Back in the day, when I was bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and knee-high to a grasshopper, I travelled cheaply as possible. I did this because even though my money was lean, my desire was fat. I wanted to see as much of the world as I could, by any means necessary. And I wanted to do it for as little money as possible.
That meant I did some crazy things.
Like sleeping overnight in a park in Sevilla, Spain, because my crew and I arrived to the city late, were moving on to another city early the next morning, and thus didn’t want to waste money on spending a few hours tossing and turning in a narrow hostel bed.
Like subsisting on homemade ham and tomato sandwiches for a week whilst backpacking through the food meccas of Spain and Portugal— all because I couldn’t afford to eat in legit restaurants. (Sidebar: when you are broke, local grocery stores are your friends.)
Like sleeping in a hammock on a rooftop of a hostel in Morocco. Why? Well, it was only $2 USD to sleep outdoors in a hammock, versus $5 USD to sleep in an actual bed in a dorm. (Hey, it was an upgrade from sleeping overnight in a park, so…)
Like moving to the French Riviera for a year and taking the cheapest and most epically CIRCUITOUS route to get there. I journeyed 24+ hours via plane, train, and automobile versus a tidy 8.5 hours to fly directly.
(Let me paint you a picture for this one. I: flew from Toronto, laid over in Philadelphia, flew from Philly to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Then I: transferred from the airport to Paris Gare du Nord train station, took the high speed train to Marseille, then made my third and last transfer to the slow train to Nice, my final destination. All whilst hefting 90 lbs of my life in two massive suitcases and a carry-on–I was moving to France for a year, remember?)
Welp. I think you get my point.
Basically, I did whatever I could to manifest my destiny. I hustled and sacrificed my comfort and sanity so that I could see the world on little money and big desire.
And don’t get me wrong, it was great! I learned, I laughed, and I lived a life of adventure.
But now? Things done changed. I can’t do extreme budget travel anymore. Actually, scratch that. It’s not that I can’t travel on a tight budget, it’s that I simply don’t want to. Why?
I’m old(er) now and make more money.
I’m in my 30s now, have two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s, and have been working full-time in the same field for 10 years. Translation: I’ve been around, I’ve paid my dues, and, well, at this point I get paid pretty decently for what I do. So there’s no longer a need for me to scrimp when I travel– I can afford that $100 a night hotel or that $50 cab ride from the airport.
I work (hard). So when I go away, I want a vacation.
That field I’ve been working in for 10 years? It’s education. I’ve been a middle and high school educator for a decade, teaching everything from French and Social Studies to English literature, ESL, and how to get a boy to ask you out (true story) over the course of my career. Anyone who has taught tweens and teenagers for any amount of time knows that it can be full-on, stressful, and laryngitis-inducing.
Moreover, outside of my job, the stresses of life are just as major, because, well, adulting is hard! So while I think that travel is educational and transformative and all that jazz, more and more it’s become an escape from the stressors and pressures of my day to day. Ergo, I don’t want my few precious days of relaxation and reprieve to be filled with struggle, stinky hostels, or sandwiches from 7-Elevens in Singapore, Sweden or South Korea. (Fun fact: 7-Eleven has stores in 17 different countries.)
Bottom line: While I don’t need stays at the Four Seasons, flights in first class, and filet mignon on my travels, nowadays I want and require a modicum of luxury and comfort.
It’s okay to splurge!
Sometimes I feel like there’s pressure in the travel community to spend as little as possible on travel experiences. Getting the most for the least is almost a badge of honour or a mark of travel hacking prowess, and if you don’t you’re made to feel like “you’ve been had” or that you’re somehow less travel savvy.
But for many people (including myself), getting the best deal possible or spending the least amount of money possible isn’t the end game. Case in point: I went to Chiang Mai, Thailand with a couple girlfriends (and we completely slayed, but that’s another story for another blog post). From the very start, our weekend away was meant to be an indulgent one: we coughed up mucho $$$ to say at the upmarket Le Meridien hotel, eschewed street food to eat at the top-rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, hired private drivers so we could get taken around the city in air-conditioned comfort.
A photo posted by @oneikatraveller on
And like every good blogger should, I chronicled our getaway on social media, posting loyally to Facebook and Instagram. In one such post I mentioned going to a luxury spa and spending $40 USD on an aromatherapy massage. I immediately had well-meaning friends and followers telling me that I had paid too much and could have gotten the same treatment for a quarter of the price. Very true.
You can’t come to Thailand and not get a massage! Decided to go upscale and “splurge” on a 60 minute aromatherapy full body rub-down. I put the word splurge in quotations because me and girls only spent $40 USD each! Perhaps expensive for Thailand (hour long massages are about $12 USD at a clean, but basic place) but for the service and luxury this was well worth the money! A comparable massage in North America would have cost at least double. Balling on a budget in Chiang Mai, Thailand, si, se puede!
A photo posted by @oneikatraveller on
But I had to laugh because, well, I guess that was kind of the point. I happily paid a premium for that level of luxury.
Could I have saved an extra $30 USD and gone to a basic, local place that provided just as good of a service but with less frills? Sure!
But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to. I wanted the extra bells and whistles, the fragrant tea before and after the massage served in expensive china, the extra care and attention to detail accorded to guests, and the extravagantly furnished locale.
And that’s completely okay. Because I can do it. Because I’m worth it. And you’re worth it, too.
In an online world rife with info on travel deals and money-saving travel hacks, it can be easy to get caught up in the idea that budget travel is always the best (or most authentic or fulfilling) type of travel. But a shift in preferences and purchasing power also provokes a shift in the ways in which you want to go about seeing the world. For me, that means making my comfort more of priority and investing in myself. This doesn’t make me any less of a savvy or hardcore traveller, just someone who sees the value in peppering my journeys with a little luxury, ease, and indulgence every once in a while!
Are you an extreme budget traveller or do you splurge when you go away? How important are comfort and luxury when you travel?