Frugal Travel Moves That Backfired On Me

Sometimes the quest to save a few bucks only serves to bite you in the ass. If there’s one thing that living out of a backpack for six months taught me, it’s the importance of making smart financial decisions, often on the fly. Here are three instances in which scrimping ended up costing us…


Sleeper buses

Hop on board. Go to sleep in one city. Wake up in another. Save on a night’s accommodation in the process. Brilliant, right?

In theory, sure. But while you might save a few dollars by bedding down on a sleeper bus, the odds of actually getting enough shuteye is pretty low. You may well end up eating into valuable time later catching up on sleep.


Paying for breakfast

It seems like a no-brainer: shell out a dollar/euro/pound or two extra for accommodation that includes breakfast. But in my experience, it’s always a bit of a crap shoot. We’ve enjoyed amazing spreads in Siem Reap, Hanoi, Munich, and Bologna, for example, but we’ve also had too many “we got up early for this?!” moments.

Ultimately, there’s no way to tell for sure whether it’s worth it, short of trial and error. You can check out the reviews online for any mention of breakfast and the quality/quantity, but take them with a grain of salt, since there’s no pleasing some people. You’ll never know until you rock up that first morning, but truthfully, I’ve been let down far more than I’ve been pleasantly surprised.


Cheaping out on A/C
Oh boy. Going for the budget room with a ceiling fan, rather than the pricier one with A/C, sounded like a good idea at the time.

If you’re lucky, you’ll only pay for this in sweat and a restless slumber. Or, if you’re us, it might land you in a Bangkok hospital – after your husband has a close encounter with a blade (or two) of the ceiling fan. Talk about the mother of all expensive mistakes! Luckily, the medical bill came in at under $300. In the end, we didn’t even make an insurance claim, because it wouldn’t have been worth it.



Esther Goh spent six months backpacking around the world in 2013 and blogged about it

Photo: Sleeper bus in Vietnam/Wikimedia Commons


11 Comments / Post A Comment

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

Never take a 24-hour second class train from Delhi to Amritsar because Lonely Planet says it only costs pennies and is the best way to see the “real” India!

Beaks (#3,488)

@HelloTheFuture 1st Class AC all the way. Actually, 2nd Class AC sleeper trains are fine, too. Mostly middle class families, fairly non-eventful (even when you get stuck between Agra and Ambala for hours on end).

But I would always, always, take one with air conditioning…

Tatiana (#194)

This post reminded me of my most memorable free breakfast — a friend and I were staying at a hotel in Tokyo. We didn’t know that they offered a free breakfast beforehand so it was a pleasant surprise when, at check-in, the concierge asked us if we would like the “complimentary hot dog breakfast.” We exchanged glances, sort of confused and said, “Sure, why not.” The next morning room service brought up a hot dog for each of us, with a side of a single potato wedge and a ketchup packet. :)

ShermMcCoy (#3,777)

My favorite sign will forever be: “Free breakfast included in room rate”

Nibbler (#5,331)

So true on the sleeper bus. Some friends and I once took one from Shanghai to Beijing, and not only are the beds so short and narrow that it’s impossible to get any sleep, the bus stopped every few hours to pick up seemingly random people along the highway, many of whom wound up sleeping in the aisles in between the beds.

RiffRandell (#4,774)

I took a sleeper bus from Hamilton-Wellington NZ. A 6 hour drive took about 10. Luckily I am a champion sleeper because otherwise it would not have been good. We did stop frequently to get people and at one point seemingly stopped on an abandoned highway for a new driver. They left the keys in and the bus beeped for about 20 minutes, which was the only extended period I was awake.

tuntastic (#2,769)

@RiffRandell why didn’t you take the Northern Explorer?! This is a baffling decision to me (a NZer).

Stina (#686)

Drove instead of taking a plane. Leisurely road trips where you get adequate sleep? Fine. Sleep deprived torture drives that ended in a car totaling but gratefully no serious injuries car accident? Not money saving and dangerous.

eatmoredumplings (#3,808)

I’ve actually had decent experiences on overnight buses in Turkey – there are stops, but not that many, and long enough to get out and use a restroom. I was 21 and didn’t need as much sleep, though. Amtrak overnight from Boston to DC though? NEVER AGAIN. Stops every ten minutes to half hour through MA, RI, CT, and NY (which is half the trip), with bright lights and really loud announcements.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

Sleep is my super power, so I definitely take the overnight buses (and the red eye flights). I also love earplugs, sleep masks and sleeping pills. But, as my partner regularly reminds me, I am a freak for my ability to sleep through anything (except snoring. Snoring is my kryptonite.)

Stowaway (#5,169)

Sleeper buses and trains! I have actually seen people sleep on them, so I know it’s technically possible, but I think I’ve cobbled together maybe 4 hours total over at least 60 hours of overnight buses and trains. (Sometimes the only bus available is a night bus, which is why I keep taking them, to my eternal chagrin.)

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