What Are Traveler Tolls?
As a matter of course, while traveling, you’re going to be paying higher prices for many things, mostly due to the shorter term nature of your use of: accommodations, transportation, coworking, gym’s, etc.
These higher-than-“normal” prices are the “traveler tolls” – and you can’t avoid them.
What Traveler Tolls Are Not
Before we get into this – two caveats:
- This is not talking about being fleeced or scammed by unscrupulous locals – like taxi’s more often than not. It’s the legitimate, inflated market prices universally available “exclusively” to you as a traveler – higher prices you’re going to have to get used to, as a matter of course.
- You can of course “try” to offset these tolls, but you can’t avoid them. By going to places where their currency or economy is weaker, you will be able to afford more – get more “bang for your buck” as it were – but still, relative to the price people (especially locals, but also foreigners who are able to commit for longer than you), you are paying those tolls.
Why Do They Exist?
Your investment and risk are reduced, and that carries a premium, in addition to value-added, oh-so-important flexibility you’re paying for.
Relative Value is Key
For example, in South Korea you have to put down a 5-15k USD deposit to rent an apartment (at least, any decent one), even for less than a year (which they really don’t like at all). They may reduce it to that lower 5k range if you’re either good at negotiating (in my case, a local business owner), or pay the full term up front. What are you going to do in that case? Airbnb is a mighty fine option, in fact an absolute bargain.
Another example, medium-term car rentals in the US – in this case under a “mini-lease” program. Pay the same monthly as you would for a Mercedes SUV, get a Ford one (not including the CCR I admit, but low upfront investment is the name of the game). Still way better than normal car rental rates.
Your Only Real Choice in the Matter
After accepting traveler tolls as an unavoidable part of the equation of travel, you have the options to either make more money or lower your standards in one way or another.
The latter could mean traveling to cheaper countries where your shekels go further, and in those cases it may not even seem like your standards of living are reduced – at least for a time. The novelty will make up for a lot, and it’ll be very easy to overlook things you wouldn’t want to accept in your home country when they’re under the banner of “adventure” or “exotic” (which is legitimate, though at some point you get your fill if you are aiming for higher standards of living).
Offsetting Traveler Tolls by Volume
That’s basically the “digital nomad gamut” for the most part (by no means all – but that’s at least the practical initial appeal for the majority).
Like What You See?
It’s one of the main reasons that digital nomad hubs mostly revolve around price.
There are other factors, but none as important as plentiful cheap accommodations and food that surround reasonably developed infrastructure in a (usually) warm climate that looks nothing like where you came from (bonus points for cheap scooters to rent).
Take out the “cheap” and you have a normal place (albeit quite nice – and probably touristic).
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
In fact, all the better that those kinds of places exist, as they provide great socializing opportunities and an easy pace of living, whether you’re just starting the lifestyle (in which case it’s also good for a “soft landing”), or kicking back in perpetuity.
Unavoidable, Unoffsettable, “Overhead” Traveler Tolls
In addition to the necessities mentioned above – paying more for rent, for rentals, and use of common facilities like gym’s and coworking spaces – comes a category of traveler tolls that one can basically consider as “administrative overhead”.
Realistically, you can expect these types of costs involved right at the nexus of movements in places.
Proof of onward flights, visa “run” costs, and even the initial process of getting your bearings in a new place (and the inverse one of wrapping up your stay in the previous one).
They aren’t always only a matter of money, though. In fact, most times, even when there is a financial cost, there is also a huge time overhead involved.
Sometimes that time overhead can, again, be justified under the veil of novelty – like the first things you do in a new place, “administrative” as they may be, like going shopping.
Other times, however, like the time ratio of preparing for a movement (flights, accommodations, planning your activities in a new place, etc.) must be taken for what they are – an annoyance of an overhead – and dealt with appropriately, either for example by planning longer stays so you get more ROI of time in the place for what is relatively the same amount of preparation (or sometimes less as the reduced time pressure means you have to plan less of it, and can explore more), or turn that low value activity over to somebody who can help you.
The Bottom Line
This isn’t an article meant to complain about how cheap everything is or isn’t – when you’re traveling a lot you often here these conversations centered around this topic, with constant bragging about how cheap things are, or complaining about how cheap things aren’t, and it’s one of the most offputting and, frankly, annoying behaviors that permeate this community.
Rather, this is perhaps an attempt to combat that, but more so, to give you a realistic expectation when it comes to travel: explaining this is the lifestyle you’ve walked into, and you basically have three ways of dealing with.
You can either:
- Pay the toll person to live at a consistent standard of living really anywhere you want,
- Hop on the bus and go where the other people do,
- Or try to walk under the bridge.
It’s your choice whether you aim at (1) true locational freedom, (2) greatly limited options, (3) or subsistence.