Eat what the locals eat

Two years ago I did a post called In Cheap Destinations, Some Things are Pricey. I was living in Mexico at the time and pointed out some items and services that were costing locals more than I paid in the U.S.

Since then I’ve traveled to ten other countries and will be hitting three more starting next week. I’ve come to recognize some patterns that don’t vary a lot from place to place. Keep these in mind when deciding what to pack and not pack for your next jaunt. (And for how careful you should be with those electronics!)

Usually Cheaper in the World’s Cheapest Destinations:

Restaurant meals
Local alcohol
Locally grown produce
Services fulfilled by labor (babysitting, house cleaning, a haircut, massage)
Cheap hotels/hostels
Locally made products
Handicrafts
Repairs of almost anything (back to that labor thing)
Taxes on purchases
Drugs (legal and not)
Public transportation by land
Live entertainment
Museum/attraction charges

Hiring a limo to take you there would probably cost less than this Siem Reap- Saigon flight

Usually More Expensive than in the USA

Electronics
Computers and smart phones
Clothing and toys from China
Many cosmetics from big multinationals
Tampons
Sunscreen
Imported food and alcohol
Name brand “luxury” goods (including Nike and Adidas)
Name brand travel gear/luggage/clothing/sunglasses
Cars – rental and purchase
Foreign brand soda
Postage
Online shopping and shipping

Items influenced by a monopoly status vary a lot from place to place. Phone and data charges are higher in Mexico, cheaper in more competitive markets not controlled by the world’s richest man. Beer is expensive in some places because there’s one company and high taxes, in others there’s competition and lower sin taxes. Domestic flight prices depend on many factors, including competition and whether fuel subsidies exist.

So what does all this mean for you? “Buy local” is not just good for the environment. It’s a practice that will save you money almost everywhere. Eat what’s in season and what’s popular where you’re traveling. Keep your electronic valuables safe with the right tools (and maybe some pickpocket proof pants) and don’t be sending stupid Facebook updates or tweets in a crowd when what you’re holding is worth more than a year’s salary locally. You might as well paint a target on your forehead.

Make room in your pack for sunscreen, bug repellent, and your favorite name brand toiletries. Pack the lightweight travel clothes and convertible pants, but remember that you can buy t-shirts along the way for cheap. You can get things like razors, toothpaste, and shampoo for cheap almost anywhere, but maybe not deodorant or tampons.