How to Decide When to Save and When to Splurge on Travel

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eHow Money Blog

Planning a travel budget is, like everyday budgeting at home, an exercise in trade-offs. As I’ve written about here (and here, and here), travel doesn’t have to be a wildly expensive endeavor, if you know your priorities, do your research and plan accordingly.

Travel is supposed to shake you up, widen your perspective and make you see home (and the world!) in a different light. Cultural differences can be incredibly illuminating, but they don’t always manifest as rosy, smooth experiences during a trip. They can take the form of inconveniences, snafus, confusion or things not going quite according to plan. In my own travels, I’m willing to put up with a lot more discomfort and inconvenience simply because I expect it to happen.

Traffic in Cairo: Half these cars are parked.

I’m also willing to put up with less than five-star hotel experiences because most of my trips don’t involve lounging by a pool. They involve hitting the pavement, exploring, tasting, conversing and experiencing — meaning very little time in the hotel room and even less of that time spent conscious. My thinking is: Why spend a lot on something you’ll rarely experience?

But at home, I’m a little different. I enjoy whatever degree of luxury I can comfortably afford. I like nice things — I’ll admit it! My taste is semi-expensive, even if I don’t indulge it all of the time. I’ll probably never be the type of person to spend my money on a luxury car or buy a huge house, but I’ll save up for a quality designer handbag (that will last me years) or treat myself to a nice bottle of wine or meal at a restaurant every now and again. The older I get, the more I learn what is and isn’t worth spending money on, and an important factor is usually how I want to feel.

At home, I like to feel comfortable, and to a point, I’m willing to pay for it. When traveling, I like to feel as though I’m on an adventure, and my expectations shift.

In general, I need only the following from a hotel or hostel:

  • Hot water
  • A clean, at least somewhat comfortable bed
  • A clean, functional bathroom with towels
  • If it’s warm, some kind of air conditioning
  • Wi-Fi (when you’re roaming with data off, you’ll want some access to the rest of the world)
  • Some degree of privacy (I’m fine with the shared bathroom down the hall, as long as my room is my own)

However, not everyone who is able to travel chooses to spend time the way I do. It’s fairly typical for many Americans to seek a relaxing beach or an all-inclusive resort vacation to de-stress instead of a cultural experience (which is sometimes not relaxing at all). And that’s OK! Sometimes I, too, need a little more R&R than I allow myself on vacation. The last time I took a trip of that sort, I was attending a wedding at a resort in Cabo, and it was such a nice experience to have a comfortable suite with all restaurant meals and poolside drinks paid for up front. Everyone there for the wedding stayed at this resort, so there was no coordination needed — it was perfect.

Steak in Montepulciano, Italy.

There may very well be times when it’s worth spending more to have a nicer experience — and there’s definitely something to be said for choosing to spend more on special, momentous occasions, as my friends did for their wedding. Usually, when I indulge in a nice bottle of wine or restaurant meal, it’s for a particular occasion. Again, it comes down to how you want to feel. You want those moments in life worth celebrating to seem truly special.

And whether you’re spending more on a fancy resort when you could’ve chosen something simpler or the flight over was already enough of a financial stretch and you’ll be cutting corners the whole trip, at the core of your decision, you chose to value experiences over material possessions. From there, how you choose to spend your money comes down to the purpose of your trip (exploration, R&R) and what you value most.

Inexpensive hotel in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

Photo credit: Megan Van Groll

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