You probably didn’t notice, but I was away for three weeks. On vacation. Yes, three whole weeks of being somewhere else and doing exactly what I wanted to do (museums, food, wine, start-up conversations with dogs in the street).
It was also three whole weeks of spending, and trying not to spend too much and considering each potential purchase’s bang for the euro. Sticking to budget, and blowing the budget, spending wisely and flushing money down the proverbial toilet.
And when the latter happened, trying not to let it ruin my whole day.
In three weeks, I was reminded over and over again how many ways there are to be scammed, fleeced, gouged, fee’d and taxed. I remembered that the kindness of strangers does not extend to them lowering their price just for you. I realized that prices are ridiculous because the market will bear them. You have to decide what’s important to you when you travel.
And try to get it for the most reasonable price out there.
I remembered how eager people are to take your money, and how easy it is to let them — especially when you’re the stranger and not familiar with either local customs or language.
Then again, I also was reminded — forced to remember, perhaps — that there are plenty of ways to save: There are cheaper alternatives or ways to get discounts for almost anything, from entrance fees to transportation. You can even get money back on that extravagant pair of boots or replacement lens you just had to buy.
I’m pretty good, by now, at finding alternatives and knowing where I can save. Then again, you can’t go three weeks (longer, if you count the planning stages for a trip) without getting your wallet walloped in some new or unfamiliar way.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore (can you say, “Exercise in futility?”); I have enough reasons to castigate myself without that.
I don’t say things like, “This year, I’ll be smarter about spending on vacations.” Someone’s already out there, poised to pull the pin on the vacation-budget hand grenade. But I figure by putting down some of the most widespread ways we travelers waste money, it’ll help me remember — and maybe a bell will go off for you next vacation, before you toss those bucks down the drain.
THE TIP-OFF: Americans are trained to tip. The etiquette, the percentage, those details vary, but when the waiter delivers our bill, we knee-jerk start figuring what to add on to the total for the server. When you’re out of the country, however, you should be looking a little more closely at your bill. To see if you even need to leave a tip at all.
Tipping customs vary wildly around the world — from Japan and South Korea, where it’s frowned upon, to China, where it’s usually considered insulting, to France, Switzerland, Finland and the Czech Republic (to name a few) all of which have laws requiring the tip / service charge be included in the final cost. Usually you can find a clue about the tipping question on the bill: “service compris” in France; “servizio incluso” in Italy; “Servicio no incluido” in Spain.
I was a waitress — I leave good tips. I didn’t realize how good 20 percent was in Paris on top of the 15 percent required by French law. Certainly, if you appreciated the service, it’s fine to kick in a bit extra. Also keep in mind the U.S. average for a tip is 18 percent, much higher than the average in most countries.