Pound Foolish Travelers

Seth Kugel has an excellent post over at the Frugal Traveler about irrational saving when traveling on a budget:

There are also hard-fought discounts — finding an online coupon, negotiating a better price, sweet-talking your way to an upgrade.

Then you have those grin-and-bear-it sacrifices necessary to keep the budgets under control: packing sandwiches for lunch or packing four people into a motel room.

So far, so good. But things begin to fall apart when what you save in cash is far from commensurate with what you lose in other travel currencies: time, comfort, taste, nutrition, convenience, ethics, health or safety, to name a few.

I see it all the time. People become so obsessed with saving that it becomes the focal point of the trip, the primary topic of conversation and even the subject of competitive one-upmanship. Oh, you drove a hard bargain at the hostel and paid $11 instead of $12? Well, I crashed on the floor of a church for free — unless of course you count the cost of aspirin for the backache and coffee for the lack of actual sleep. (Accounts of these grand victories, by the way, all too often take place over drinks that wipe out any savings many times over.)

While backpacking across Italy during a summer in college, my friends and I decide to do what all the other young people with little disposable income were doing: stay in hostels, and when hostels weren’t available or completely booked, stay in a tent in a camping ground just outside the city. This worked fine until we arrived at one of the camping grounds and unzipped the tent and peered in. We found a cot on the floor covered with what looked like a lot of dried blood. We immediately left and scouted for cheap hotels nearby, and found a room for 20 more euros a night than what it would cost us at the camp. The beds were like heaven, there was a complimentary breakfast and lunch (which saved us on food costs), and most importantly, there was a shower. It was one of the best non-savings decisions we’ve ever ever made.

Photo: Orinzebest

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15 Comments / Post A Comment

emilies (#956)

I still haven’t learned this lesson re: getting a cab home from the airport.

megsy (#1,565)

When I did my semester abroad in Korea we had two choices to get to the University from the airport. One option was $70 USD and was an airport pickup. The other option was $7 and involved taking the airport bus, being dropped off on the side of the road and then walking to the University or calling. I chose the second option. Unfortunately – I didn’t know how to operate a Korean payphone. Also, it was raining. AND I had no idea where I was or what was going on. So when I had to pick a direction in which to start walking, I figured that since I hadn’t passed the university on the bus, I would walk in the opposite direction in which I had come. Eventually I ended up in the basement of a Pizza Hut staring at their incomprehensible delivery map while trying to find my housing. My theory was that SOMEONE at Pizza Hut had to speak English (as a note – that was a bad theory).

Anyway. All that to say is I probably should have spent the $70, and in retrospect I may have (but, realistically, probably not)… but the $7 option at least gives me a funny story of how cheap I am.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

While travelling in Australia I decided that hitchhiking up the coast of Queensland would be a smart decision. Highlights included a group of students from PNG who had no drivers licenses and a couple of army dudes who were drink driving the entire time. Also spending the night inside a giant boot to avoid finding a hotel/being killed by wildlife. Still somehow proud for controlling costs though.

bgprincipessa (#699)

@EvanDeSimone Does “boot” mean something besides footwear and trunk that I’m not aware of?

Mike Dang (#2)

@bgprincipessa I mean, there was an old woman who lived in a shoe right?

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@bgprincipessa It also means “to vomit” I believe, but in this case I mean footwear. A giant metal rainboot to be precise.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@EvanDeSimone Say what? A metal rainboot?
I was definitely thinking inside the boot of the car (“trunk of the car”)

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

@TARDIStime Behold http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Gumboot …it’s next to the bus station.

I have several friends who live like this – I have no plans to ever travel with them. I am all for budgeting, and actually being able to enjoy wherever I am because I was able to sleep and eat properly (if cheaply).

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@polka dots vs stripes Same. I am all about saving money and living frugally, but when I go on vacation, I need some change from my regular life! That fancy meal my last night in Sweden is something I will never forget or regret.

The lesson I learned on my 2007 trip to Chicago: Do not, in an effort to save money, schedule a red-eye flight home and try to sleep in the airport terminal instead of booking a regular-time flight and an extra night at the hotel. Especially if you have work the next day.

@cuminafterall I’ve slept in airports a couple times for early flights. I get nervous about missing my flights, so even if I’m in a hotel I wake up repeatedly and still don’t get a good sleep. It’s been a few years since I’ve done this, but I’m gonna attempt it again next month at Sky Harbor. Fingers crossed.

la_di_da (#1,425)

free wifi and complimentary breakfast. always worth a little extra cost.

probs (#296)

This story turned out to be a lot less violent and/or dirty than I was thinking when I very first read the title.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

@probs haha, the alt text doesn’t help!

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