Budget Traveler

It happens all the time of course. I show up in a new town, I check out a few different guesthouses or budget hotels, I ask for the room prices and then I make a decision. And when I first started traveling, I would almost always choose the cheapest option for the sole purpose of saving my money. However, that is no longer the case these days, and the same is true whether I’m looking for a place to eat, an activity to participate in or anything else I might do while on the road.

I’ve realized something. The cheapest option is not always the best option…for me.

When we travel, especially as budget travelers, we tend to have the mindset that we must spend the least amount of money possible. We want whatever money we have to last longer, we want our travels to last longer, and as a result, the only way to achieve those goals is to stay at the cheapest guesthouses, to eat as cheaply as possible, to skip out on certain activities and to make use of only the cheapest transportation options available.

And that is perfectly fine. If I spend $10 overall today instead of $30, the money I save will absolutely help me stay on the road another day or so. Likewise, if you have $3000 in your bank account, you could spend $1000 per month and travel for three months, or you could spend even less money everywhere you go, travel for $600 per month and extend your trip for another sixty days.

But the thing is, travel, even budget travel, is not all about spending less. It’s about having the most complete experience, or in better words, the experience that matches your interests and goals the best. That is why, even though I naturally prefer to save money wherever I can while traveling, I also understand that sometimes it’s actually worth it for me to spend more.

Here’s an example…

For the past six nights I’ve been in Istanbul staying at a place called the Agora Guesthouse, the same guesthouse I stay at pretty much every time I’m in this great city. Prices at the Agora are definitely not the cheapest around and even a bed in a dorm room costs up to one and a half times what you can find elsewhere. As a result, many people would instantly give this place a pass.

However, I stay here because the extra money I spend leads to a much more enhanced experience than if I stay somewhere else down the road for a fraction of the price. My extra money gets me a supremely comfortable mattress (even in the dorm rooms) that allows me to sleep ever so soundly each night, it gets me an excellent, healthy, fresh, varied breakfast every morning (included in the price), it gets me an ultra-cozy, enclosed roof-top terrace with a sea view for me to relax or work in whenever I want, it gets me a large team of friendly staff to not only receive assistance from, but to interact and converse with as well.

I’m able to enjoy my days of wandering, and gain so much more from my travels here in Istanbul, after such a good sleep, such a good breakfast and a productive few hours of work in the morning from that splendid roof-top. And this is why I’m perfectly happy to shell out the extra money to stay here (after all, that mattress, breakfast, extra staff, comfortable sofas and so on costs the owners of the Agora money, so it is reasonable that their beds and rooms would be more expensive as well).

Of course, it’s up to us as individual travelers to determine whether or not the benefit received from spending more on something is actually worth it. It depends on each of our needs and goals.

A Nicer Room in Riga

Another example for me involves the trains in India. When taking those trains, I now usually travel in 1st Class 3A, which is the lowest level of first class (there are three levels). I used to travel in 2nd Class Sleeper because it was cheaper, until I realized that paying some extra money for the 3A class made more sense for me. First, it’s more comfortable, the beds are thicker and come with sheets, pillows and blankets, allowing me to actually get a good night’s sleep, something that was much more difficult for me when traveling on 2nd Class Sleeper. In addition, the passengers in 1st Class 3A tend to speak more English and so, I typically end up having plenty of interesting conversations and meeting plenty of new people, something that has lead to a variety of rewarding experiences.

With 1st Class 3A, once I arrive in my destination, even after something like a 14-hour overnight journey, I’m well rested, feeling good and I’m fully ready to explore. I’m not tired and cranky as I would often be after a journey in 2nd Class Sleeper, which would force me to spend the entire next day catching up on sleep and trying to get into a better mood.

To me, what I gain from traveling in 1st Class 3A is worth me spending an extra $10 or $15.

First-class Train

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I always choose a more expensive option these days when faced with a spending decision. Trust me, there are plenty of times when the value received by spending more money is not worth it to me and I’m perfectly content with the cheapest option available. It’s just that I’m more aware of what I want to gain from my travels and I understand that sometimes it will cost a little extra to achieve what I’m after.

I also understand that a higher price doesn’t always equate to a more enhanced experience. Sometimes tourism-related individuals and companies inflate their prices simply to try and squeeze as much money as they can from tourists, without offering much in return. Luckily though, we have online research available to us to make sure that something really is worth spending more money on and that it’s not simply a rip off.

In the end, as is the case with all things travel, it comes down to each of us. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. Everyone needs to find their own balance in terms of the experiences you wish to have, what you hope to gain, how much comfort you need to achieve your goals and ultimately, how much you want to spend each day as well.

All I’m trying to say here is that instead of automatically thinking that the best option is to always spend as little money as you can in order to to try and travel for the longest period of time possible, you should first think about what you receive in return for the money you do spend. You may very well be happy always choosing the cheapest options, but for some, you might discover that spending some extra cash will lead to a more fulfilling travel experience overall, the kind of experience you were hoping for before you set out on your adventure.

How do you view money when you travel? If you haven’t traveled yet, do you think you would always try to spend less wherever you could?