Rickshaw Driver in India

How Much Would You Pay This Rickshaw Driver In India?

Derek India, Perspectives 150 Comments

Rickshaw Driver in India

It’s not a quiz. It’s not a contest. I’m genuinely interested in learning how you would handle the following situation.

Three days ago, I spent two hours in the heart of Old Delhi with a friend of mine who happened to be in the city as well. We wandered through the lanes of Chandni Chowk market, listened to the music inside of a Sikh temple and ate lunch at my favorite parantha-wallah. It was my typical routine. Every time I return to India, this is what I do on my first day in order to get re-adjusted to being back in this country. After lunch, I normally head back to my hotel for an afternoon rest as this is about the time when the long flight and time zone change start catching up with me.

The distance between the part of Chandni Chowk market where we finished wandering the other day and Paharganj, the area where each of our hotels were located, is about 4 kilometers (2.4 miles), and while I’ve walked that route on dozens of occasions, sometimes I just feel like taking a bicycle rickshaw. On this particular day, that was the case.

I went up to a rickshaw driver and asked him how much the ride would cost. He told me 100 rupees, a fare that translates to about $1.60 USD. And even though I knew perfectly well that a local Indian would probably pay a lower fare than this, I accepted his rate anyway. I personally don’t like to bargain when the difference I’m bargaining for would be around 50 cents or less.

The ride back to Paharganj began, and within minutes we were stuck in that famous Delhi traffic consisting of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, bicycle rickshaws, auto rickshaws, pedestrians, bull carts and plenty of other vehicles that fill the streets. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen how a bicycle rickshaw works, but these poor quality contraptions are not easy to put into motion when you have two people sitting in the back. It takes some strength to pedal these rickety things out of a complete stop, especially considering that the driver is usually not very big or strong due to the difficulty of his job and lifestyle. And here we are in traffic, our driver having to stop and go hundreds of times, not to mention being banged into by rickshaws behind us every few seconds, being yelled at by other motorists and constantly having to swerve out of the way of larger vehicles honking their horns and driving dangerously fast down the road. There is also a never-ending stream of unavoidable potholes, protruding manhole covers and random debris that the driver must navigate as well, leading to plenty of rough bumps and metal-cracking jolts.

Our ride went on, slowly. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes. Our driver pushed forward as best he could, his face dripping in sweat from the 30C heat as we inched along in the midst of that Delhi chaos.

Eventually, after forty minutes of struggling, our rickshaw driver arrived at a long vehicle bridge that stretches over the railway tracks, a bridge that would lead us to our destination. He began pedaling us up the bridge but after 200 meters the incline was too steep for him to cycle us any more and so, as is the norm, he jumped off his seat and pulled us up the rest of the way. Not only did he have to pull us up, but he still had to dodge the usual intense traffic at the same time. Then, once we reached the center point of the bridge, the driver climbed back onto his seat and started pedaling once again.

A few moments later we reached Paharganj, some fifty minutes after we had left Chandni Chowk. Normally, this ride takes about twenty minutes. My friend and I got out of the rickshaw and we handed over 100 rupees. The driver thanked us, smiled and wiped the sweat from his forehead. And then, just before I turned away, I noticed a helpless look in his eyes as he stared at the 100 rupee note in his hand. It was a look that seemed to say, “What a life I have. To work this hard for this amount of money.

I hesitated for a second before I walked away. For the next few hours though, I couldn’t get the look on this man’s face out of my head. And I felt quite terrible.

What an impossibly difficult ride he took us on, one that was far more difficult than any of us had anticipated. What an impossibly difficult life indeed.

View from Rickshaw in Delhi

Yes, it is his job to take us to our destination for the price he quoted. Yes, ending up in traffic for thirty minutes and working much harder than anticipated is a risk of that job. Yes, 100 rupees is likely too high of a price already, although definitely nothing to be considered a rip-off.

(I was recently told by a local in Delhi that a cycle rickshaw should cost around 15 rupees per distance that would take 10 minutes to walk. And since it would have taken us 1 hour to walk from Chandni Chowk to Paharganj, the correct price should be around 90 rupees, not much of a difference from what we paid.)

But regardless, I personally think he deserved more, at least from me. Bicycling my ass around for thirty more minutes than planned, in the absurd Delhi traffic, sucks, simple as that. Again, I know it’s his job but it still sucks, especially when the reward for that effort is $1.60.

Keep in mind that the $1.60 is not pure profit for this guy. Many bicycle rickshaw drivers earn less than 100 rupees per day but since many also can’t afford to own their rickshaw, they have to rent one, an expense that can eat up 50% of a day’s earnings. In addition, the remaining money is often sent to the driver’s wife and children back in their home village, leaving practically nothing for them to survive on. Hence the reason why so many drivers sleep in their rickshaws at night. They can’t afford to sleep anywhere else.

That’s why, after thinking about it, I reached the conclusion that I should have paid my rickshaw driver more the other day, maybe another 50 rupees or so. To me, that would have been right considering the situation.

He earned that money and he needs that money, far more than I do.

How would you handle this situation? Would you pay 100 rupees or would you pay more? Would you have negotiated the original price?

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Comments 150

  1. Lyyne

    I’m off to delhi in two weeks time. I’m travelling alone as a middle aged woman but going on an escorted tour. I hate the whole tipping process. It’s such a minefield. I don’t want to insult anyone because I haven’t tipped enough butvi don’t want to appear as if I am better than others because I tip to much. This trip is a holiday of a life time for me. I work two jobs. One 40 hours a week and the other at weekends. By no means am I wealthy. But judging by all the posts that have been written, then I would consider myself rich by poor rickshaw drivers. Pay the extra money and help make a difference to someone’s life.

  2. Charles Orth

    I would have probably given him an extra hundred rupees or so.

    I recently got back from a trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, and before I went, during my online research, I was bombarded with stories of people being overcharged and cheated. Most bloggers who had gone to Vietnam had said “I’ll never go back…I got overcharged on everything…Foreigners are nothing but a walking ATM there…” Going there, I expected the worse, and I admit, I was overcharged a little bit, but during seven days in the country, combined, I was overcharged maybe $20 max, probably a little bit less. Now if you are a foreigner living in the country making a local wage, I wouldn’t be overpaying like this, but if you’re on vacation, it won’t kill you.

    Here’s the thing: Morally, it isn’t right to overcharge foreigners, but that product people complain about being overcharged for, would cost twice as much in their own country. It might seem egregious to pay $2 for a snack instead of $0.50, but that same snack might have cost $4 in the traveler’s home country. With this story, how much would a twenty-minute taxi ride cost in the United States? At least ten dollars, probably closer to twenty. Even if this rickshaw driver received 200 rupees, it would still be about $3. And it’s not just local vendors and drivers overcharging. There are establishments all over the world that give discounts to residents of the state or country.

    Don’t get me wrong. There is a line between trying to make a little bit of extra money and excessively overcharging, but if you have to pay an extra fifty cents or dollar twenty times on a week-long trip, it’s not that big of a deal, especially considering the poverty of some of these countries, where a tourist frequently carries a month’s worth of wages for the local people in their wallet.

    1. Dale

      If you travel a lot you know the score. By some standard it’s “not right” to be charged for being a foreigner. When I was younger I defended myself against being taken advantage of. That ended somewhat for me when I was negotiating price for a nice stone carving in Africa once, which the man had actually carved himself. I beat him down real good I did. And when it was over and agreed, he asked me “Why do you need to do this? I am so poor that my children are hungry and you are rich. Why do you do this?” I was ashamed of myself.

      I haven’t stopped negotiating nor do I stand for serious overcharging abuse, but I stop bargaining in less than a minute over small stuff, and don’t sweat the skin tax I pay. We’re blessed enough to travel, rich by those local standards. Why not take it as opportunity to be kind? You won’t change anyone’s life, but you don’t have to add to their already difficult lives by effectively saying “I am not just richer than you are, I’ll also exert my power over you.” Do we really need to do that? Even when they are being dishonorable, which is annoyingly too often, why bother? God will judge us both.

  3. James P

    There is the price the driver wanted and then there’s the lower price we agreed on. If there’s no traffic I pay the agreed price, and if there’s a big delay I pay closer to the price the driver wanted. Typically I always want to pay the agreed price, because if you don’t what’s the point of setting a price? But I have to accept that traffic conditions are hurting the driver’s income, moreso than my need to stick to my principles.

  4. Ashley

    Prajna..Your comment makes me sick. I’m a westerner and been to India many times .
    Yes we do pay more for all services while in the country, that’s the norm , easy targets! Your government charges us more for entry to ancient monuments, because we can afford it compared to the average person in India , but even the rich Indian gets reduced tariff, should we all be means tested ? If you can afford to give these guys more, pay it, if you can’t don’t .Yes they are hard , but so would you be in that environment .
    These guys work their butts off for nothing. If a big incline is faced I always get off out of humane decency, have even helped if steep.I know if you show you’re soft it can lead to being stepped on, but just try and show some self respect to others , it will make you feel better about yourself .
    To conclude ….Yes I would have paid the guy extra pence .

  5. deedee

    When i was in india i could not believe how hard they worked.I always pay way more just to be a blessing.I could not understand how thier own people despised them.Here where i am from manypeople are not far from a few weeks pay and they become homeless..very interesting..how we can see the disgrace in another but not realize how close it could be for us to become them…

  6. Akanksha

    I am an Indian residing in New Delhi. Everytime I travel by cycle rickshaw I get this sympathy for the rickshaw puller. The ratio of the amount of hardwork they put in to the return they get is very less so I usually pay they like Rs 10-20 more as I feel they deserve that.
    But today I found myself contradicting this and also felt pretty sad. I go for my tuitions which is nearly 3 kms away from my house. I take rickshaw from there is my home everyday. The rate for this distance is Rs 40. I took the rickshaw and we agreed on 40. There wasn’t any traffic and travel was smooth. When we reached the destination, I gave him Rs 100(as I didn’t had any change) and I saw him take advantage of that. He started demanding Rs 20 more and I didn’t felt right with that. He then started saying that he just has Rs 40 with him to give me back so I should give him Rs 60 so in the end I had to give him that and move on.
    Now I have started carrying change with me so they don’t try to take advantage of the situation. Rickshaw pullers shouldn’t withdraw from the agreed deal.

