Do you like outings? To exciting places? At hardly any cost at all? Traveling world champion Germany used to have an answer to that seeming contradiction “exciting AND cheap” back in the day. And I can’t remember a week when I didn’t find advertising for such trips in my mail box. The concept was called “Kaffeefahrt” (pronounce ‘cuff-ah-fart, i. e. coffee trip). What was it and did I ever try this?
Basically, you went to a meeting point to be picked up by a bus which drove you somewhere touristy. In my hometown of Stuttgart, it would have been something like the Black Forest or Lake Constance, but even destinations such as Austria, Switzerland, or France were on offer. Once aboard the coach, you were usually taken to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere where you enjoyed a meal included in the price, and then you were doomed to watch a sales show. Oh, did I say, you usually also got a gift when booking such a trip? It might be a blanket or a car atlas. Sometimes a watch. But you were supposed to participate in the sales show. I can’t say whether the products were good or bad. Suffice it to say, it must have paid off for the companies involved because, apparently, they sold their products to their willing and paying captives. And the latter must have enjoyed 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, hardly free food or beverages, no gifts, and a sales show that bordered on psychological blackmailing. No clue, whether these Kaffeefahrten are still in existence, today.
Another similar concept, this time at the German North Sea coast and the coast of the Baltic Sea, was called the “Butterfahrt” (pronounce ‘boot-ah-fart, i.e. butter trip). You simply checked the boat schedule in harbor towns for such events and then went on the boating trip for a ridiculously low fee. They usually took you to some 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 store onboard the boat would open its grille door. There usually were long lines for cigarettes, alcohol, perfume, chocolates, and – butter. If you just wanted to go on a boat and watch seals, that was a dead-cheap opportunity to do so. Without falling for the trap. The Butterfahrt concept was prohibited after a while, though. Of course, since the European Union had no inner-European customs, the duty-free sales made no sense anymore.
But haven’t the travelers among us experienced similar things on organized vacation trips anywhere? I remember day trips in European countries that were offered at hotel reception desks. They would take you to tourist attractions such as the Caves of Drach on Majorca, Spain, or to the Catacombs on Malta, but inevitably, there would be a stop at a restaurant that was probably a contractor with the coach company. And as inevitably, you’d end up in the middle of nowhere at a place that sold something – in these two cases Majorica pearls, respectively pottery. And most people bought something, as you were stuck for at least an hour in such places. I remember I walked out of the Majorica factory after a while to explore its – admittedly dreary – neighborhood; and I actually bought pottery, as that at least served some real household use. Anybody who has ever been on a cruise ship and booked a land outing will have encountered similar side trips to outlets, shops, or manufacturing businesses with way too much time on their hands there.
One of the most astonishing things I encountered at one time, though, happened here in Washington State. My husband and I had booked a gorgeous little hotel suite somewhere on the coast. Online. So, at the reception desk, I was quite surprised to be handed an invitation to a one-hour meeting later in the afternoon where an agent offered time shares in the hotel group. That one would not just have been a pricier experience. Locations of such hotels are usually not everywhere one wants to travel and not necessarily available WHEN you want them. Besides, as a European, I had heard all kinds of less than enticing stories about timesharing when still living overseas where the concept existed as well. Long story short: we declined the offer and have been traveling on our own conditions ever since, just as we used to do before.
Basically, what I call trip traps is what everybody might encounter in a store on a daily basis. If your wallet is padded, you have time on your hands, and you are in a good mood, the possibility you buy something you don’t really need is great. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But be careful about your choices.