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Lying, Cheating, and Backpacking Around the World

FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- A group of four young French backpackers came into the Finca Tatin. We picked them up in Livingston, they rode our boat to the hotel, everything was normal. My wife, Chaya, gave them an introduction to the finca, she requested that they mark the price of the boat ride on their tab. [...]

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FINCA TATIN, Guatemala- A group of four young French backpackers came into the Finca Tatin. We picked them up in Livingston, they rode our boat to the hotel, everything was normal. My wife, Chaya, gave them an introduction to the finca, she requested that they mark the price of the boat ride on their tab. The cost for this ride is 35 Q per person, we charge half the price of the public boats. This was all normal.

Until this band of budget travelers refused to pay for their transportation.

The Finca Tatin works on an honor system, the guests keep track of their own bills. Most guests have honor, these French backpackers did not.

“Rusty at the Casa Iguana told us that the price of your boat from Livingston would be 30 Quetzales for all of us,” one of the French girls argued.

We receive guests from this Livingston hostel every day, we know that their owner would never tell anyone that the cost of our boat was this low. The Frenchies were putting us on.

“No, the price is 35 Q per person,” Chaya explained as she leafed through the tab book to show the Frenchies how every other guest paid 35 Q each for their transportation to and from Livingston.

For the record, 35 Q is less than 5 USD .Nobody has ever argued with us about this price before, it is simply too fair to counter. But the French backpackers would not be put down by the notion of fairness, they wanted a deal and they were willing to lie, cheat, and steal for it — they were traveling on a budget, you know.

They fought my wife in Spanish, they fought the owner of the hotel in French. It is printed clearly in our prices that the cost of the boat ride is 35 Q, I was confused how they could argue it. It then became clear: they thought they could get a discount by stringing together a couple of lies with arguing and complaining.

I suppose this is one budget travel strategy, though one that even I am prone to sidestep.

They lied, they tried to get us to honor the fact that another guy at another hostel who has nothing to do with us told them an unreasonably lower price for our boat. For kicks, I called the other hostel on the phone.

“Did you tell the French kids that the price of our boat was 30 Q for all of them?” I asked him in a somewhat tongue in cheek way. I knew the answer would be negative.

“I told them that it would be 30 Q each,” he spoke, “then they asked me if they could get a discount . . . They are trying to pull one on you.”

I became angry. Chaya was annoyed. The Frenchies kept arguing. The owner of the hotel raised his hands up into the air.

“We work on the honor system, pay what you feel is right.”

He then laughed and walked away from the young Frenchies, he went to dining room to eat hot dogs. He was done with it.

Chaya returned to checking the Frenchies in.

“I thought you said the price of the dorm was 45 Q for two people,” one of the French girls jumped into a new battle.

I am sure that never before in the history of travel, never in the experience of any traveler past or present has any hostel ever quoted the price of a dorm bed for two people. It has never happened, the price of a dorm bed is always for one person — I know this, the scumbag Frenchies probably also know this — but this girl again tried to lie and cheat for the salvation of a Euro or two.

A scumbag move. To barter for a cheaper price when traveling is one thing, but lying, twisting another person’s words, and cheating is another. These scumbags were trying every which way to cheat us. Our prices are cheap enough, 5 USD for a dorm bed is standard fare in Guatemala, it is a good price in most parts of the world. But the French girl tried to rally her troops to make my wife charge them the standard price of a bed for two people.

“No, Chaya spoke sternly, “the price for a dorm bed is for one person.”

She wrote the price down on their tabs without further argument.

The Frenchies then promptly went to the kitchen and ordered pizzas, the most expensive food on our menu.


“I called the Casa Iguana and they said that they did not tell the French clients that the price of our boat was 30 Quetzales for all of them,” I spoke to the owner of the finca.

“I know that,” he replied simply while laughing, “people who fight will spend their whole life fighting. I am not going to die over 100 Quetzales, I am not going to get angry about it.”

He walked away still laughing.

I laughed too, I laughed at myself. The scumbags gave me their anger and I took it with open arms, I carried it with me. They made me want to fight, they got me. They did not get the owner of the finca, he was eating hot dogs and joking with his family as I stewed in anger.

I laughed, I learned: people are not made angry, they can only chose to be angry. Their is a choice, if I am angry it is because I chose to be. Likewise, I can choose to not be angry, I don’t have to waste my life fighting people. Let them fight, and let them float away like a balloon in the wind. Like the owner of the finca, he just laughed the quarrelsome guests off — a group of scumbag backpackers and a few dollars were so far beneath him that they hardly even registered as a thought in his head, much less a concern. He did not carry them with him, he took them without a hint of seriousness. He went on with his day.

I learned from his example. I found myself laughing, too.


I added up the tabs and checked out the French scumbags the next day. I tried to let them float away, but could not fully do it, I could not help asking them about the boat price from Livingston. They had all crossed out the price in the tab book that said 35 Q and wrote in 25. I suppose they really wanted to save that one Euro each.

“Why are you only paying 25 Q for the boat?” I asked one of them. I wanted to hear what he would say.

“That is the price we agreed to pay,” he said.

Chaya chimed in, “They were told to pay what their conscience said was right.”

I looked at the French backpacker who was sitting in front of me: “So your conscience is ten quetzales cheaper than everyone else’s?”

He agreed that it was.

Poor thing. I laughed as I added up his bill.

