When it comes to unnecessary travel costs, the biggest con man is often yourself…
Oh this is such a waste, I thought. My usually grotty and utilitarian travel shirts had 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 serving Michelin-starred cuisine in a working men’s club.
With a heavy heart, I tore the cardboard out, removed the clips and bundled everything up into a scruffy pile so they’d fit in my bag. Using the hotel laundry was an indulgence – I could have waited a day and washed everything at home – but at approximately £9 for the full load, why not?
The number of travellers that don’t get a little tingle of delight from securing a bargain can probably be counted on one hand. A hand clad in a mitten.
The flipside of this, of course, is that searing anger that courses 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.
But far worse than being ripped off by someone else is the knowledge that you’ve essentially swindled yourself through first grade idiocy. Cursing and blaming others for their evil scheming pacifies the fury somewhat. When the finger can only realistically be pointed at yourself, 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.
Inability to use a rudimentary calendar can be another problem. More than once, I’ve managed to get to the day of travel before realising that 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 is booking the ticket for the wrong date, buying one with the right date the next day, then forgetting to set the alarm so that 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,” tends to be a suitably generic description.
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.
“Did you have anything from the minibar?” the receptionist asked as I checked out. Of course not, I replied. I’m not that recklessly slapdash with my money. I bought two cans of beer from the 7/11 across the road instead like every good frugal alcoholic should.
“Then it’s just your laundry to pay for, then.” I handed over a small note. She stared at me and turned her screen round. I didn’t owe £9. I owed £90.
But the letter on the desk, it said it was only… She printed out a copy of the letter and handed it over. I groaned. It was £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 did what any right-thinking member of the human race would do in the situation: threw a massive tantrum. But after I’d shouted myself silly at various levels of management, I knew I’d have to face the truth. It was all my own fault. I handed over my credit card, gritting my teeth and weeping inside behind the snarl. Self-swindled, yet again.
This was originally written as a column for National Geographic Traveller, which you should really subscribe to.
All content copyright David Whitley.