Tripping Traps – The Suburban Times

Organized bus trips abroad often take you to manufacturing companies that are contracted to sell their products.

Do you like outings? To exciting places? Inexpensively ? Traveling world champion Germany had an answer to this apparent “exciting AND cheap” contradiction at the time. And I can’t remember a week when I didn’t find an advertisement for such trips in my mailbox. The concept was called “Kaffeefahrt” (pronounced “cuff-ah-fart”, meaning “coffee trip”). What was it and have I ever tried it?

Basically, you went to a meeting point to be picked up by a bus that took you to a tourist spot. In my hometown of Stuttgart it would have been something like the Black Forest or Lake Constance, but even destinations like Austria, Switzerland or France were offered. Once on the coach, you were usually taken to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere where you enjoyed a meal included in the price, then you were condemned to attend a sales show. Oh, did I say, you usually also received a gift when booking such a trip? It can be a cover or an automobile atlas. Sometimes a watch. But you were supposed to attend the sales show. I can’t tell if the products were good or bad. Suffice it to say, it must have paid off for the companies involved because apparently they sold their wares to their willing, paying captives. And the latter had to take advantage of it too. Otherwise they wouldn’t have kept the Kaffeefahrt concept alive for decades. Of course, there were the black sheep among the Kaffeefahrt organizers – free tickets, barely free food or drink, no freebies and a sales show that borders on psychological blackmail. No idea if these Kaffeefahrten still exist today.

Brink & Sadler

Another similar concept, this time on the German North Sea coast and on the Baltic Sea coast, was called the “Butterfahrt” (pronounced “boot-ah-fart”, i.e. trip buttered). You simply checked the boat schedule in the port towns for such events and then took the boat trip for a ridiculously low price. They usually took you to seal colonies. But the most important thing was that you reached a point outside the 3 mile zone. Because that was when the duty-free shop on board the ship opened its screen door. There were usually long queues for cigarettes, liquor, perfumes, chocolates and – butter. If you just wanted to go on a boat and watch the seals, this was a very cheap opportunity to do so. Without falling into the trap. The Butterfahrt concept was, however, banned after some time. Of course, since the European Union had no intra-European customs, duty-free sales no longer made sense.

Caribbean cruises sometimes end in beautiful, small places – which are full of souvenir shops in one corner.

But haven’t the travelers among us experienced similar things on vacation trips anywhere? I remember the day trips to European countries that were offered at the reception of hotels. They would take you to tourist attractions such as the Caves of Drach in Mallorca, Spain, or the Catacombs in Malta, but inevitably there would be a stop at a restaurant that was probably a contractor for the coach company . And as inevitably you would find yourself in the middle of nowhere at a place that was selling something – in both cases Majorica pearls respectively pottery. And most people bought something, because you were stuck for at least an hour in such places. I remember leaving the Majorica factory after a while to explore its – admittedly dreary – neighborhood; and I actually bought some pottery, as it served at least real household use. Anyone who has ever been on a cruise ship and booked a land outing will have encountered similar side trips to outlets, stores or manufacturing companies with way too much free time there.

However, one of the most amazing things I have come across at some point happened here in Washington State. My husband and I had booked a beautiful little hotel suite somewhere on the coast. In line. So at reception I was quite surprised to be handed an invitation to a one hour meeting later that afternoon where an agent offered me a timeshare in the hotel group. That one wouldn’t just have been a more expensive experience. The locations of these hotels are usually not everywhere one wants to travel and are not necessarily available WHEN you want them. Also, as a European, I had heard all sorts of unattractive stories about timeshare while still living abroad where the concept also existed. Long story short: we declined the offer and have since traveled on our own terms, as we had before.

Basically, what I call trip traps are what anyone can encounter in a store on a daily basis. If your wallet is padded, you have free time, and you’re in a good mood, the possibility of buying something you don’t really need is great. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But be careful with your choices.

About Derrick Hill

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