He Said/She Said: Paying the Trolls

He Said/She Said: Paying the Trolls

While hiking in developing countries tourists will often encounter toll collectors charging for bridge crossings or to continue on the trail.  All too often these are unofficial toll takers who charge merely for their presence, discerning the legitimate from the enterprising toll taker is difficult and often causes many uncomfortable situations.  When you encounter a troll should you pay?




I’ll be the first to admit: it’s hard to tell if a person collecting money on a trail has any right to.  It is very possible that the vast majority of these trolls are just enterprising locals that realize tourists will hand them money for standing there.  Even worse, when you see locals walking by without paying you’d be superhuman if your blood didn’t boil.  Though I put up resistance, I almost always pay.

Judging the legitimacy of trolls is impossible.  While I would love it if all trails and bridges featured government issued signs, people in uniforms, and E-Z-Pass lanes, in less organized countries this isn’t possible.  The reality on the ground is that these trails and bridges exist, usually in good condition because of, not in spite of, the locals that  do the work.  There isn’t a national park service or Halliburton contractors building bamboo bridges in Laos or laying rocks in China.  The reason people are coming to visit these places are because of the local’s work, work for which they deserve to get paid for.

Is it possible that the person collecting the money didn’t do the work?  Absolutely, but does a highway tollbooth employee in the US build the road?  No.  Is it possible that the money collected isn’t shared among everyone that helped out?  Probably.  But, does the collection of money spur additional work, maintenance and improvement of the very thing that brought you to a place?  Hopefully.

It annoys me when I pay a fee and a path is straddled with litter or in disrepair.  I feel this way in the US as well, why do we pay road taxes when there are more potholes than pavement? Comfortable hiking, no matter where, requires work, care and money, who we pay that money to doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the trail exists, protects the natural environment and is maintained.  Paying $2 to a woman in China is still a lot easier than paying $240 to do a “Great Walk” in New Zealand.



thinkCHUA has pointed this out before and I admit it, I’m cheap.  If I can save money I do. We have taken many a long bus rides and skipped several taxis in favor of carrying our bags just to save a few bucks.  So, it really gets under my skin when there is an enterprising local charging me what appears to be an arbitrary fee just for tourists.  While I might be all about well maintained paths and bridges that won’t send me plunging into the river below it’s hard to pay these “trail trolls”.

Just like the tuk tuk drivers in Thailand that take you to the wrong border crossing in hopes of getting the  best of you, it is hard for me to determine who is “the real deal”.  Because it is so hard to determine the real trolls from the fake ones, I shy away from handing over the cash too quickly.  There’s nothing that gets my blood boiling more than being taken advantage of, even though I know it’s inevitable.

This is one of those situations where thinkCHUA really balances me out, by pointing out how important it is to support local entrepreneurs.  Even if they didn’t necessarily do the work they are aware enough of the situation to take advantage and in some ways that should be rewarded.  I also always have to put in perspective how much more fortunate I am than the people that are collecting these fees to support their family.

Ultimately, whether I agree with paying the fees or not we end up forking over the cash.  So, while I may want to save money, I know I’m in a position where giving over a few dollars to a “trail troll” won’t break my travel budget.  However, those few dollars will make a huge difference for the people willing to guard the track or bridge to collect my money.  Sometimes the most important thing travel provides is perspective, which we have both learned several times over this past year.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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