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Paying for our idiocy: David Whitley

Despite our best efforts as frugal travellers, when it comes to incurring unnecessary travel costs, it’s usually our own stupidity that’s short-changing us

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Oh this is such a waste, I think. My usually grotty and utilitarian travel shirts have come back beautifully presented; each wrapped in its own bag, with little bits of cardboard in the collars to keep them in shape. Bless them; bestowing such effort on such scraggy excuses for clothing is the sartorial equivalent of serving Michelin-starred cuisine in a working men’s club.

With a heavy heart, I tear the cardboard out, remove the clips and bundle everything up into a scruffy pile so they’ll fit in my bag. Using the hotel laundry was an indulgence — I could have waited a day and washed everything at home — but at around £9 for the full load, why not?

The number of travellers that don’t feel a little tingle of delight from securing a bargain can probably be counted on one (mitten-clad) hand.

The flip side of this, of course, is the searing anger coursing through your penny-pinching veins when you realise you’ve been ripped off. For every three-nights-for-the-price-of-two deal, there’s a taxi driver with a ‘broken’ meter and an admirably expansive interpretation of the quickest route from A to B.

Cursing and blaming these people for their evil scheming pacifies the fury somewhat. But far worse than being ripped off by someone else is knowing you’ve essentially swindled yourself through first-grade idiocy. When the finger can only be pointed at you, there’s no one else to lash out at.

Exchange rates are a common source of self-inflicted ego — and wallet — wounds. The horror when you realise that the £5 bargain was actually a £500 day-wrecker due to poor application of times tables is a traveller’s rite of passage.

An inability to use a rudimentary calendar can be another problem. More than once, I’ve managed to reach the day of travel before realising I actually booked the train for the previous day. In such situations, you can phone up the train company and call them vicious, inhumane beasts, but it does little good. My personal best on this front was booking the ticket for the wrong date, buying one with the right date the next day, then forgetting to set the alarm, meaning I had to buy a third, even more expensive ticket at the station.

As for managing to keep the return section of a return ticket, forget it. They get whisked away instantly by the impish pocket fairies.

Replacement tickets aren’t the only pointless budget drain, of course. The first day of every trip should be spent buying a new pair of sunglasses due to the previous pair being left at home, sat on or smashed inside an over-ambitiously packed bag. The same applies to umbrellas, unless you pull the trick of going into a random pub and claiming you left one there the previous night. “Ooh, it’s black and average-sized,” usually works for me.

A wise entrepreneur could easily make a fortune on the back of such absent-minded travellers. He or she simply needs to open up a small shop next to every hotel in the world, selling phone chargers and universal adaptors. The shop will therefore be in the right place when panicked new arrivals realise they’ve left theirs in the socket at the previous hotel.

Come to think of it, the hotels could make a tidy sum selling on said chargers and adaptors. They could use the cash to reduce charges elsewhere. Like on laundry bills, for example.

Back at my hotel, I’m checking out. “Did you have anything from the mini-bar?” the receptionist asks. Of course not, I reply. I’m not that recklessly slapdash with my money. I bought two cans of beer from the 7-Eleven across the road instead, like every good, frugal alcoholic should.

“Then it’s just your laundry to pay for, then,” she responds. I hand over a small note. She stares at me and turns her screen round. I don’t owe £9. I owe £90.

But the letter on the desk, it said it was only… She prints out a copy of the letter and hands it over. I groan. It’s £9 OFF the price of the laundry, not £9 in total. All of that presentation — the little cardboard collars, the separate plastic bags, the presumable use of fabric conditioner made from unicorn saliva and angel tears — costs.

So I do what any right-thinking member of the human race would do in the situation: throw a massive tantrum. But after shouting myself silly at various levels of management, I know I have to face the truth: it’s all my own fault.

I hand over my credit card, gritting my teeth and weeping inside, behind the snarl. Self-swindled, yet again.

 

Published in the September 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)