    1. Chris

      If they take advantage of you, next time, try to make them pay off the advantage by force-bargaining to the lowest price they EVEN CAN. If you have a brother/sister, and he/she is on a budget, say “WAIT FOR MY BROTHER/SISTER. SHE WILL RIP YOU OFF!!!” Like just pay 40 rupees next time, and your brother/sister will pay EVEN LESS. It’s bad to take advantage of that, because they are just bankrupting everyone. If you even know that they should respect everyone, I think they SHOULDN’T BANKRUPT ANY PERSON. Like if you pay 100 rupee overtime like this, soon I think you’ll be BANKRUPT. To keep from going bankrupt, if a rickshaw with 1 seat left wants to go to your destination, try to JUMP to it. That way he will receive NOTHING. THAT will stop him from BANKRUPTING PEOPLE.

  7. Neena

    I am born and raised in India and I know how hard is the life for a rickshaw puller. Nowhere to sleep/rest, away from family just to earn enough for their families to eat. So I never bargain with rickshaw fellows and generally pay more than the ask for.

  8. rtt

    I knew how you feel, but too much sympathy put me in a harder predicament today.
    The cyclist ripped me off, 1,000 rp for a few hour tour of old delhi.
    I didn’t like being in trouble so I paid, cursed, and told him not to do the same thing to others because it does not do him good in the long run.
    I know I’m a moron, but I still do not know the answer to your question.

  9. Anshul

    Hi Earl,

    I totally get your sense of predicament. These rickshaw wallas are the hardest working guys and most abused and thrashed lot of all our so called public transport. Even when I have to take a rickshaw I never argue with them unless they are asking for double the money. Just so that you know, it’s normal to get out of the rickshaw at a steep incline. 🙂

  10. Brian Naghten

    I used to take the same rickshaw journey everyday in Jaipur, if I couldn’t be bothered to argue about the price I would walk as it was only about 10 minutes walk.

    In the end I came up with the best solution. I would just jump in a cycle rickshaw and name my destination and say 7 rupees (2 more than the regular local price at the time, as I was a “rich man”) If the driver took me without argument I would pay him 10 or 15 depending on how close he came to putting me under a Maruti people carrier on the way.

    One guy looked me up and down while he was peddling and said, you look like important man, but you don’t have watch (clearly one of his pricing standards). Why you don’t have watch? I said put it this way. I’m so important that if I am late, everyone will wait for me. He got the 15rs

    I was at the main bus depot in New Dehli with a ridiculous amount of luggage, my hotel was 200 yards away but I still needed a tuk tuk to get there. One enterprising Sikh tried to stiff me for 100rs. I said look I can see the hotel from here but I know you have waited for your turn so I will give you 20rs. He insisted “Hotel is very long way” and refused to admit he had lied. So I was left wondering how I was going to move all my stuff when another tuk tuk, obviously advised by the first, pulled up and named the hotel and the 20rs fare.

    I’m British by the way but I discovered that often well to do Indians were asked for higher prices than Westerners because they were more likely to pay a higher price as a means of sharing their good fortune with others than a Westerner being overly concerned about being “ripped off”. The wealthy Indian would be less likely to walk away from a high price he would just name what he was prepared to pay and be confident about it.

  11. Kanja

    Well Done, Ankur and Shouryamoy. I perhaps could not have been so direct but then it would not have the same effect either!

  12. Ankur

    So if a rich man drinks he is enjoying life and if a poor person drinks he is wasting money!!! what a pity & double standards!!

  13. Sandeep

    Hi Earl

    Don’t know how I reached this blog , your style of writing is amazing and compels me to come back for more. I have just spent last 30 mins reading it and intend to be a regular visitor here.

    Just wanted to mention on the specific topic above that may be it would have helped the rickshaw puller more , had you got down on the steep incline and then again got into once you were on the flat road. But then you might have been too tired to do it.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Sandeep – Welcome to the site my friend! And thank you for your input. The thing is, the driver wouldn’t let us out to help him with the incline. I know this route very well and every time the driver refuses to let the passengers out because in the end, they are proud people and they are trying to provide a complete service. I would have gladly gotten out but I think it would have offended him more if I insisted. That’s how I interpreted it anyway.

  14. Nicola

    I travel in India frequently and when I am alone (not with my Indian friends) I use my own rules. If a porter, taxi or rickshaw driver tries to rip me off they get the agreed price and not a rupee more. If they come to my help (I am a grandmother) when I am being hassled by others or they carry my luggage they get a tip 10 or 20 rupees “for chai”. If they have a particularly difficult time for some reason like the one you have described I give them extra, perhaps as much as double the agreed price, but I fold it discretely and press it into their hand with a sincere thanks. It is still a small amount of money to me so I want them to know I am grateful for the service.

    1. Moritz Perk

      Hello Nicola,
      I spent around 5 months in India as a international student at IIT Bombay. I am a first time Asia traveler, so in the beginning it was more some kind of ego-thing for me to not be ripped off because I had the idea that everyone wants to cheat me because of my looks. Now I feel more comfortable giving a tip because I know the right prices. I like the way you handle these situations, saying that the the rupees are “for chai” or giving it to them discretely. Maybe I am a little weird on that but sometimes I have the feeling they feel uncomfortable getting tipped by a foreign guy like me (by the way, I look like I am 18yrs old but I am 25). It even happened that an older rickshaw driver refused to get tipped because he said it is hard and honest work. Of course this guy stood out of the crowd but it created the idea that there could be some kind of grief to get some little extra from a guy you know could easily spend five times the prices. Sometimes I don´t know if I tip because I want to help the people or because of a bad conscience.

  15. Vee

    I think we should give generously and freely. I believe in the power of one positive deed leading to another. The tiny amount of a dollar more we give to someone who needs it (especially for the blood sweet and tears they put in!!! Seriously they earn such a meagre amount), the greater benefits we will incur in our own lives.

    I’m an Indian living in the US and every time I go back, I scold my mother for bargaining.
    Forget it. That extra 10 rupees could be a man going hungry that night.

    And I’m not okay with that.

    Whatever you give will come back to you in multitudes. I don’t just say this from a “karmic” standpoint – I think it also teaches us a lesson in humility, in respecting people, in being generous, and also in never taking anything for granted.

    Good post. Cheers!

    1. Anays

      I totally agree with you on that one Vee.

      I grew up in a family of Holocaust survivors (hidden under false identity in France with no means to hold a”real” job, my grandfather worked all day only for the right for the family to sleep in a barn and my gm did odd jobs for them), and although we were “OK”- not rich not poor by French standards, my parents would outrageously tip everybody who acted tired, was working a physical job after the age of 40, or simply looked ” a little run down by life”.

      Several times I tried to show my parents they were being unreasonable, and they would look at me in a “disappointed” way. At one point my uncle visited, and he told me “when we were kids we used to beg on the market for the leftovers at the stalls, or I would carry the baskets of the buyers in exchange for an egg. Once we got a 10 francs gift, and we didn’t have to beg for a week”.

      I began tipping in earnest and have never stopped since. And like you Vee, I believe I have got the richer for it.

  16. Tim

    This is not easy, Earl.

    I can imagine, arriving to such a strange place like India, riding through tremendous traffic just to get a rest after hours of traveling it seems unlikely that I would have the wit to tip the driver – especially while being aware that the original fare was just a little too high.

    On the other hand I would have loved to do it. This poor fellow is just another human being and donating some extra money is a way to say “I appreciate that you did that work for me. I appreciate that you were here for me this time”. And maybe he would have remembered this stranger that he originally charged too much but who had the generosity to understand the hardship of life and his effort to ease it a bit.

    As said, I don’t think I would have done it but I’m sure the world would be a better place if we always keep in mind that we have the chance to help a lot without sacrificing much.

  17. Victoria

    When I went to India, I found it exciting and exhausting at the same time. One guy even said I was rude and disrespectful because I kept (politely I might add) refusing rides. My companion was a blond Swiss girl and as I speak German, we decided to travel a little together. Vehicles would screech to take a look at the two of us and we constantly got hassled by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers who would block our way as we liked to walk quite a lot!

    Having said that, I think a 100 extra rupees would have been in order and acceptable enough for you not to feel cheated, merely for the traffic situation, the drivers no-doubt mature age and the fact that his effort on the job more than made up for those pennies.

  18. Andrew

    Hey Earl, great post; really gives us something to think about. I think of it in the same way I do about tipping at restaurants. If I have received service beyond my expectations or if someone has gone out of their way to help me then I feel like they deserve a tip. Your rickshaw driver seemed to put in a LOT of effort into your ride and I would have given a tip. But, if the rickshaw driver was young and healthy and able to power up and over that bridge would I still do so? I don’t know.

  19. Megan C. Stroup

    Personally, I always tip when I travel abroad, even though I know that’s an “American” thing. So I would have tipped regardless, especially if the ride was that difficult. However, that’s not to say I think you should feel bad for not paying more; you agreed on a price and you paid it, and like you said, it was already higher than maybe it “should” have been. I think everyone will have a different response to this situation, and that’s okay! The fact that you’re even conscious of it and trying to start a discussion is amazing, in my opinion.

  20. Allison

    During my trip to India I had a lot of negative experiences with rickshaw drivers. Time after time I would be taken to the obvious wrong location, and then when I would tell them I was not at the right place, they would demand more money to take me to the right place. Four times in Chennai I was taken to “gift shops” (I’m assuming owned by someone they knew) as a pit stop before they would take me to my destination. I was also quoted prices, and then when I arrived they would demand 100-200 rupees more then the original price (which was already an elevated tourist price). I’m assuming that the fact that I was a young American girl traveling with other females might have had something to do with these issues. But if I would have had an experience like yours I would have most likely gave him a little extra.

  21. Maria

    I would have given an extra 100 Rupees. I went to India for three weeks and found myself “overtipping” and “overpaying” constantly. It didn’t bother me much, and I know that a little bit of extra money goes a long way for the locals. However, if I were going to be on a longer trip (3 months or more) I would be a bit more careful as I would be on more of a budget. Technically, you did negotiate the price, and you paid what you negotiated so I don’t think you need to feel too bad, though I can see where you are coming from!

    India was my first trip to Asia and I was a bit of an inexperienced traveller at the time so I was handing out extra tips and over paying for things constantly. I was very shocked by the poverty in India. I saved and saved for that 3 week trip and it felt good to spend my hard earned and hard saved money in the form of extra / above average tips.

    I am going on a one year trip in the Spring, and headed back to India for probably about a month or so. I will still tip but will need to hold back way more than last time as I wont have as much money to throw around! 🙂

  22. Anna

    Earl, I found your website just a few days ago and have been really enjoying reading your articles about the many places you have been. After reading this particular article I can tell that you have real compassion and empathy for others. The fact that this situation bothers you as it has tells me so. Many other tourists/tavellers would think little of it and just go on their merry way, but you didn’t do this. Instead you contemplate what could have been done differently. Please do not be hard on yourself over the situation which cannot be changed now. You did nothing wrong. Consider this though, since you do feel badly then should a similar situation arise again the future, you will probably do differently. 🙂

    1. Wandering Earl

      Thank you for the comment Anna and I understand that things can’t be changed. I also believe it is important to examine our decisions in life, even the small ones, so that we can continuously improve as a person.

