Readers' Submissions

When Will The Next Trip Be?




My annual trip to SE Asia has been cancelled for 2009. The global recession has affected many of us and I am no exception. Being a freelance programmer in USA, I have been without work for 8 months. Even if I were to get work in the next month or two, it will not be enough to muster up a budget for a SE Asia trip. To add to that, I have lost half of my savings in the stock market, at least on paper. When it rains, it pours. 1999 to 2009 can be called the Lost Decade for USA. If you had put ‘x’ amount of dollars in the US stock market in 1999, it is worth less today. Add inflation to that, and you have lost even more. The dotcom bust in 2000 took a lot of jobs offshore and this big recession, this borderline Great Depression is probably the biggest economic crisis I will see in my life. A one-two punch bringing down the country several notches as an economic powerhouse and job creating machine. As unemployment goes towards 10%, I doubt it will go down to the coveted 4 or 5 % of past years anytime soon. More and more work is done for more and more people by less and less people, thanks to technology and other factors. I hope 2010 onwards will be better. From a personal standpoint I want to be able to work for at least a dozen years from now. After that, retirement, although not preferred, would be okay. Will I receive social security? I hope so, but likely a lot less than that promised by the government.

I have taken annual trips to Thailand or Philippines almost each year since 2000. Since 2004 I have been going exclusively to Philippines. My most recent one was in 2008, when I still had work. The deals this year … airfares, hotels, even the number of bargirls available are probably the best they have been in recent times. But this year, there is zero possibility of a trip, and only wishful thinking for 2010. I wonder how many potential sex tourists have cancelled or postponed their regular periodic trips.

So, given the following : 1. Declining wages and work opportunities in USA, 2. A falling US dollar and 3. Increasing prices in Philippines, I wonder when my next trip will be?

I think the sex tourist top spot has already been taken by the Japanese and Koreans. They are the ones determining the pricing of bar fines and ladies drinks. The Chinese and Indians (resident in India, not expats) are not far behind. Although I must add that the Indians may not contribute much towards the increase in prices, they tend to want freebees and bargain for everything. I have been keeping a track of per day expenses for my trips for the last 5 years and the cost has increased (in US dollars) about 10% each year on average. This can also be attributed to the falling US dollar, which I expect will fall a lot more in the years to come.

I analyzed the costs of my SE Asia trips since the first one to Thailand in 2000. That trip was only a week long and I stayed at good hotels, took 2 in-room massages per day, and indulged in the nightlife each night. I did not try to hold down the costs on that trip, just spent whatever and whenever I wanted. I also felt financially well off due to the paper value of my assets in the stock market. This first trip coincided with the top of the stock market boom of the dot com craze. We all know what happened in the two years following. I canceled my trip for 2001. But after that I could manage a trip each year till 2008. My 2002 trip was a short one, only 3 days, taking baby steps back into the action. It was a stopover on my way to another destination, so the ticket price was just a tad higher. The trips got longer after 2004, when I changed my destination from Thailand to Philippines. The week long trip to Philippines in 2004 was similar in terms of staying at good hotels, spending on massages and indulgences during the night. I found Philippines was cheaper than Thailand, and I did not hold back on expenses. The exchange rate was also very favorable at 56 pesos to the dollar. 2005 and 2006 were about the same, but things started changing in 2007, when the US dollar started falling against the Philippine peso. I downgraded on the hotels I stayed at and just visited the higher priced popular bars, but stopped barfining from them. I barfined from the cheaper bars and started watching my expenses. The massages, barfines, ladies drinks, my drinks, taxi fares, all of it had gone up. And the falling US dollar added to that. If I spent like I did on my first trip to Thailand in 2000, I am sure it would have doubled my cost. The dollar had declined from being 55 pesos to the dollar in 2004 to being 44 pesos to the dollar in 2007. Right now it is at 48, which is not too bad. I remember the Thai Baht being about 42 to the dollar in 2000 to 34 today. With the US debt now at 13 trillion, and increasing rapidly, a US dollar crash is possible. That will have big implications for future trips to SE Asia.

I am quite conservative when it comes to money, and try to save first before spending. I live a frugal lifestyle, drive a fuel efficient compact car and have no debt at this time. With that, I thought a 2 or 3 week trip to Philippines each year would not be a problem for a foreseeable future. But I may have to get used to the “new normal”, a phrase widely used these days to explain the lifestyle changes Americans are having to go through since the great recession started. The “new normal” for me may be visiting SE Asia every 2 years instead of annually, not a good prospect.

This submission probably sounds pessimistic and negative and I would like to hear what others have to say. There is no doubt things will improve and the economy will come back on track eventually. The latest reports show Americans saving rate has increased substantially, a good sign for the long term. But even with that, the way things are going in America, a lifestyle adjustment is inevitable for most of us living here. And for me it would mean major adjustments to my trips to SE Asia.

Stickman's thoughts:

I bet there are many in the same position… The numbers of people visiting Thailand are way down, as I have reported in my weekly column, and frankly, I think next year will be worse, with unemployment set to peak next year…