The four Frenchies then rode away on one of our boats, four Euro richer than they otherwise would have been. I hope their one extra Euro a piece was worth the fight, I hope it was worth being regarded as scumbags for, I hope it was worth the sale of their honor. Apparently, integrity sells cheap in the backpacker circle, maybe the Frenchies will go to the next neo-hippy tourist town and brag about how they skimmed four Euro off their bill at the Finca Tatin. Perhaps others will follow in their wake and make ugly faces and fight, lie, and cheat over money as the beautiful face of the jungle looks on unfazed.

I just waved goodbye and laughed as the French backpackers sped away on the boat. Along with their honor, they left a valuable lesson in their wake:

People who fight will spend their whole lives fighting, but I have a choice: I can get angry, too, or I can go eat hotdogs and laugh.

Next time, I will chose the hotdog route — a preferable option to mirroring the ugly glares of a group of young French scumbags traveling the world on the cheat.

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Filed under: Budget Travel, Central America, Culture and Society, Guatemala, Travel Lifestyle, Traveler Culture

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

12 comments… add one

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  • craig | travelvice.com July 16, 2010, 6:45 pm

    Acting like a pack of male Israeli youth…

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com July 17, 2010, 10:41 am

      It was amazing. Almost unbelievable. They were lying and fighting for pocket change. Not that there is anything defunct in fighting over pocket change — we do this all the time haha — but to lie and try to manipulate is a tactic unfamiliar to me. I become more impressed with the world’s backpackers each day.

      Link Reply
      • craig | travelvice.com July 18, 2010, 1:37 pm

        Sounds like the kinda folk you just want to show the door to if they aren’t happy. Q35 for the ride. Feel free to arrange your own transport back. Now leave.

    • Blutsaft December 10, 2011, 11:53 pm

      This is an important issue. Backpacking and world-travelling givs
      the youth of the advanced countries the chance reflect over why
      things are like they are for a reason.

      So, when Israelean ex-conscripts in their young twenties travell
      the world with a ruggsack, backpack, for half a year, their fellow travellers, neighboors, open-minded young westernernas might become semi-antisemitic becaue of the cocky behaviour of the israelian ex-conscripts… They are as an more stupid/cocky arrogant
      copy if the same arabs they are in war with.

      I have very bad experience of younger french-males, it is impossible
      to make bussiness with them. They always cheat you, lie and cocks-around as where they from middleeast.

      Link Reply
  • The Longest Way Home July 20, 2010, 1:08 pm

    I’ve seen the honor code system get taken advantage of too often. Moreover your point about endless arguing and then buying the most expensive thing on the menu rings true.

    No wonder backpackers have a bad rep in many places around the world. Then again, it’s a wonder they even found your place.

    Next question will be do you have WIFI, and Cable TV?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com July 24, 2010, 10:36 am

      It is easier to justify lapses of honor than it is to deal with the guilt. We just had a group of UK/ Australian/ USA party boys in here who cleaned out fridge out of beer three times, and left only two or three each in the tab book.

      What can you do? I can imagine them justifying it by saying that they paid a lot of money for this or that so it all works out.

      I personally think the honor system creates more problems than what it saves, as you are not only contending with dishonesty or “justified” lapses of honor but also people forgetting what they consume or not remembering to mark it down. It then becomes my job to quiz every client on what they had to get them to remember.

      It is just the way it goes. Nobody wants to serve a group of drunk boys all night long anyway, so I suppose the honor system is the only option.

      Send you an email soon.

      Link Reply
  • emy July 21, 2010, 1:38 pm

    as a 20 something backpacker AND french girl at that, I’m ashamed to hear this kind of story which gives a bad name to backpackers (and french people…) everywhere in the world!
    along with a few backpacker “eurobrats”, there are also so many young people out there who want to travel and discover other cultures with respect and consideration for others.
    on another note, I just recently discovered this travelogue and have enjoyed reading about all your adventures, thank you for your insight and for sharing your experiences with us here 🙂

    Link Reply
    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com July 24, 2010, 10:45 am


      Thank you for adding this comment. It is my impression that the fact that they were French means very little — they could have been from just about anywhere. It is interesting to observe the backpackers who come through the finca. Correct, there are some young backpackers out there who really wish to engage and learn from their world.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  • kathy September 24, 2011, 3:40 am

    I have heard that there is a website where backpackers can go on annonomously and share ideas how they steal and where is an easy targer. I hear Carnarvon Western Australia is at the top. Being a Carnarvonite, I am intersted to see this website… any ideas ?

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard September 24, 2011, 1:23 pm

      I’ve never heard of this website. But if I do in the future I will make a note of it here.

      Link Reply
  • Uzuoma January 28, 2013, 7:20 am

    Reminds me of a passage in a book called ”Shantaram” . The writer of the book checked into a hotel in Bombay with 2 other backpackers he met on the way from the airport. The manager of the hotel charges him 7$ and he immediately accepts it without bartering on the price. When they are in the room and the manager is gone his 2 companions started to complain and told him he could easily get the price down to 4$. He then says that he was well aware that he was paying more, but if everybody paid 4$ it would mean that the people working there would miss out on their salary. For them 3$ was not so much but for the Indians it would mean a lot.
    So later on in the book the writer gets into problems and the hotel manager helps him out to return the favor.

    Link Reply
    • Vagabond Journey January 28, 2013, 7:42 pm

      @Uzuoma Thanks for sharing this. Never read this book, but it has always been my impression that allowing yourself to be charged more creates more social ills than it helps. I guess there are two extremes here: backpackers who try to lie and cheat to get prices lower and those who want to make themselves feel good by giving handouts. I think it’s best to fall in the middle. Respect people and cultivate respect for yourself.

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