  23. Shouryamoy

    Absolute BS.

    “Please do not drive up the prices for services/goods anymore.” You mean fellows who work their posteriors off all day do not deserve two full meals a day? If those pensioners cannot afford the rising cost of services they should learn to their laundry and cook their food rather than ripping the poor man off.

    How hypocritical that you find it okay that one section of the society lives off the hard work of another section of it.

    PS: I am an Indian and ashamed to know that you too are one.

  24. Tilly

    I would pay 5 euros/pounds for the journey. I am not rich and have been travelling the world for 1 year now living off 50 pounds a week, however I am lucky to have this opportunity to be able to travel the world and experience life. I believe any traveller can afford a little more than 1.60 USD. Why not make someones day and give the opportunity for someone less fortunate than you to make something of themselves…….. (maybe he might one day be able to fund enough to buy his own bike)

    “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone that can never repay you” John Bunyan

  25. Anja

    I would have negotiated more in the beginning, because when travelling for a while I begin to get fed up with being ripped of as a tourist more every day. But after the ride, in this situation, I would have given him at least 50 rupees extra. Maybe even a hundred.

  26. Armand

    My mother was born and raised in the Philippines. I was born and raised in the Philippines. Once, when we were in the Philippines together we ate a restaurant and my mother paid and tipped 20% (which is a good tip and not unusual in the US). My Filipino extended family told her that was too much and to tip less. My mother said that is what she tips in the US and it doesn’t make sense to tip the workers in the Philippines less (just because they are not lucky enough to be in the USA) especially when that money goes a lot further for them. This reasoning while not intuitive, I think makes the most sense.
    PS As a reply to the claim that tipping drivers will drive up prices is just not valid. If anything, people tipping more would just increase the amount of drivers available (over a substantial amount of time of course). The rickshaw drivers are not providing a scarce service, therefore the (potential) costumer still has the same negotiating power they did before.

  27. Prajna

    paying like 10% more wouldn’t hurt thou. Some incentive for the rick-puller for having spotted a foreigner 🙂 allowing an occasional smile on his face. If you pay more than that, he might go and have a drink rather than send the money home(not everybody though)

  28. Prajna

    My my… incredible were the comments. I am an Indian, I live in India.
    Dear foreigner/the wealthy Indian,
    Please do not drive up the prices for services/goods anymore.
    Actually I say this more to the wealthier Indians than to foreigners. The rickshaw puller does understand the difference in price of what a tourist can pay and what an Indian will pay for the same service. But when a rich Indian pays more, it hurts millions of us. That being said, analyze the situation and pay accordingly. There are many retired people here who cannot afford the rising prices of commodities/services. I wish to see the poor guy prosper a bit too… but we should think about the ripple effect it causes everywhere around. The economy is very much imbalanced. But driving the prices up is not gonna help anybody. It is a very very very complex thing to discuss in a paragraph.

    1. Ankur

      Of course Rickshaw puller understands a basic thing like paying capacity of an Indian vis-a-vis that of a foreigner (though he may not understand difference among foreigners, for him a white guy would be same irrespective of his nationality)- and there is no problem if you pay extra bucks there is no ripple effect, you must have done that, I always pay more and believe me sometimes these “poor” people even reject those extra bucks with a smile!!

      Now about 100 rupees which you paid- In 100 rupees you can get food for 3 people in Delhi (cheapest option available with bare minimum requirement)- so you can understand worth of 100 rupees here in India

      It would have been better if you had paid 50 or 100 extra rupees- it would have helped him to buy some extra bit of essentials for his family. It is very easy preaching others about ripple effect, bla- bla, it is however very difficult to put yourself in shoes of that poor man who has no house, lives in footpath and works tirelessly to earn 200 rupees per day, and out of that 100 rupees he pays to owner and rickshaw mafia who provides him that tricycle- so just imagine hardships of these people, and they have no holidays, they are forced to work 365 days, else there wont be any food to eat.

      I sincerely hope people in India and foreigners are more sensitive and helping- politicians of India are bunch of eunuchs who primarily are reason for such a sorry situation, and mind you some people in India are very rich even by global standards, thats the real shame!

    2. Ankur

      I sincerely hope someone in your family becomes a rickshaw puller and then lets talk with you- what a waste of life you are! shameless absolute shameless creature.

      1. shouryamoy

        Can’t agree more with you here Ankur. I do not want to single out Prajna, but such people are a disgrace to our country.

  29. Keith

    I see there was a lot of debate and discussion on this. The comment directly above mine from Suzanne sums up my feelings about this completely “It doesn’t matter where we are in the world and how cheap the prices are, people’s time is valuable”. With that said, I would have given him $5, he went the extra mile (literally) for you. I tip freely and generously when I feel the service has been good to excellent. Considering how much physical work went into it and you arrived at your destination in relative comfort, I would say you recieved excellent service.

  30. Suzanne

    Great question; and I think as travelers, we’re going to have some of these situations come up all the time.

    Being impatient, I probably would have gotten out of the rickshaw after about 20 minutes, paid the drive the full quoted amount and walked the rest of the way; freeing him up to get another fare, maybe headed in an easier direction.

    If I’d stayed in the rickshaw for the whole ride, I probably would have doubled the amount negotiated simply because he spent 50 minutes of his work day with me instead of the 20 -25 he probably had budgeted in his mind. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world and how cheap the prices are, people’s time is valuable.

    But good question, and I’m sure I’ve gotten this decision wrong many times around the globe!

  31. Gary H

    I know how you feel Earl. Many times I’ve paid for something and then think about how difficult it is for the person to provide the service. For example, in California you can get an hour long massage for $20. It’s a great bargain for the customer. However, I sympathize with these workers because they have nothing to provide besides their physical labor. I’m not out to take advantage of their situation. In the end, I do tip them enough so that their work is well compensated. I’d rather give money to these workers than to a homeless person who doesn’t provide any value.

  32. Will


    I would pay what the driver asked for but if he was nice during the ride and took the correct I probably would have left a tip for the driver especially if he took the right road and was nice during the trip. However, after traveling for a while I can understand some of the reasons you may not have tipped.

    In many parts of the world tipping is not expected – whether in taxis or restaurants. They get paid a salary and don’t expect more from doing their job. However, as westerners travel more and more the locals are getting used to tipping and often times expect it – things are changing.

  33. Karen

    I never haggle, I just don’t feel comfortable doing that even though it’s acceptable in a lot of countries. I either agree with the price or say “no thanks” and go away.
    And yes, I would have tipped him a after the ride – $5 is still not the price of a cab where I come from and to him it’s more than twice what he originally asked. Not sure exactly how much I’d tip, depends on how much cash I had at hand, but probably between $5 and $10.

  34. Deb

    Traveling India is heartbreaking. I remember feeling as you felt daily while there. Do I pay more? do I give money to beggars? It was constantly on my mind and I felt guilty every day. I wanted to help, but there are so many people needing help. I recall, we didn’t barter hard while we were there. We were just too exhausted every day to do so. And as you said, I can’t justify haggling over 50 cents to a dollar. I think I would have given him more. I tend to tip wherever I go, even when I’m not supposed to. It’s just what I’ve come to feel comfortable with. So I probably would have give 50 more as a tip for his troubles. When it comes to India, the divide between the rich and poor is so much I can’t live by the same rules that I do in other countries. Many times I’ve said “I need to stick to the local prices because I don’t want to contribute to a false inflation and I don’t want future tourists to be ripped off”, but in India, rickshaw drivers and other service people don’t make a fair wage, and I feel that an extra buck won’t hurt me. Now, when people blatantly tried to rip us off over a large amount of money, that was another story. I was downright mad at them and let them know it. This guy, asked a fair price for a tourist and you didn’t do anything wrong by paying him what he asked for, but it also wouldn’t have hurt to give him a tip. You’re not alone though, I think many people feel the same way you did, I for one constantly felt terrible especially in Delhi. There’s so much suffering and poverty and you can’t help everyone.

  35. Angu

    I am from Nepal and have visited India (and old Delhi) several times so I understand what extreme poverty looks like. Personally I would’ve given Rs. 50 extra as I think he earned that for the entire 50 mins in Delhi heat. This is pure manual work and it is not a life of luxury so I wouldn’t worry much about inflation esp since he is rickshaw driver. I would never give more than Rs. 100 for a taxi driver for a 20min ride though.
    But Sebestian makes a good argument to repay him in other ways than monetary. I am currently taking ethics and am gonna bring this up in a discussion. Thanks for the topic. Btw I love your blog! Makes me miss India even more- esp. The street food!! Yummm

  36. Jacqueline

    I know exactly what you mean. Whilst travelling in the Middle East with my dad, we would often pay exorbitant ‘tourist’ fares, even though we’re natives but currently live in Australia. I would get angry, asking my dad why he wouldn’t argue with taxi drivers knowing full well that we’re being ripped off.
    He laughed, saying that we could afford to be ripped off in their currency. It is selfish to haggle prices that translate to so little in your home currency. Sure, it’s annoying in practice, but I think it’s a good attitude to adopt. Would that extra 1USD or so have hurt your budget?

    Something that’s still stuck with me today. Love the blog. 🙂

  37. Arlene

    “…The driver thanked us, smiled and wiped the sweat from his forehead. And then, just before I turned away, I noticed a helpless look in his eyes as he stared at the 100 rupee note in his hand. It was a look that seemed to say, “What a life I have. To work this hard for this amount of money.”

    The above lines brought tears to my eyes.
    Maybe I am just too emotional on situations where I can see people work so hard physically to give us what we pay them to do.
    If I am a local, possibly I will pay the normal fare because possibly I do not have that much. But as a tourist, maybe i’d pay double though i want to give him more but i do not like him to think that tourists or foreigners are best choice of passengers because he will receive more money. 🙂
    It’s not about the money anyway, but it will be more of a “thank you” for his hard work in bringing you to your destination safe and with little comfort from the heat.

  38. suvir

    hey Earl,
    I stumbled upon your blog while googling “eastern europe travel”. i’m from Delhi, and this post of yours was truly thought provoking. I’ve been through numerous similar experiences, and i’ve realised one thing when it comes to making such decisions. When the “other” person makes you feel good about yourself, you really dont care the about the economics. in any situation, if the “other” person is being nice and genuine, it makes you feel good – which in turn breaks down the wall of right & wrong, and you start “feeling” to make the situation even better. there are so many instances where i’ve literally given away what i had – at the same time there have been situations where i’ve fought even for One rupee.
    nonetheless, how about catching up if you’re still in delhi. i would love to show you around if thats alright by you.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Suvir – I’m no longer in Delhi unfortunately but might be there for a couple of days at the end of the month. If that happens I shall let you know!

