Travel light and save cash

An adventurous way to travel is to arrive in a country totally unprepared. Depending on the place, it can also be a very economical way to see the world.

Developing nations have long been magnets for young adults strapped for cash. Some of the greatest ancient ruins on Earth are found in places that are relatively inexpensive to explore, such as Egypt, Cambodia, and Peru. Visiting Thailand’s beaches has all but replaced a trip to Europe as a rite of passage for young people fresh out of college.

These are all places where it pays to arrive unprepared.

Walking through New Delhi’s chaotic Paharganj neighbourhood last June, I found myself thinking how stupid it was to stock up on toiletries in Canada. I found little shops catering to tourists everywhere, selling everything one could possibly need for a stay in India—and it was all dirt-cheap.

A bottle of shampoo that cost $3 or $4 in Vancouver was $2 in Paharganj. The same went for every toiletry I could think of. From toothpaste and soap to sunblock and mosquito repellent, it was all there, and highly affordable.

New Delhi also turned out to be a great place to buy some of the more expensive travel accessories I had forgotten to purchase in Canada. At the massive Connaught Place market, I bought a pair of sunglasses for $3 that would have cost me $15 or more in Vancouver. At the end of my stay, I also bought a bag of reasonable quality—to hold all the gifts I had accumulated—for the equivalent of just a few Canadian dollars.

Flip-flops, running shoes, pants, and T-shirts were available in most cities I visited in India. I could have shown up with nothing but a wad of rupees and found all of the supplies I needed for my trip without breaking the bank.

Several years ago, I experienced a similar situation on a journey through Southeast Asia. On Bangkok’s infamous Khao San Road, travellers can find almost anything they need (and buy it all without ever putting down their whisky bucket).

In Cambodia, I discovered that even bringing reading material to many developing countries is unnecessary. In the capital city of Phnom Penh, street venders sold an astounding variety of English-language books for as little as a quarter of what you would pay in Canada. And there were some great reads that you would be hard-pressed to find in Vancouver. A lot of the books were specific to the region or by Asian authors who aren’t widely distributed in North America. It was pretty clear that many of the books were knockoffs—legitimate bookstores weren’t charging much less than a North American outlet would—but pirating issues and poor-quality copies don’t appear to put off many travellers. English travel guides are also available in almost every Asian city I’ve visited.

There are pitfalls to buying abroad. Travellers should remain skeptical about the quality of the UV protection they’ll get from a suspicious-looking bottle of suntan lotion, for example. But with common sense, visitors to the developing world can find that the cheapest way to travel is to arrive in a country with little more than a camera and a backpack.

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