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It’s Okay to Be an Opportunistic Traveler

Do you take advantage of what’s on sale when you travel? Are you traveling to destinations when they are bargain priced?

Prices in Mexico

When I put out the book Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, I talked a lot about the substantial financial savings you can get by being a contrarian traveler.

“Have you ever bought a calendar on January 1? Have you ever bought a dozen roses on February 15? Christmas candy on December 26? A bathing suit in September? A leather coat in March?”

These rhetorical questions are a way to frame the discussion about seasonal bargains and timing when shopping, but they can also be applied to destinations that are out of favor, the pariah destinations.

In the past, the pariah destinations have been places that everyone seemed to be avoiding because of SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Zika, Ebola, a terrorist attack in Spain, or Greek political demonstrations in the street. Some of these seem like ancient history now, don’t they?

Others have just moved around. Next year it will be a different time, a different scare. Every month I get a Bob Marley song stuck in my head: “So much trouble in the world…”

An Attitude of Finding a Good Travel Score

Turkish coffee vendor in Istanbul, a pariah destination right nowFor the intrepid traveler who can read a map, these problems are really opportunities. You’ll have a great time without the crowds just because the tour bus types still have old images stuck in their heads. If you go to Turkey or Argentina right now you will find the best deals in a decade. The Mexican peso is trading near a record low to the dollar these days. There are plenty of other spots where your currency will go a long way.

I’m not saying rush headlong into danger—war zones and true danger zones aren’t worth the payoff.  But Ciudad Juarez has nothing to do with Cancun and the tsunami in Sulawesi or eruptions in Bali have nothing to do with what’s going on in Sumatra. What’s happening in Syria should not impact whether you go to Petra.

One of my best travel experiences ever was when my wife and I flew into Indonesia right after a major coup, when buildings were on fire in the capital and our flight in had exactly three other people on it. We slept at the airport, caught an early flight out to Sulawesi, and saw few signs of any trouble during the two months we were island-hopping. But man oh man did we make out like bandits. It took us five weeks to spend $350, despite staying at hotels that would normally be out of our backpacker price range and eating at restaurants where we looked out of place in our shoestring travelers outfits. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and we suddenly felt rich. We could have filled a whole cargo container with unbelievable handicraft buys.

Kids in Cambodia who benefit from tourism

The Locals Really Need and Want You There

When tragedy strikes, our first reaction is to send donations or give money to some aid organization. If you ask people on the ground what they really need long-term, however, they’ll often say, “To get back to normal.”

By that they mean to have a job, for their business to do business again, for trade to resume so people have money to spend. Handouts help in the short term, but eventually people want to work and earn, on their own.

welcoming workers in Peru

When you travel to a troubled area, you find that people who live there are incredibly happy to see you. “Eat, drink, then tell your friends to come!” They give you great deals because they want your business, but they also want you to spread the word.

Some readers have called me out on this attitude in the past, saying its exploitative to take advantage of a crisis, but I’ll side with the shopkeepers, hotel owners, and restaurant owners on this one. Believe me, they’ll be very glad to see you when everyone else is staying away.

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Saturday 20th of October 2018

I am here now in Mendoza Argentina and it is great! Restaurant food is about 40% less than the USA drinks are cheap also. The food in the supermarket is the best buy, you can get the best cuts of beef for about $4 usd a pound and chicken breasts for a little less than $2 usd a pound. Lots of airbnbs for $10 a night and monthly some are only $180! Good article, I would have went back to Nicaragua but this opprotunity to see Argentina on sale and later Chile was too good to pass up. One negative here in Argentina is the ATM's will only give you 5000 pesos at a time so you end up losing 9% on fees! Bring $$$!!!