  39. Jeff @ planetbell

    I probably would have tipped him another 50 rupees – not much for me, but something for him. I’m a big believer that tourits shouldn’t affect local prices by overpaying or not bargaining, but it seems fair that he deserved something extra for being stuck in traffic.

    This is a thought provoking post. Some commenters that said they’d give him $5 are thinking in the wrong currency. He survives on rupees, and 25 or 50 extra rupees go a long way. Remember – if you were not in India, he may have earned nothing for that trip.

  40. Jennifer

    It is definitely a dilemma and when we were in India we actually tried to pay as little as possible for transport – mostly because they’d be charging us more than normal anyway just for being tourists. I ended up avoiding the pedal rickshaws in the end because i just felt so bad – i wasbin one once when he had to get out and push – i felt so guilty so i got out, paid him his money and walked the rest of the way. Although we were so conscious when we visited india the first time about saving every cent, i’d certainly be more generous second time around.

  41. K.T.

    That’s wonderful that he stuck with his quoted price. We had a situation in Bangkok where our tuktuk ride took double of what it was supposed to. He refused to let us out of the tuktuk unless we paid him double his quoted price. Out-of-control! We were sooo pissed that we threw the money (amount quoted) on the seat and pushed past him.

    Little did he know- we would have given him a sizable tip for his extra time. But his total dishonesty got him nothing.

    It does break my heart to know how HARD they work for such little money.

  42. Mia

    I would always pay on the higher side – it won’t make that much of a dent in your bank account, but could make a world of difference for the rickshaw.

  43. Erick

    I don’t believe in obligatory “tipping”. If I don’t feel someone deserves a tip, I won’t. But when they EARN it. Truly doing something above and beyond then I tip very well. You know I’ve traveled more than most. And I understand the idea of tourist “throwing off the balance” or whatever. But it’s peaks and valleys. Throw all the stats you want but the extra rupee’s could have meant the world to him and meant nothing to you. An extra dollar is nothing to me by comparison. Better him than in my ashtray. Ultimately, to hell with what everyone else thinks. You live, travel, and write the way YOU choose. Do what your heart tells you.

  44. Matthew Cheyne

    Hi Earl 🙂 . Like others have said, it’s a really tough call being the fact that it’s India and that there are so many deserving cases for charity or tips or benevolent acts or whatever you want to call them. I would in an ideal world want to find out what the living wage is for this man and pay him according to that however like others have said above, it sets a precedent and allows for others to target tourists and eventually drive up the cost of living; the very thing you are trying to address.

    At the end of the day, I would have done what you did and paid him the 100 rupees and gone on my way.

  45. Prisana Nuechterlein

    You should do what feels right. Having lived in Thailand and the US for a number of years, I am quite accustomed to this tipping dilemma. I know the local rates and if the driver of a taxi, tuk-tuk, water buffalo or what have you, deserves a tip, I will happily and knowingly pay him more than the normal rate. I also always prefer to walk, if walking is faster than other modes of transportation depending on the traffic.

  46. Peter Christmas

    No one denies there are millions of more deserving cases in India which is why talk of $20 tips is unrealistic and there are better causes to spend your money on. BTW oil rich Arabs come to England and give out £100 tips but our service industry does not fall to pieces with workers only wanting to serve Arabs and thinking all Arabs are rich sheiks who will give them tips that are 50 times more then normal. We design sites for customers most pay us what was agreed, a few have given us extra and a couple have given us a free holiday and become wonderful friends. If I do some waiting at my brother’s restaurant most will give a tip as they get great food with good service and a taxi is another example rightly or wrongly where a tip is the norm. This guy put in a shift that was 125% over the what it may have been on a cooler, less busy day which in my book warrants a 10 to 20% tip as in Earl’s word he did the extra with good grace. Trying to keep to Earl’s question, some Indian’s do tip a rickshaw driver so it is not that unusual to reward someone who has had to put in some extra time and effort. Against a culture that think tipping is a weakness, I would say it is more about control and old prejudices of the Caste system which would like to keep the status quo and that the lowly are in their rightful place and that they should never change that. I say we use to treat immigrants, women and the lower classes as less worthy but we have moved on and it shouldn’t be seen as wrong to respect (not pity) and reward a deserving case.

  47. Sebastien

    Maybe my previous comment was erased or just was not sent, I am in Kolkata now and the Internet connection is not great…

    Being confronted with extreme poverty in India is a tough and emotional thing, it is not easy and it is normal to wonder what is the best behaviour. I try to be generous everyday while in India, but I never overpay for services. 100 rupees for that ride is a good deal. If you have spare change it would be best to give it to some old woman living on the sidewalk, or offering a healthy lunch to street kids, or donate to an NGO, or volunteer some time and teach English in a crappy school. I think paying your rickshaw three times the price is a bad thing for the tourism industry, the locals, and does not accomplish much else than polishing the guilt you experienced. There are many ways to thank your driver. I gave my raincoat to one particularly courageous one in Patna. I gave a flashlight to another one in Pondy. Or just spend a few hours with him drinking chai and teach him some English (and learn some Hindi). These are true ways to be generous and do not bear the risk of increasing prices for locals…

  48. Colleen

    Hi Earl,
    I regret my above response to your response to my post. I’m sorry. I was ridiculously huffy. Your thoughts were totally reasonable conversation on the topic.


  49. Aleta H.

    More good points from you Colleen!
    When I am on an extended stay in India.. I volunteer at local charities and shelters for street children… I feel that giving my time to those in dire need is more important than all the tips that tourists give the lucky locals that already have jobs.
    Everyone is looking at this from their own perspective, and rightly so…


  50. Colleen


    If anyone traveling through India has an urge to feel sorry for someone may I submit to you a list of more worthy candidates?

    1. Prostitutes, most of whom were sold into it by their families who couldn’t afford them or their dowry and they needed the money desperately to feed the rest of the family.
    2. Child prostitutes 1.2 million
    2. Children on the street begging who’ve been maimed by their pimps for a better return.
    3. 78 million homeless
    4. Innumerable unemployed
    5. Those sick without access to medical treatment
    6. Orphans; literally hundreds of thousands of orphans live in train and bus stations throughout India surviving on the wrappers and food debris left on the floors of India’s trains and buses. The are pimped as child prostitutes and often huff glue to get through the horror and hunger of their day.
    7. 2.5 million AIDS infected citizens

    Someone with a job, no matter how demanding, is not going to hopscotch over the millions listed above to earn my pity for working hard. Life is difficult for most of us in some way or another. I’m not implying that I don’t see the rickshaw driver’s efforts. That’s why I don’t go crazy nickle and diming people when I travel. I try to know the going rate and if someone is close to that I cheerfully smile and call it good. Win/win. We agreed. I just don’t want to encourage bad behavior in any of my fellow humans in the family of man. I’m not going to charge my clients more because their assignment was ‘hard’ after I got started. They pay the rate we agreed on. I’m not going to dump my husband of 21 years because yesterday he was a little cranky. Deal’s a deal.

    I challenge the people who imagine that they’d be extra generous with their money where drivers are concerned if they were in India, do you practice generosity at home? Where, to whom and how do you give? It’s easy to imagine oneself generous when it comes to a few rupees. Are you generous with your love, your time, and your own money when not traveling?

  51. Peter Christmas

    Colleen you don’t have to feel attacked because others don’t think as you do as I said in an earlier post when I first visited India I haggled over everything as I wanted the most from my small budget but 30 years on I don’t think like I did then now. As an Englishman who travelled extensively in the USA and India I found the biggest difference was the American wanted to know your job, your salary and how much you owned to get a measure of you. If you take time to have a discussion with some Indians you can talk for hours about religion, philosophy the meaning of life, I don’t remember being asked how much I was worth once. The vast majority of Indians are very honest despite being poor they are far more content with their lives, they don’t crave material goods and status and believe in karma and helping others if they can.

    If a paedophile offends you of course you are going to be disgusted and it is right he is removed from society to be treated but the vast majority of them have been abused themselves as children and physiologically damaged for the most part they are not evil they are very very sick. An Asian man lost his son in some riots that swept across Britain a couple of years ago but he stood in front of the cameras and called for calm and that no one should be avenged in his name. His actions did more to end the riots then all the police put together, he is a better man then me but he knew harbouring anger and hatred wouldn’t bring his son back or do himself any good. The next day instead of millions of people looting and burning our cities they came out with brooms and began clearing up the mess of the last few weeks and peace returned as people appreciated that enough for sanity to return to a large minority who had jumped on the bandwagon.

    I am sure Earl has a better idea of the cost of living in India then I do but we all know wages are low but discussing if nearly an hours hard work deserves an extra 10 or 20 pence on the £1 charge isn’t going to wreck the Indian economy any time soon. When I travelled I tried to immerse myself in the culture and live like a local, I slept under the stars, (free), got accustomed to their water and eat spicy food for the first time in my life. I didn’t eat meat or drink alcohol for the 6 months I was there bar Christmas Day and I threw myself into every aspect of their culture, religion and social life to try to gain some empathy with the people. The only thing I knew for sure when I left was if I spent the next 20 years doing that I would still be more English then Indian because they are so totally different from us in almost every way. Any Westerner bought up here who thinks they could really understand what it is like to be a poor rickshaw driver in India is just deluding themselves, they earn every penny and they will die young that is their lot and they accept it with good grace. So yes Earl I would say if you are in a Country where a couple of coins means something to someone who has sweated buckets for you just let them have it as there you will get a nice smile, here you would just get some insults even from a beggar.

  52. Sandy

    I probably would have haggled a bit. Then when we were stuck in traffic, depending on how far away, I probably would have paid him and walked the rest because I’m impatient.

    When you’re traveling in a 3rd world you WANT to give everything to everyone but you can’t. Now only does overpaying teach that tourists are easy marks, it encourages workers to skip the locals for greener pastures with the tourists instead. We can affect an areas entire economy and drive prices up for everyone else.

    So, would I have paid him what you paid? Yes.

