From mineral water to water slides, things that are free in some countries often cost in others, sometimes much to the surprise of travellers venturing out of their homeland.
To find out what bargains can be had abroad, we looked to question-and-answer community Quora.com to ask, “What are some things free in your country that you have to buy when visiting other countries?” The answers not only revealed good deals, but a fascinating insight into the local culture.
Northern India and Pakistan
Pretty much every grocery shop in this part of the world offers a free and generous side of fresh coriander and green chillies, common local ingredients in curries and chutneys.
“In most of northern India… dhaniya-mirch (coriander and chillies) is synonymous with groceries,” said Khusrau Gurganvi from Varanasi. So much so that he explained that “Kal dhaniya-mirch lana hai” translates into “I need to buy groceries tomorrow.”
An anonymous answerer echoed the perk within Pakistan. “Whenever you go to buy vegetables, the shopkeeper will give you a handful of free coriander and green chilli,” the person said. “If they don’t, then all you have to do is ask.”
Not every free thing mentioned was a physical object. It seems that in India, people enjoy an unlimited supply of advice.
“In other countries, there are wedding planners. Here, we have aunts, uncles, uncle’s uncles to give us advice for free,” said Mehul Manot from Calcutta. “In other countries, there are counsellors. Here, we have the ever-poking neighbours: ‘You shouldn’t take up Arts, it’s for girls. Do engineering, you’ll earn lakhs per month.’”
He added that travel agents are replaced by jet-setting cousins, and trendy friends step in for fashion consultants.
Advice doesn’t always have to come from just friends and family, either.
“In other countries, you need to pay for consultations, but in India you can get it free of cost at tea stalls, [during] marriages or family functions, [on] trains, buses by almost anyone,” said Kanchan Saxena, who currently lives in the United States. “We love giving advice.”
Fast food may have originated in the US, but the free condiments that generously accompany meals haven’t always translated to their counterparts overseas.
American Jon Baldwin experienced this first hand when visiting a McDonald’s drive-through in the United Kingdom and noticed his bag of food was conspicuously missing the typical sauce packets.
“Excuse me, you forgot the ketchup,” he told the server. “Instead of reaching for ketchup packets, she starts typing away on the cash register: 50p.”
To make matters worse, the 50p went toward just a single ketchup packet. “In the US, not only do they not charge for ketchup, they hand you like 10 packets when you ask. Literally a fist full of ketchup.
Dave Holmes-Kinsella vouched for the fact that his American wife “was driven into fits of rage by the capricious condiment tax” in his native New Zealand, especially since salt and sugar sides come free.
A different kind of condiment is given away in abundance in this small nation.
“We have unlimited, free access to chilli sauce in any fast food restaurant and any food court,” said native Joseph Lee. “We literally eat anything and everything with chilli sauce, from the iconic chicken rice to McDonald’s hamburgers.”
In fact, McDonald’s even makes a “garlic chilli sauce” that’s exclusive to the heat-loving Singapore market.
To accompany Australia’s great outdoors, the country offers plenty of free things to enjoy outside.
“Many public parks and national parks have free barbeque hot plates,” said Christopher Mardell from Adelaide. “You bring meat and whatever else you want to cook, push a button to start it up and away you go. After 20 minutes or so, they turn off automatically, so you push the button again.” All visitors have to do is keep it clean, and Mardell said most people follow this etiquette.
In the Northern Territory, residents can enjoy a unique respite from the heat.
“As the waters are croc infested, residents can cool down by using free water slides,” said Jane M, originally from England. Leanyer Recreation Park in Darwin is just one example, with three large water slides (including a 124m-long raft ride) and a water playground and pool – all completely free.
Tap water might be free in some countries, but true mineral water usually comes at a premium. Not so in Slovakia, where mineral springs are everywhere.
“Every region has a number of mineral water sources that are open to the public and free to drink,” said Juraj Spisak, who currently lives in Brussels. “Mineral springs in Slovakia each have a particular taste. Some are more sulphuric, others are rich in manganese or iron.”
While it’s still possible to buy water in shops, it’s common for residents to refill their own bottles at the local springs.
In this Scandinavian country, very specific laws keep nature – and the enjoyment of it – free for all.
“We have a set of laws known as the ‘Freedom to roam’, or actually in a more literal translation as ‘Everyman’s right’,” said Eivind Kjørstad.
These allow residents to have free movement on roads, rivers and lakes; to forage for berries, mushrooms and wildflowers; and to camp overnight – as long as its 150m from the nearest building.
“We divide land into ‘innmark’ and ‘utmark’, which literally translates to ‘infield’ and ‘outfield’,” explained Kjørstad. “The distinction is that ‘innmark’ is cultivated and actively used land such as gardens, fields, parks and roads. ‘Utmark’ is everything else; mountains, forests, moorland, tundra, swamps, beaches, lakes and rivers.”
The nature laws apply to anyone anywhere in the utmark, even if the land is privately owned.