Parents in Tow, Finding a Charming and Cheap Corner of Panama

For his last Frugal trip with his parents, Seth Kugel heads to the Azuero Peninsula in the south of Panama.

Comments: 16

  1. I wonder how much the extra $56.00 that Martha didn't get for the second room would have meant to her versus what paying the additional $56.00 would mean to you and your parents. It's not something I would brag about and your comment left a bad taste in my mouth.

  2. LIghten up. He was just living up to the "frugal" in "Frugal Traveler." And Martha is getting priceless publicity.

  3. How priceless is publicity that creates negative revenue?

    One can estimate how much $56 means to Martha based on per capita GDP. For 2014, the World Bank estimates Panama's per capita GDP as $11,948.90 (compared to $54,629.50 for the US).

    Making the overly optimistic assumption that Martha only works 40 hours a week, that per capita GDP produces an estimated hourly wage of $5.74. At that wage, $56 lost per night represents 9.75 hours of uncompensated work.

    So Seth's scam costs Martha, or more properly speaking, Martha's business, about a day's wages for each night of his upgrade. But at that rate, Martha is no longer running a business; she's operating a charity for the benefit of the self-serving privileged.

  4. Seth didn't "scam" anyone.

    Unprompted, Martha offered the second room to Judy and Peter of her OWN FREE WILL, which speaks to her generosity.

    As the owner of her great grandmother's family home that she converted into a B&B, Martha doesn't earn an hourly wage so your assumptions don't apply.

    In fact, Martha is a professional attorney and official interpreter so your presumed image of her as the underpaid "Third World" victim of a "self-serving privileged" Yankee is nothing more than a tired stereotype.

  5. Will miss you, Seth. Happy trails and adventures!

  6. You can get $1 bills from the new Chase big-screen ATMs

  7. Will definitely miss your columns.

  8. As the beneficiaries of global inequality, I think we should mind our ethics in traveling frugally. It's one thing to benefit from the difference in the cost of living and quite another to game the market by consciously pursuing freebies that arise out of the hospitality and generosity of the people we visit.

    Let's face it, most readers of this column travel because they can afford to -- that they also enjoy a bargain seems reasonable. That puts many readers of the New York Times travel columns some distance from those who travel (pronounced "migrate") to replace political oppression, criminal violence, and economic hopelessness with a different struggle. Wouldn't truly frugal travel attempt to reduce those social costs? Shouldn't we travel with some of the same generous spirit with which we hope to be received?

    Personally, I expect to pay a modest premium over what locals pay when traveling in places where the per capita GDP is less than half of ours. In many places (Mexico, Vietnam for example), I consider it a tax for being welcomed as an economic support -- instead of being berated as the inheritor of colonialist patrimony. That said, I have drawn the line with taxi drivers who exceeded the typical tax on visitors from advanced economies.

    Moving on from this column may limit further corruption by the chase for "bargains." Perhaps any future Frugal Traveler should stop by The Ethicist for a consult about the corrosive effects of transactionalism.

  9. Your mention of Panamanian major leaguers overlooked some guy named Mariano Rivera.

    Too bad, also, that you wrote of Pedasí. It's a charming, yet authentic little town (I stumbled upon repository for carnival floats while there a couple years ago) with some gorgeous beaches nearby.

  10. Sorry to hear you're moving on. Bon voyage!

  11. Thanks, Seth. We've enjoyed your articles and since I have a vacation home near Pedasi ( an area popular with surfers & adventure tourists well before retirement gurus started hyping it), my sisters loved reading your take on this and about your travels with parents. Another inexpensive spot in Panamá is Volcan, on the other end of the country in a water rich province,Chiriqui. It's near beautiful mountain preserves, trails (and a wonderful remote lodge Mount Totumas) , but the town itself is typically Panamanian with some low cost Hostals, markets , restaurants and bakeries. Unlike the equally overhyped Boqete, this is a low key place.

  12. Great article, Azueros is a beautiful place.

    By the way, is your mom the Kennedy School Judy Kugel?

  13. Another great column Seth. Will miss you in my inbox :)
    My only trip to Panama was an accident - en route to Ecuador and got stranded in Panama City for a night. Since then, I have vowed to return to explore some of the beaches and even the inner city beauty of P. City. Did you know there was an enormous urban rain forest within city limits?
    Here are a few trips for anyone also considering this friendly, close to home destination

  14. You will be missed, Seth, but we assume that you will be followed by another Frugal writer(s) who will exhaust themselves finding interesting and cheap options. Be sure to post your blog/personal pages so we can check on your next project. Good luck.

  15. Thanks so much for one final Frugal Family column - your parents have been a highlight (one of many) of your excellent reporting. Wishing you and them the best as you move on to other adventures.

  16. As an American born Panamanian, I find myself reading these articles with a bit of ambivalence. It is nice to see my country mentioned in another travel article, but I cringe when I read articles written from the American perspective. However, I remind myself of the fact that my relationship with the country differs from a foreigner's; I have dual citizenship. My point of reference is quite different.

    For example, as mentioned in the article, we are very passionate about baseball. Instead of the Diamondbacks player mentioned, I would have mentioned our pride and joy, retired Yankee Mariano Rivera.

    Different point of reference.