    1. Shelley


      Well said, many people have no idea how foreigners paying over inflated prices have affected the lives of the local Indians.
      I lived in Hyderabad, and my foreign friends, whose husbands were there on a 2 year work stints paid their drivers and house help 5 times more than what an Indian would pay. They paid them more than what a middle class, educated Indian made as a doctor who was just starting out or what an educated Indian working as a web programmer or engineer made who was 2-3 years into their career.
      What has started happening is local Indians can’t find drivers or maids/house help anymore. They can’t afford to pay the ridiculous prices the foreigners paid. One example is a friend of mine hired a mother and daughter who lived in their home, my friend paid for the daughters education, clothes, food etc. It was wonderfully generous. Then my friend’s husband’s contract was up, they left India to go back to America. You know what happened? They couldn’t find work. Indians refused to pay the same price as my friend had, and the mother/daughter duo would not work for less than what they had made with my friend. Though my friend thought she was doing a great deed, she had set this mother/daughter up eventual failure. They would not split up because they figured if they found one foreigner who would pay them then another will do the same.
      None have so far. The price was very high. Especially when you can find the same help for less than half the price. This daughter had to quit school and they are both still looking for work, over a year later.
      This is just the reality. Sad, and harsh but the reality.

      Also many have to remember as well that some of these rickshaw drivers work for a organized gangs and are practically slaves, sometimes the extra money you give him goes into the gang members pocket not the driver. Sad reality of many of the beggars and auto drivers. This was rampant in many of the places I had been to in India. I lived there for over 5 years, married to an Indian, so I wasn’t living the cushy foreigner life, and learned a lot of awful things from behind the scenes. Does it mean you shouldn’t tip? Absolutely not, but giving $20 is really too much. An extra 50-100 rupees would really go a long way.

  53. Colleen

    No one is forcing the rick pullers of Kolkata to pull their rickshaws, therefore it is not cruel. Is the pedicab driver making a living in Paris oppressed by the ‘cruelty’ of his passengers? No. He hopes someone will let him ply his trade so he can make a Euro.

    In the monsoon season, pulled ricks are the only viable transportation for certain underwater neighborhoods. Young school children are sent off to school in them, the elderly can get their groceries, people on their way to work can keep their clothes dry. The rick pullers are literal heroes to the community at that time of year. It’s their “high season,” and they are glad for the business.

    The guys pulling ricks in Kolkata are grateful for the work. When you ride in their vehicle, you are supporting their family in the only way they can, or they would be doing something else.

    The movie “City of Joy”, provides a wider understanding of their world. If you enjoy reading, the book is even better.

  54. Colleen


    Feel free to practice that standard with me! = )

    Should everybody be empathized with? If I consider, for example, a pedophile; should I be compelled to ’empathize’ with him in the hopes I’ll see things his way?

    What if, from experience, I believe something is simply wrong? For example, theft. Should I empathize with a bank robber and try to see things from his point of view? Do you practice this standard universally in your own life?

    Do you feel empathetic when wronged or do you take steps to prevent it from happening again? If you had a particularly unprofessional painter come to your home and she did a fairly poor job, was late, didn’t clean up and the end result was poor, would you default to empathy or would you simply determine not to utilize her company for your other projects?

    Regarding the stats in the wiki article, I too have misgivings. All statistics can be massaged to say what someone wants them to. The daily per capita in India is not a blanket $3.34 per person. That number is artificially skewed too high since there is a tiny minority “middle class” in India that tilts that number artificially north. It not representative for 90% of the population whose per diem is lower.

  55. Jacquie @ Must for Wanderlust

    I found the comments quite interesting to read to be honest… & honestly, I would have paid him probably double or triple. Only because I am genuinely grateful of all I have (not that you aren’t!) & I’m a sap when it comes to emotions, basically. I know how it can make people’s entire months to receive that extra bit, so I always do it, because I can. I’ve grown up in poverty & I understand (not to his extent of course) how the little things really do make the world of difference. x

  56. Peter Christmas

    I didn’t use Wikipedia as it is not Delhi and not verified information, I think the point is to empathise with the person you are opposed to and try to see things from his point of view then things start to look very different.

  57. Micheal Weakley

    As a tradition now for myself, and it is personal. I hold back the equivalent of 20 dollars in whatever from of currency for which I am traveling and I hide it in my wallet. I ONLY use this money for when I see someone in need, sometimes a begger, a street artist, a musician or someone down and out. When situations like these occur, my example is smaller, but a nice man helped us from a point in the city of Lisbon to this other beach and it was a mess to find, he remained with us until we had it all figured out and his pay was to be like 5 euros but he did so much more and I was thankful so I gave him more. Anyways, we learn from these as well, there have been times when I wish I would have given more to someone or helped a person in need ( I am often reminded when I am taken a fool as well, at 15 EURO scoop of gelato in Florence, but that is another bone of contention).

    For this, let it go, he did a great thing, he worked hard and earned his money and in Indian culture ( based on most Islamic and Neo Jewish ( my new word) thinking, giving of oneself is the profit.

    safe travels.

  58. Peter Christmas

    Thought provoking as usual Earl, could it also be about if a Traveller should be more like a tourist in the face of some extreme hardship or should they continue to be as much like a local as they can. Giving the guy some cold bottled water wouldn’t win you any brownie points they certainly wouldn’t waste their money on it when they are on the breadline. Like wise giving something like a $20 tip would be over the top, paying over 10 times the going rate would make his day, his week maybe his year but poverty and deserving cases are everywhere in India and trying to solve it all by blowing your budget isn’t really going to improve the situation anywhere near as much as some think it might. Obviously in this case there is much debate on if he was playing you, only he knows for sure but he got what he said and I don’t think you should feel bad but what to do if there is a next time is the question. As said he knew there would be a big hill but offering to jump out or even push you would know if he either insists you don’t or lets you which you could do in lieu of a tip. The traffic was worse then normal and you took longer so he would have had less time to earn his daily wage so if you have a small bill around 10 to 20% you could give him it before any look can be pulled and you will see if he is genuinely pleased or still looks disappointed. Imagine in any other Country, you are maybe on crutches and agree a small fee for someone to take your bags to your room, then you find the lift is out of order and they have to climb 4 flights of stairs, which they do without complaining at all but struggle and sweat a bit. Do you just give them the agreed price or don’t you think the vast majority of people would tip a little extra and be thankful for it. Ps I prefer your outlook on life to Colleen’s which I feel is a bit harsh and 100 Rupees is not 2 days pay for the average Indian, a lowly Data Entry Operator earns 100 Rupees an hour and an average worker in Delhi/New Delhi earns 400/850 Rupees an hour http://www.payscale.com/research/IN/Country=India/Hourly_Rate#by_City so it wasn’t a rip off and you either would have walked or tried another guy if you felt the price was more then it was worth, as fortunately you knew exactly how far it was.

    1. Colleen


      I was incorrect about the average daily earnings in India. According to the Wikipedia article on “Income in India”

      “India’s per capita income (nominal) is $ 1219, ranked 142nd in the world,” which averages out to $3.34 per day per capita as a national average for 1.3 billion people.

      “Despite significant economic progress, a quarter of the nation’s population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40/day.” This is the population of the United States on 40 cents a day. I will guess the rickshaw driver is not in the bottom 25%.

      I’m not sure what part of my ‘outlook’ appears ‘harsh,’ but I am reality-oriented. Emotions can be deceiving and some people will attempt to manipulate emotions for economic gain. My suggestion is, if it doesn’t bother you, say you’re on a short trip to India, great. But if you’re there a long time, it’s useful to know the going local rates for things so you can practice informed generosity rather than being manipulated, which is good for no one.

  59. Colleen


    The above belongs below your reply to my comment. I was about the 40th person from the top to comment. Don’t know exactly why (?) it didn’t attach below your reply to my comments.

  60. Cheryl Cholley

    Interesting scenario, Earl. Yes, I probably would have given the man a tip. I don’t know if I would have gone as far as Craig mentions above, although at first my thought was exactly the same. Five dollars is nothing for us, but would mean the world to that person. But then when you consider the living expenses in India, five dollars may be excessive. Personally, I think I might have given a twenty percent tip, or maybe as much as an extra fifty.

  61. Colleen


    This article’s opening statement is:

    “It’s not a quiz. It’s not a contest. I’m genuinely interested in learning how you would handle the following situation.”

    I trusted that you were “genuinely interested in learning how (I, your reader) would handle the following situation.”

    Based on the tone of your reply I’m thinking that, “No, maybe you weren’t really interested in learning how I would handle the following situation.” Because I responded to your title’s inquiry and you responded by smacking me down. Publicly.

    Why ask for a reader’s opinion if you are just setting them up for “correcting” them for their point of view. It reminds me of Lucy ripping the ball out from Charlie when he runs to kick it. What is your point?

    My trust is eroded and I feel you have breeched the protocol inherent in such a public inquiry.

    But I will give you the benefit of the doubt because I have never seen you treat a reader this way before and we’re all human and make mistakes. I’ve actually always thought of you as the classy Earl of the travel blogger world. Your tone and demeanor typically (100%) of the time exceed even your elegant name. So, no worries because you get huge credit from me for getting it right, as far as I’m concerned, at least 99.999999999% of the time. My own stats are nowhere near as good.

    Anyway, I consulted this morning with the husband of the owner of my favorite local Indian grocery, Indus Mart on Federal Blvd. in Denver, Colorado. He and his wife both hail from Delhi.

    His first comment was, “He overpaid.”

    He then inquired if you and your friend were Americans.

    His second comment was literally almost a carbon copy of what I replied in my comments.

    His third remark was, perhaps, the most salient in this discussion. “It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong when emotion is involved. The person will see what he wants to see.”

    The idea I would like to submit to you for your consideration is, “Why do you think you feel so emotionally charged about this issue?

    For the record, I am an experienced India traveler myself, with a total of 6 months on 2 trips. I am generous, by nature, and typically round up on negotiated fares. HOWEVER, I have experienced that “look” in developing countries literally dozens and dozens of times no matter how great my largesse. It is a textbook standard ploy to elicit more cash. You could give the camel guys at the Pyramids at Giza a $100.00 tip and they will still, unashamedly, give you “the look.”

    The reason why it is a moral imperative not to be played by unscrupulous people in business is that it’s bad for THEM. The basic rule of free enterprise is that you must give in order to get. When customers reward bad behavior, such as a driver acting ripped off when he actually earned a wonderful fare, we reinforce to them the idea that it’s good to deceive in order to get, rather than to give in order to get.

    “All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy.” Scott Alexander

    Your site is one of my long-standing favorites and our differences on this topic do nothing to alter that. Thank you for many excellent years of learning and inspiration from WanderingEarl.com. = )

  62. Sandy

    I would have given him at least $5. With that said, I pass many people standing at the end of the exit ramp on the U.S. interstate with signs on carbdboard asking for cash and I do not give it to them. In the case of the rickshaw driver he provided a service and worked hard. I can afford it and am happy to pay it. Not sure what the person on the side of the highway would do with the money and I guess that is the difference. Would the guy in the U.S. work that hard for the money? Kind of doubt it.

