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One of the keys to my (relatively) frugal travel in India involved sugar…. and toiletries.
Can you even call yourself a frugal traveler if you haven’t pocketed a few hotel toiletries?
I knew a partner at a large real estate firm who lived in a million dollar home who did a lot of travel. She said she always took the toilet paper and kleenex boxes home with her after a night in a hotel. I think that’s a little much (and I like nicer toilet paper), but in some settings, you can turn those hotel freebies into memories.
When traveling domestically I have had my husband roll his eyes on more than one occasion when I come back with a suitcase full of L’occitane products (thank you Kimpton hotels, my favorite chain). Or I get a heavy sigh when I return with a 6 months supply of fancy tea bags from emptying out the single serve coffee supply set every morning.
I think it’s fun because usually I wouldn’t buy these things myself. Also, since, for reasons I’ll probably try to delve into on another post, I’m willing to pay a little more for a mid-class hotel, and I consider all of these things part of the price I am paying for…so YOU BET I’ll be taking advantage of that and the free wine hour.
My biggest trip was 3 weeks in India and Nepal
That was about 4 years ago. I really haven’t done much travel out of the US be honest. I’ve been to Mexico twice. I’ve been to Europe once. This trip to India was our last “big trip” before deciding to get a family started and hunker down for toddlerhood.
The “luxury” hotels included in our tour of India (nice places, probably what I would consider mid-class in America) presented a new host of hotel freebies to explore. Strange varieties of black tea and nespresso powders along with exotic scents in the toiletry products. Of course I loaded up my bag the first night with a bunch of stuff I found.
First frugal travel in India tip: Use your hotel tea bar to set yourself up with beverages for the following day.
In India (just like many other countries) we had to buy bottled water, no surprise there. We were assured that the water was safe at the hotels we stayed at, but I wasn’t completely convinced.
Using my daily tea bag selection, I would make a whole bunch of black tea (boiled, so should be safe), then pour it into the water bottles I had accumulated throughout the day and put them in the cooler overnight. Next day, I would have at least 4 bottles of iced tea, for free, and something nice to breakup just another bottle of Nestle water as well as caffeine pick me up to help with travel headaches or tiredness.
Second frugal travel in India tip: Don’t buy your drinks/snacks off the tour bus, plan ahead and buy locally!
They had water supplied on our tour bus, but most of the fellow tour group people were paying ONE US DOLLAR for a 500ml bottle of water. That’s nuts! The nephew of the tour guide along for the ride simply to sell water must have been making a killing.
On the rare occasions when we would buy water because I hadn’t sourced enough tea, I would buy a couple of 1L bottles for less than 50 cent US a piece (honestly I don’t remember the price, but I thought the people on the bus with us must be idiots to not be thinking a few hours ahead to the fact that they might want some more water).
But the best use of freebies was this…
The first morning we packed up and took a little walk before having to head off to the tour bus. Of course my travel bag was loaded with some bits from the hotel, not to mention a backpack full of iced tea. I really didn’t put much thought into it because, it’s what I normally do.
Our first night was in New Delhi, and there are plenty of street children and beggars. We weren’t two blocks from the hotel when a large group of street children started following us and making the universal motions of begging.
I refuse to give beggars money. Depending on the time of day I’m happy to share any food I have, but that wasn’t really an option at the moment. But, I quickly remembered my bag with lotion, sugar packets and espresso powder and thought, “what the heck, worst they can do is throw it away.”
To my surprise, it seemed to be quite a hit. I just randomly grabbed things out of my bag and started handing it to the children (trying to focus the toiletries to the girls).
They actually stopped following us altogether, needing to take the time to inspect what they had ended up with. This was interesting because it gave use the time to take a seat and watch THEM without any focus on us. They started to compare items and trade with each other.
Third frugal travel in India tip: Freely give those hotel freebies to those in need.
My favorite part (and not the only time it happened on the trip once I started my now then daily practice) was seeing a young girl rub what was probably shower gel, not even lotion, on her skin and start smelling it and smiling to herself and then passing her arm around for the other girls to smell.
I still remember the look on that girls face, and then the look of gratitude she gave me.I remember it even more than I remember anything about our tour later in the day to the Jama Masjid.
Someone brought up online when I mentioned this “tip” for dealing with beggars, something along the lines of “aren’t you worried your encouraging them not to go to school (contributing to the begging)?” Well… no, I’m not.
There are thousands of beggar children (and adults, I’ve got some stories on that later, maybe), and plenty of tourists. I’m not putting an end to that practice of begging anytime soon.
BUT, I do know that when the children are begging for money there is often a hierarchy of who the money goes to. A lead kid, back to an adult, etc. I figure if I’m giving out consumables:
- They get to use it, there’s nothing to pass on to someone.
- It get’s them off my back for a while, since they usually seemed to take the time to inspect what I gave them.
- When I gave the “all gone” hands signal they seemed to respect it, whereas if you’re giving money, they know you’ve always got more.
- As I said above, it actually produced some pretty good memories and a chance to observe.
- It feels good to bring a little joy to someone’s day.
Lastly, it’s not just beggar children who appreciated this stuff!
In India, there was a whole industry of “fake” yogis, guys who dress up/paint themselves up and plant themselves in high tourist areas waiting for their pictures to be taken. They expect some sort of compensation for when you take their picture. Of course you’re not obligated. I could throw a few tea bags in their bowl.
Likewise, for the holy men ,”Sadhus”, those who simply sat waiting for alms from their fellow Indians as good karmic gestures (they shun money and are not traditional beggars), I had something I could offer in exchange for a blessing.
Happy frugal and fulfilling travels!
Regina is That Frugal Pharmacist. She’s a PharmD, mother to a son with cancer, breadwinning wife, personal finance enthusiast, artist, writer, and entrepreneur. Regina’s single-income household has been debt-free, including her home, since she was 28 years old.
Her money approach is “holistic financial health.” She encourages mindful spending, awareness of the non-monetary costs of choices, and aligning personal values with money habits. Regina sees a frugal lifestyle and mindset as an important part of environmental stewardship. As such she’s interested in ongoing efforts towards self-sufficiency and sustainability.