget travel, can we really begrudge people the same cell-phones and cars that we use back home?

P.S. I sure hope we find an alternative to the gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing automobile soon! While I can’t begrudge the developing world a car in every garage, I doubt that the earth can handle it if everyone acted just like U.S. Americans do!

1 Comment »

  1. Traveling Hypothesis » We need a breakthrough said,

    February 15, 2008 at 13:22

    [...] Yesterday’s post was supposed to be about the changes in budget travel, but it was really about what happens when the developing world develops. The simple fact is that it’s usually great for individuals to have more cars and cellphones and food and fashion choices, but we’ve got to face that it’s not necessarily so great for trees and bunnies and the earth. As we humans take up more and more space, use more and more resources, and consume more and more energy, we’ll surely race towards a point where our status quo of cars and coal-plants will take too great a toll. [...]

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