  63. Nicki

    I am notorious for leaving tips when it is not customary, or not haggling when apparently it’s what I “should” do, or paying more when I think the cost of something is too low. When I make a purchase I try to really decide what value I put on the product or service is rather than just paying whatever the going rate is for something. Which is why I probably would have paid somewhere in the field of $5.00 to the rickshaw driver. I can appreciate the hard work the driver is doing, I don’t have to walk so of course there is value in the service for me, and I can afford it (for now, we’ll see if I’m still saying the same thing after a year of travelling), that is a trifecta of good reasons for me to pay a little more.

  64. Sebastien

    Ah, the rickshaw guilt…
    If you consistently pay more than you should for services in India, you drive the prices up for the locals, which is a very bad thing to do. In addition, bargaining is normal there, you are expected to do so, this is how transactions are agreed. The best is always to get informed beforehand what a fair price is… And your driver is quite ok, he has a job, he is (apparently) in good physical condition, and he just got 100 rupees. If you consider giving a hundred rupees more, you might want to give them to that poor woman on the sidewalk who has no job and two kids who have not eaten today yet. If you want to be generous, you can offer a healthy lunch to some of the street kids who collect the plastic in the garbage for 40 rupees a day… If you really want to thank your driver for amazing performances, give him your rainjacket, or your flashlight, or invite him for a chai and have a chat with him…
    By being reluctant to negociate, you give money to the wrong people: the taxi drivers, the travel agents, the guides… and you make us all look like ATMs to them. Paisa mahadvapurṇa nahiṁ hai!

  65. Kanja

    Thought provoking post Earl! And interesting comments. I go back to Kolkata with my kids often as it is my hometown. My kids love rickshaw rides and the rate vary depending on the location. In most cases I do not negotiate or bargain with the rickshaw driver. Just give what they ask for and most of the time they are fair. Quite often they go out of their way to help me with the bags I am carrying while I am getting off. That is when we give them 20% tips which are they very happy to get. We (most adult) get off the cycle rickshaw while it has to be pulled up hill and then get on again. I also know that many locals tip them as well especially during summer months. Those who say that tipping will make them greedy perhaps do not understand poverty or have never experienced a rickshaw ride!

  66. Jaunting Jen

    Hi Chris, that’s a really sweet thought. I try to tip generously sometimes too because it really makes a person’s day sometimes. In July I was driving 500 miles from KY to VA and stopped at a waffle house for breakfast. The waitress was obviously flustered, she got several things wrong on my order, and I heard her say it was her first day, so I left her a $20 tip. The look on her face when I was leaving was well worth the $20, it just made her day &; I knew if she was working at Waffle House she needed the money much more than I did. ~Good Karma

  67. Harish

    The guys (Cycle rickshaw drivers) in Delhi are lucky that they have a cycle rickshaw. In Calcutta (now Kolkata) it is men who pull the rickshaw. Imagine the horse from the horse cart is replaced by humans. Really cruel. Now the government in Delhi is doing something and have introduced a concept called eRickshaw which is like a battery operated rickshaw. It is still beyond the reach of an average rickshaw driver but let’s hope someday government gives them out on subsidized rates. I usually pay them more than the normal fare. From my parking to the hostel it costs around 15₹ but I just handout whatever I have loose with me 30₹ or 50₹ or anything on those lines.

  68. Sunita

    I live in India and visit Delhi frequently.
    I would have paid him may be 50 rupees more. Whenever I take a rickshaw ride I always pay more than what I bargain for. Maybe 20-30 bucks depending on the distance. As others said for us it might not matter much, for the poor rickshaw puller it will make a lot of difference. When I was small I knew a guy who used to live near by our house in his rickshaw of course. They have tough time supporting there families and mostly don’t feed well as they have send money back home to the family.

  69. Carla

    I also would’ve given him $5. I know his rate was $1.60 but to me, for the amount of work he did, $5 is the minimum he should receive. It’s nice to be in another country where things are cheap and pay their prices but I think….$1.60 is so little, so we should pay more. 🙂 He worked hard for almost an hour.

  70. Forest Parks

    This is a really tough situation.

    I’m a great believer in trying not to affect the prices for the locals. I don’t want a local being left stranded as taxis fight to get me as a customer… It’s just not fair on the local economy. However I know that my actions alone won’t stop this.

    However in this moment and considering what happened I think it may have been fair to pay a little more. BUT what you did pay isn’t wrong either.

    You may have been reading that despair, he may have been very happy with the cash but may have looked that way for some other reason.

    Generally as I travel I try to help by reusing service and recommending. I don’t know how the Indian rickshaws work but if I find a good taxi I will take their card and tell my friends rather than pay over the odds. I will go back to shops and restaurants that were good to me as often as I can etc etc etc.

  71. Emily McIntyre

    What a hard moment. I would have paid more. I’ve worked in the food industry when my tips literally paid for my gas and toilet paper. Ever since, I try to err on the side of generosity since it could make a huge difference to the other person and can only enlarge my heart. Thank you for an intriguing post.


  72. Craig

    Earl. No doubt about it. He would’ve gotten at least $5.00 US dollars from me. I know it may set a bad example and infuriate other tourists, but the fact of the matter is, we are fortunate to live in a wealthy nation, and if I travel to a place where they earn in a week less than I make in an hour?? “There but for the grace of God, go I”…my friend. I look forward to making somebody’s day or week a little better. $5 or $10 from me? Peanuts! Something that could give the man just a little extra hope, maybe a nicer meal for once? YOU BET I’LL DO IT EVERY TIME!!!!!……unless I sense I am being scammed 🙂

  73. Monte Gray

    I agree with Colleen. In fact that’s a good way to annoy the people who live there all the time. What the rickshaw driver receives normally is based on the economy that exists there. If you inflate the amount they receive, you in effect are artificially inflating the rates the locals may eventually pay also, because of increased expectations of the driver! Once you leave the locals still have to use the same driver, who now is hoping for more! If you want to fit in you should follow the norm. When I visit my wife’s home country I used to tip the taxi drivers till I was told you never tip the drivers. I now follow this advice unless I ride with a particularly personable driver who really made my ride enjoyable. Typically though most rides are uneventful, and don’t really deserve a tip. It’s hard to get over Western Guilt in regards to our standard of living!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Monte – That’s certainly an interesting point. I just think that if you will tip extra for a particularly personable taxi driver, where’s the harm in tipping extra for a particularly difficult journey, one that required more effort from the rickshaw driver than normal for that route? He was friendly, didn’t rip me off and was very polite at the end when I handed him the money. It definitely wasn’t the normal trip and that seems as if a tip would be warranted as a result.

  74. Amool

    I agree with Colleen to the point where he knew what was coming and started the barter process accordingly. Paying him more could be unfair because you are then screwing with an ecosystem by doing that, one where locals don’t want to see preferential treatment being given to foreigners simply because they tip well (or at all). It has the tendency to breed ill will.

    While I agree that the look down may be ploy, what I would like to add to it is that a desperate person must be expected to resort to absolutely anything to get by, and this includes muggings and murder. If all he is doing is trying to tug at your heart strings I’d say give him credit for not letting his desperation get the better of him to the extent that he causes such grievous harm.

    To those suggesting anything related to the average Indian I say that the average Indian would walk. Only the above average Indian would go anywhere near a cycle rickshaw and most would opt for the auto anyway. (On the subject of getting ripped off try taking an auto in a place like Pune!)

    If it were me I hope that I’d get out of the rickshaw and help him uphill, although heat has a way of playing with both your sense of compassion and presence of mind. What I certainly would do is tip him an additional 20 rupees. I’m told that even pissed off wait staff providing shitty service at over priced restaurants in the US expect, and receive, a 20% tip (I’ve never been there myself). If that’s so, then why not the rickshaw driver? Also at the end of this trip, if I could buy him bottle of cold water I’d do that. Anyone who watched The Shawshank Redemption knows how a cold beer can be ample reward at the end of a day’s worth of hard work. Keeping cultural sensitivities in mind I’d go with the water.

  75. Joanne Joseph

    Earl, thank you for making us think and opening up this discussion. To all of those commenters that leaned toward generosity and giving to help another human being, I salute you. May we all take the higher road, and when given the opportunity to extend a helping hand, jump at the chance to do so. We all win when we choose an act of kindness and generosity.

  76. Noor - Desert to Jungle

    I was always conflicted about using bicycle rickshaws in India. I hated seeing people forced by lack of education and other options to work as beasts of burden but at the same time I wanted to help them and the best way to do that was by using their services. I felt bad if I did and bad if I didn’t.

    In this case I would have tipped the guy 50-100 rupees. When I’ve been ripped off by a rickshaw guy or taxi drivers it’s bothered me for a few minutes afterwards. When, in retrospect, I feel I have not paid them adequately for their effort it bothers me for a lot longer. I completely agree with what you say above, showing kindness always has value. By tipping in this situation I’d be showing kindness to myself as well as the rickshaw man because I’d be saving myself from feeling bad afterwards.

    Re making it hard for other travellers by tipping generously, as a human being my compassion for anybody living in poverty and working at this horribly hard job with little respect shown to them by their customers, far outweighs my concern that other travellers may have to pay a few cents more.

  77. Colleen

    1. He knows exactly what he’s bargaining for at that specific time of day as pertains to the traffic.

    2. He offered you a starting barter point. Your acceptance means he’s already happy because he’s coming out ahead. Yes, he knows exactly the route, the traffic at that time of day, and any other potential variables.

    3. The look down at the rupees at the end is designed to play on your heart. Sometimes it gets him even more than he bargained for.

    4. 100 rupees represents two days pay for the average Indian.

    5. It is a hard life. But he’s a success. He has a good route in a location full of tourists. There are tens and tens of millions of Indians who would be thrilled to have his job. There are hundreds of other labor castes in India that have much more difficult work than his.

    6. It’s up to you how much you tip. However, he already was ahead because he got the first number he proposed agreed to. He was happy. It’s more than a local would pay. In that situation, next time, I would confidently and cheerfully step out of the rickshaw, hand him the rupees, say “Thank you! = )” and walk away knowing he got a good deal. Unless, of course, I wanted to bless him with more. But I like to be ‘in the driver’s seat’ so to speak, emotionally, by knowing exactly what’s happening. Then my gift is an act of human goodness and benefits all parties involved rather than a response to manipulation which degrades everybody involved, as his look of sorrow was disingenuous and therefore a deception.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Colleen – I see where you’re going with that but I think there are few misconceptions there. First, not everybody in India tries to give an unfair price or is interested in negotiating. There are many (the majority) honest people such as rickshaw drivers who quote you a fair price the first time around. And with India, you never know the traffic, especially in Delhi. I’ve seen that route completely empty and completely congested at all times of day/evening. There is no such thing as consistency with that over here.

