Being adventurous sometimes means compromising being a cheapskate. At this point in the semester, I have excused myself from spending $5 per day countless times. Sometimes it’s justified, but sometimes I mess up in expensive ways. Here are some instances when I spent more than $5 in one day, intentionally or not:
- Buying grapes: On one of my first days in Saigon, a street vendor selling fruit demanded 100,000 dong ($5) for a tiny bag of black grapes. Assuming I was getting ripped off because I’m a foreigner, I tried to negotiate. The woman in turn started to harass me in Vietnamese and began to attract a crowd, so I sheepishly handed over my entire allotment for the day.
- Drinking too much. Alcohol kills…budgets.
- Not knowing what food I’m ordering. I like to think I’m fearless when it comes to food at this point, but every now and then I order something that is truly disgusting. As a result, I break my budget buying a second meal to compensate for the inedible one.
- Treating my Vietnamese partner. Loyola students are paired with Vietnamese university students to learn about each other’s cultures. My partner has been the ultimate tour guide during my semester abroad; she takes me on motorbike rides, scouts out bars to try and does her best to hold in laughter when I practice Vietnamese phrases. Treating her to coffee, dinner and souvenirs is the least I can do in exchange for her providing me a window into Vietnam.
- Buying pizza. All Western food is much more expensive than the local cuisine in Vietnam, so I choose not to eat much of it. But occasionally, an American needs pizza. Despite having shaped my day around the fact that I would be purchasing a $4 personal pizza for dinner, I still ended up about 50 cents over budget.
- Traveling outside of Saigon. Paying for transportation, housing and tours can get costly, even though it’s more affordable in Southeast Asia than in Western countries, but I do pretty well at limiting food purchases and souvenirs to less than $5 a day while I’m traveling.
- Hiring motorbike taxis instead of walking or taking the public bus. On occasions when I am lost, running late or too sweaty to go on, I splurge, and the feeling of flying is well worth it. Rides typically cost about $2.
It may seem silly to stress about going over budget by $1 or $2 because that’s pocket change in the United States. Most of my classmates and I have gotten accustomed to the currency gap, though; we think in terms of dong, not dollars. Getting a full meal for $3 sounds like a bargain, but in Vietnam that equates to 60,000 dong, which some Vietnamese consider quite pricey.