      And the look down was most likely not designed to play on my heart since he didn’t even know that I was watching him. I had already taken several steps away and again, as far as he was concerned, I was already gone into the crowds. It’s quite a major assumption to state that his look of sorrow was disingenuous, especially without having been there.

      Also, his route is not at all full of tourists. He is in a part of Old Delhi where almost no tourists go and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the first tourist he’s ever taken. Rickshaw drivers actually don’t have ‘routes’. They just set up somewhere and take you wherever you ask them to.

      So looking at it as if he was ‘ahead’ doesn’t really fit. I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to people by assuming they are honest and not automatically assuming that they are trying to deceive me or trying to rip me off. I can’t imagine traveling and always thinking that every look or act that I encounter (in similar situations) is done simply to deceive me…to me that’s not a healthy way of thinking.

  78. Pamela

    I think giving him a bit more money would have been very nice of you. I’m sure he would have appreciated it a lot. But, don’t beat yourself up about it. Just remember this next time and make up for it then. I’ll also keep this in mind during my travels. So, ultimately just by writing this post you’ve helped many future rickshaw drivers.

  79. Ciara

    If it was me and I had the money I would have gave give him enough to buy his rickshaw instead of renting. And then paid him TRIPLE what he charged. What he does with the money is his buisness but I know I did the right thing on my end.

  80. Karyn @ plasticsux

    I would have paid him more, considering it sounds as though it was a situation he had no control over. For eg. it didn’t sound like he purposefully took the longer route, so there was no possibility of a scam.

    Unfortunately it’s easy to say this in hindsight – when you’re in the moment it can be difficult to know what to do. I guess all you can do is decide what you’ll do if you ever find yourself in that situation again?

  81. Deia

    This is a thought-provoking post. I would consider his 100 rupees a fair price if the trip were to take 20 minutes. I’d like to think I would’ve tipped him, but I’d probably pay him the 100 rupees and then wonder if I should’ve tipped him for the rest of the day, like you did. Having lived so frugally for so long, it’s hard to get out of the habit sometimes. I’m guessing this is why you gave him 100 rupees, too.

    Someone mentioned getting off during the incline and I think that’s a great way to help lighten his load as well.

  82. cruelWorld

    It’s is indeed a BIG QUESTION! And it’s about how the world works and why there are so discrimination. Also about relativity. Probably you people here can show some soberness by paying even double the regular pay (i.e Rupee 200) which is merely $1.60. What would you do if it be $100 at the first place? Would you give him $200? Now probably it’s clear why regular Indian don’t see this what has been pitifully observed here. You have it, you can show this luxury. If we can we should find out the root cause, why things are like this. Otherwise these are the result of those root causes. And there is little value if not at all in felling pity or showing kindness for these extremes.

    1. Wandering Earl

      @cruelWorld – I definitely disagree with that. If I just sit here and think about the root cause, that isn’t going to help anybody right now. Someone like the rickshaw driver is living his life right now so he needs help right now. Showing kindness with an extra tip would make an immediate difference. Besides, showing kindness always has value 🙂

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  84. Steve C

    Earl, it’s good to have you back with one of your brain (heart) tickling questions that travelers encounter daily. This is the type of blog that has propelled you to the top 100 (or better). Keep it up!

    Bringing this question up here gives us all a chance to think about these situations ahead of time so we’ll know how to react in the spur of the moment with our true personal values involved. As you can see above, there are people who think with their heart and those who think through their pocketbook. I always try to be fair and will reward with a tip if the situation feels right.

  85. Tenzin Thinley

    I once rode a rickshaw in old Delhi, over potholes and bumps with a huge boil on my hip. I still remember that very painful journey.

    Also during a trip to Bodh Gaya, I volunteered to drive a rickshaw. Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar with the 3 wheel situation so at a bend, I froze and the rickshaw driver, my sister and I ended up upside down in a filthy ditch. Mad rickshaw driver, not so much fun.

  86. chris mission

    Hi Earl,
    I think there is 2 nice ways to approach this predicament.
    1. calculate what he makes per day, take into account how much the average wage would be upped in richer country for the effort he gave and then add that on top of his pay… as a fair gesture

    2. and i like this approach even better, be a good sould, do your good deed and give him 250-300 rupees, you might save a life with this, it is a win win, the driver gets some much deserved money, way above what is usual obv, and you will feel really happy having helped someone in need that actually really worked very hard for that money.

    I know that it is not possible to help everyone in the world and always be genereous, I learned that, when I spent 1 year in brasil, but sometimes an opportunity arises where you can make an exception and be overly genereous.

    I read in Tim Ferris new book, that Billy Joel sometimes tips $20 for a coffee.
    And I read in your travel ebook, that you sometimes value things in terms of coffees or phad thai, well, there you go, eat 1 phad thai less and give that man food for 3-4 days (possibly, I don´t know how much food would cost for him or his family)

  87. Sheree

    I am a norteamericana living in Mexico so face this situation almost daily. I know that a few extra pesos are probably already added to our purchases, particularly in the tianguis, but it is still so much less expensive than NOB. The fruits and vegetables are certainly much fresher and delicious. I have heard all the opinions of overtipping creating an imbalance in the overall economy but the reward of a smile and gleam in the eye and grateful appreciation from giving a few extra pesos tip is as rewarding to me as to them. And, they will remember you the next time. I would’ve tipped at least half the fare and gotten out and walked across the bridge (probably pushed!).

  88. Linda Freund

    Once I met a guy who volunteered and gave. He told me “you may not be able to change their lives, but you make a difference in their day”. So with that in mind, and it’s on my mind always, I take volunteerism and donations to a different level.
    I know you are known in India, the area you are, and you don’t want to be looked at as the guy with the money to spare, but an occasional extra bonus is nice. Though, most Americans are known to have the money, after all, we can travel. When I was working abroad, I had to be careful, a I would be there long term. On a short terms, I’d graciously give extra. As I was suppose to be on this trip coming up in 2 days, I read up on India. I do not do well in poverty stricken countries, but there is more to India which intrigues me. I hope to have the privilege to travel with you next year. All the best, enjoy!

  89. Ruby Kroon

    Thanks for posting this question. When I was in Pushkar, I was taking a camel ride through the desert. This guy selling garnet necklaces started to follow me, trying to sell me a necklace. I told him in no uncertain terms I wasn’t interested, but he just kept coming. Every 100 yards he’d offer a better price, and every price would be met with a stern reminder that I was not interested. Eventually I caved, paying a pittance for the necklace I didn’t want. But the images of this guy’s frustated face as he tried to make this sale and the disgust with the price he got, have haunted me. Now I sit in my cushy home and think about ways to help those less fortunate, but when faced with an opportunity, I turned away. I understand all the reasons that this is not a practical thing to do, but as the planet reexamines the destructive power of greed, I feel that it can’t be wrong to acknowledge despair and do what I can to alleviate it.

  90. Peter Christmas

    I think it also depends on your own situation, 30 years ago in my 20’s on my first visit to India I was on a tight budget as I use to work for 6 months and travel over winter and the longer my money lasted the longer I could keep travelling so haggled over nearly everything. The cyclists may look wiry but they are fitter then I have ever been as you say they are far from easy to peddle and I usually took the Tut Tut but just once I used a rickshaw pulled by a barefoot Indian. He sweated buckets and I really felt bad for him and did give him a tip but never felt right to use one again as it just seemed to elevate me over him. I think it would be different if I was there now not that I am rich but compared to how I was and money is not so important to me now so feel giving a tip for good service would actually make me feel better about myself and that has got to be worth a few Rupees of anyone’s money.

  91. Chris

    Tough Question – and that you ask it, and have received so many responses weighted to mindful generosity, reveals a kind of understanding about the luck of having been born into cultures of “privilege.” It is encouraging to read here that we who have the resources and pluck to travel the world realize that with adventure arises the opportunity to be kind. I actually had a driver refuse a tip once, but perhaps that is because, when the road grew steep and he had to pull us along, I got out and walked with him. It seems that was the greater gift, for both of us.

  92. Shondriette

    I would have given him the equivalent of $5 (and a bottle of water if I had it). It’s a small amount for me but would have meant a lot for him.

  93. Mike W


    I would never visit India, Pakistan or similar countries that have people working under these conditions. It is their fatalistic culture and religion that allow people to be used in this manner. Denying such a miniscule payment for so much suffering is almost as bad as holding back the perverbial spoonful of gruel in “Oliver Twist”. We all have to suffer indignities to keep our jobs, but I draw the line at using people as beasts of burden.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Mike – I understand what you’re saying but at the same time, not visiting these places doesn’t make much of a difference. The only real difference that can be made is to visit and to actually use their services. Otherwise, they will be even worse off. And how about US or European based companies that use child labor or have employees overseas working in terrible conditions? Surely that’s as bad and while it might not be a part of the culture of those countries, it’s still allowed to exist.

      1. Mike

        You’re right! I need to really pay attention to the products we buy these days. It’s kind of old hat, but “made in America” is the only way to go.

  94. Julie Appleby

    This actually happened to my son and me while we were visiting India. We thought we would jump into a rickshaw and save a few steps. It took us a few minutes and then we realized just how much bigger Americans are than their regular Indian passengers – my son is 6’2 and weighs 175 and I’m 5’6 and weight 123. That’s a load in a rickshaw. We saw our Driver struggling so we just stopped him, paid his Fare, plus a nice American tip and walked to our destination. As we turned back, we were gifted with the nicest smile in return.

  95. Shelley

    I lived in India for 5 years and am married to an Indian (we are now in Canada), but anyway, just some background for you. I would have probably given 25-50 rupees extra as a tip because the ride probably took longer than anticipated and because I’m super soft. Living in India was difficult for me in that respect. My husband would probably never have tipped him (or maybe given an extra 10-15 rupees) and my mother-in-law would have probably tipped him 10 rupees, and my father-in-law would have never paid the 100 rupees and probably would have negotiated lower than 100 and definitely would not have tipped (my FIL is beyond frugal). The thing is once they have agreed on a price an Indian will rarely go over what was agreed upon.

  96. Danielle Withrow

    While in India, I settle on a price, then if it’s good service or a case like you described, I double it. The first time this happened I made a friend for life with a auto rickshaw – the driver gave me his cellphone number and I called him anytime I needed a ride – he always got a big tip and I never had to negotiate another auto rickshaw that whole stay in Delhi. Hopefully, he’ll still be there when I go back next year. Often with the bicycle rickshaws – you can see their smile when I agree to a higher price – they probably think “stupid tourist” but I’m thinking I’ve raised my karmic merit for a mere extra dollar! And hopefully the guy and maybe his family will eat better on that day.

  97. Jaunting Jen

    Hi Earl. This was an interesting post with an interesting dilemma. I don’t think you did anything wrong. However, on that particular day I probably would have doubled his fare or made his day with a US $5 or $10 tip. I know it’s not feasible to do this on every occasion but in this instance I would have given him more. I recently started practicing yoga and I am learning and there is no such thing as too much good will.

  98. Bobbi Jo Staley

    I am an American living in Mumbai. We don’t have bicycle rickshaws here – only auto rickshaws. I have seen bicycle rickshaws in Kolkata, Delhi, Amritsar… I have always vowed to myself to never use a bicycle rickshaw, but had to in Amritsar in horrible traffic and pouring rain and my friend and I felt horrible for how hard he had to work. We are very aware of fair rates and Indian currency and we still tipped him quite a bit. In Mumbai I often have trouble getting a rickshaw to take me home from work using the meter – they often ask for 200 rupees for a ride that should 80 rupees. If I can find a rickshaw that agrees to take me home for meter rate, I always pay them a little extra – valuing their honesty.

    1. Shelley

      YES to this. When a rickshaw driver didn’t try to cheat me or inflate the meter price, I always paid a little extra thanking him for his honesty. Always. AS a foreigner I was always getting quoted ridiculously inflated prices, and I was living there, making an Indian wage and so was my husband, so even though i was a foreigner in their eyes, I didn’t have the crazy amounts of money that the other expats had in the city i lived in. Hyderabad gets way less backpackers than Delhi and Mumbai, so the foreigners there were those living and working in the city.

  99. Anant

    As an Indian, the very first response that came to mind when I read the title of this article was same as my fellow countryman who suggested,”15 rupees per distance that would take 10 minutes to walk.” That being said, it would’ve been a nice gesture to tip him.
    I live in Norway and have lost touch with some ground realities myself. Apologies for generalizing but when we belonged to a well-off family or rich country there comes up this sense of entitlement. Our thoughts and actions center more around our own welfare. Honestly, I personally think that you gave him a fair price which was sorta bloated in the first place. But whenever I’m in my country I try to think,”What would my dad do?” I remember when I was a child and we used to get in similar situations, he used to just get off the rickshaw so that the Rikshawalla could pull the rickshaw up the bridge or any other form of incline. I used to wonder,”Why is he doing this? Aren’t we paying him already?”. Sometimes he even used to push that thing with him so as to help him out. It used to trouble me a lot.
    Now that I’ve all grown up, I can somehow understand his thoughts and actions. A farmers boy himself, he worked his ass off to be whatever he is today and also provide his family with all possible comforts even though he might have to sacrifice some of his own. Nowadays I try to overcompensate for the guilt and the flawed childhood thoughts. 🙂
    Thanks for taking me down the nostalgia-lane. Helps me remember to never lose touch of our ground realities! Life is not a race but a journey and it will indeed be a sweet one if we could all care for and share with other beings.

  100. Dominic Cowell

    In fairness, if you think about the amount of foreigners in India vs the amount of natives, they will rarely actually take foreigners. The look on his face could just be of desperation, it doesn’t always have to be greed.

  101. Dominic Cowell

    Definitely a tough one, Earl. I was in Madurai last Christmas and the vast majority down there have auto-rickshaws – in fact, it was quite a shock to see a pedal one (manual).

    I will be honest when I say I am not the best person when it comes to not negotiating, as I do automatically go into haggling mode – having said that, I may be willing to give more than first planned if; the driver is friendly, they drive you the whole way (not make up some sort of lie as to why they will stop right where you are…) and also if the journey/price ratio is actually realistic. I’ve found when you are not exactly sure how far the destination is, you tend they tend to realise this and had on a 100%+ extra fee on top telling you how far it is! I have found once you adjust to local prices it is harder to think “it is only £1 (or $1.60 in your case)”, and you think more “jesus, 100 rupees gone – I pay that for my buffet lunch!”

    Cannot wait to be back in India, got a flight just after Christmas to Chennai where my two month stretch in India begins!

  102. Erica Jensen

    That’s been the hard thing for me when I travel, seeing how hard people work for so little … in those circumstances I err on the side of giving more, responding to my heart in the moment because I hate walking away and then feeling bad.

  103. Marc

    I agree with Cheryl Roth about jumping off and helping on the bridge but I probably would’ve jumped back in after that. I think that bit of help would have absolutely made his day. As for the tip, I think you hit the nail on the head at the beginning of your post Earl. Why bargain/worry about what is such a small amount for us, yet means so much to them. I believe in keeping it in check though – excessive tipping can cause problems as well!

  104. Cheryl K

    I’m with the other person who commented about giving 500 rupees. Considering a genteel carriage ride around Central Park in NY would cost an American such as yourself more than $25, affording a one-time blessing of a large 500 rupee gift to the overtaxed Indian driver with the disheartened look probably doesn’t seem an outrageous amount to spend for that ride. However, I don’t know if there are any safety risks to you if you were to hand over that much out of the blue. It seems like your intuition was telling you that sometimes life is more than just *business*…have fun the rest of your travels!

  105. Ellie

    What you did was fair. As foreign tourists, I think a degree of empathy and magnanimity is required when we travel to places where the locals lead much more difficult lives than what we are accustomed to. It depends on the situation. I’ve never regretted paying a few more dollars to drivers or craftspeople who treat me particularly nicely. A few dollars doesn’t really affect our wallet or budget, but it feels good to make someone smile.

  106. Shane

    For me this is an easy one. As I grew up working hard for my money, I can relate to the situation the driver was in and I believe in fair compensation for services rendered, regardless of the agreed upon cost. Just as tips in a restaurant in North America are based upon level of service, so too is compensation for what I would see as going above and beyond. Further to this is the fact that I am from a wealthy nation and I can afford to pay more (like you stated, what’s 50 cents?) and I believe in paying it forward. If I can make a positive contribution in someone’s life, even for one hour, I think it’s my duty to do so, especially when in the end it really costs me nothing. Just like holding doors for the elderly and doing that little extra at home to make my significant other’s day just a little easier.

  107. Lisa

    I think I would have felt such guilt to be in the middle of such incredible poverty that I would have given him 20 US dollars. And then continue back to NYC and mock every single one of them nasty rickshaw drivers : ) Seriously thought, its a tough question.

  108. Aleta H.

    It is often hard to see how these rickshaw drivers pedal us (two of us) in the heat and humidity. This is not a first world mode of transport and these guys are used to doing this… why would you pay more because he is sweating..
    If you feel like giving more money it is up to you.. but is the look of gratitude on the peddlers face so satisfying when it turns to greed ? The peddlers often use this to overcharge future foreign visitors because he knows you feel sorry for him and he can get it..
    Kind of makes fools of tourists

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Aleta – I see your point but I don’t think I agree. 99% of bicycle rickshaw drivers will not come into contact with foreigners at all. There aren’t that many of us but there are thousands upon thousands of rickshaws. In fact, even when we do come into contact, many times a driver will turn us away because they either don’t speak any English or they are just uncomfortable trying to negotiate with people they can’t really communicate with. So it’s not as if giving a little extra one time will suddenly turn one single rickshaw driver in Old Delhi into a greedy guy.

      Besides, most travelers know/learn the approximate fair price for such rides so it’s not as if a driver will quote us 500 rupees and we’ll just accept it. Fools we are not 🙂

  109. Cheryl Roth

    I would have just given him US$10 straight out. Who cares how much the usual fare is? The poor man worked his ass off so you didn’t have to walk. Actually, I would have gotten out of the Rickshaw when he did (so he wouldn’t have to pull me over the bridge), paid the man $10, and walked the rest of the way myself. Everyone needs hope and unexpected blessings now and then, and if you can provide that for another person it will be to both your benefit.

  110. James

    Similarly to kandyce, I’m rarely doing other tourists, or perhaps even locals, favours when I travel. I always like to give extra, and often a lot extra, because the difference it will make to that person far outweighs any difference it will make to me. Perhaps my welfare model sends all the wrong messages but I like to think I am helping. Interested to hear comments!

  111. Marcie

    I’m a pushover and probably would’ve at least doubled his fare…pay it forward and all.

    I was in Ecuador and found it fun to haggle in the marketplace and on one occasion after an intense haggle I told the guy to keep the change after I paid him. The look on his face was priceless.

  112. Sarah Somewhere

    Yeah, I think the guy definitely deserved a decent tip! In my experience, I’ve never regretted giving more, and only felt bed when I didn’t. Share it around, I say! Live and learn… (Something tells me your next rickshaw driver is in for a treat!!).

  113. Eli

    Hi Earl,
    10 years ago, I would tell him that it took longer than expected, so I deserve a discount on the 100 rupees we agreed on. 5 years ago, I would go for 100. Now, I would go for 150.
    By the way, it was snowing last week in Brasov, you picked a good time to change a continent 🙂

  114. kandyce

    if he takes me the whole way and doesn’t argue, i usually tip half of the fare.

    i know i’m not helping make sure that white people get fair prices, and i’m not helping the status quo and blah blah blah, but i couldn’t do the work that guy does, and i couldn’t buy enough food to survive with my wages, so i opt to be extra generous.

    if the guy starts arguing with me, especially after he drops me off, i pay my (undoubtedly inflated) initially quoted price and walk away.

  115. Ford

    This is a tough one. Every traveler has been shaken down by a taxi driver at some point. Common scenario for the taxi driver to ask for an outrageous amount or refuse to use the meter because they think their passenger has no idea of the currency. I usually try to figure out the market rate ahead of time, demand use of the meter if there is one, and then hope for the best. If it is bicycle taxi or the driver has to go to some extra effort, it never hurts to be generous. It is also helpful to remember that you do have a common bargain and the taxi driver who tried to demand about $200 USD for a short trip in Prague, telling me “It is beautiful price,” is not the same motorcycle taxi driver who asked me if I knew about the Vietnam war in Saigon then inflated the price a bit. I still gave him more than I probably should have in the latter case but begrudged him much less.

    Funny. I remember that an article popped up on CNN earlier this year entitled something like “Why the White Tax is OK.” Obviously in bad taste a bit racist, it disappeared before I could read it as planned later that afternoon. In China there is definitely sometimes a lao wai price for different reasons. I have arrived more than once to look at apartment that were advertised at a certain price to have them tell me the price was higher.

    Situation by situation. Place by place. Follow your gut. Reward good people.

  116. Mark

    It’s a tough call. I’ve never really been put in a similar situation myself where I’ve considered someone to have gone perhaps slightly above and beyond the call of duty. When it comes to something so ‘cheap’ and for what sounds like hard work I like to think I’d have handed the guy a little something extra, especially given that he didn’t try and rip you off in the first place.

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