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It’s OK to splurge on vacation, or, Why I don’t do extreme budget travel anymore

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.

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Exploring Morocco on a severe budget in 2006

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.)

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Grocery shopping in Lisbon

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.

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That time I did a budget safari in Tanzania and (barely) lived to tell the tale

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.

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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.

 

A photo posted by @oneikatraveller on

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.

 

When ya crew slay effortlessly… #squad #girlstrip #thailand

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.

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.

The takeaway

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?

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Why I don't do extreme budget travel anymore

 

 

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Tausha at The Globe Getter
    May 17, 2016 at 3:24 am

    Love this post! As someone who is NOT a backpacker, I have always felt surrounded by a sea of backpacking, $2-a-day, hardcore budget travelers. And that’s great. But that’s not me. As you so accurately put it, adulting is hard! And I say if you’ve spent years working your butt off and paying your dues, you absolutely deserve to splurge every once in awhile. It doesn’t make you any less “authentic” as a traveler; it’s just another way of traveling. I, too, have done the grocery store sandwich run and once slept on a bench in Mali, and I can say without hesitation that I never want to do that again. Not sure my old adult bones could handle that anyway, so I’ll take the nice bed in a room at a hotel, please and thank you.

  • Reply
    Soroya
    May 17, 2016 at 3:50 am

    People are funny because $40 is damn cheap for a luxurious massage. Try Costa Rica where the same massage cost $160 for 60 minutes. Guess what, I’m doing it too because I, worth it!

  • Reply
    Amanda
    May 17, 2016 at 4:59 am

    I’ve never been an extreme budget traveler, but I can definitely relate – my travel style has changed a lot too in just a few years. I’d much rather splurge now on a nice hotel room than stress out about sleeping in a hostel dorm.

    Im currently on a luxury trip in Africa with my dad, and it cost a LOT more than what someone on a strict budget would pay. But I’m fine with that, and know my dad has been appreciating the luxury touches!

  • Reply
    Caroline Achieng Otieno
    May 17, 2016 at 5:31 am

    I dread hostels or any kind of room with shared bathroom facilities. As a rookie in this ‘travel game’ I must confess I did the cart before the horse when I begun to really travel blog. I remember going to a five-star spa themed hotel in Paris on Valentine’s weekend with my little girl (for her birthday), or the time I ambled around in the Balkans; Croatia (Pula and Dubrovnik) then went to Bosnia (Mostar and Sarajevo), just because Bosnia sounded like the kind of place none of my friends had been to (loved it though). Any country I travelled to in South-east Asia certainly wasn’t done on a budget. But SEA is cool, and has many five-star experience kind of places at a price that doesn’t break the bank.
    Now I’m reconsidering ‘my ways’ because unless it’s a sponsored trip, I can’t afford to continue the way I begun.
    Of course it’s ok to splurge on vacays, if one can afford to. The only option available to me is to avoid hostels in the summer but do them in low season trips, you’d be surprised having a clean dorm all to yourself just because you went at the end of summer or during winter. Another option is to go to countries with a low standard of living and really splurge while you are there. I’m surviving like that somehow..:-)

  • Reply
    Kerwin
    May 17, 2016 at 5:33 am

    :-). I grew up in the country with very humble beginnings, so when I travel I want the best and work really hard at ensuring that is the case.

    I do still take public transit as I actually like it and know how to use it well. I love people so this works well. yes, I’ve arrived at the Shangri-La in Bangkok in a tuk tuk. I really only step it up if the transportation comes with the accommodation or its really too early for public transit which is sometimes the case. There are some really neat services around the world such as MyDriver in Berlin, where you get a nice car to come pick you up and the chauffeur does open your door for you.

    You can do luxury travel if you do a little diligence and still spend not too much more. Too often, people take that lowest fare and expect First Class service. But you usually get what you pay for.

    It’s travel education and loyalty. I love my airport lounges and room upgrades and early check-in, etc. but you do have to earn them. I don’t mind the connecting flights as I’m an airplane geek, and also I get credit for the segments and earn points towards elite status which will get me upgraded, a better seat, etc.

    Most people don’t even know that some hostels have single rooms which are quite nice with your own toilet and shower.

    Well done you, well done…

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    May 17, 2016 at 7:00 am

    I’ve spent half my life traveling and I tell young people, “go now when you’re young and can put up with discomfort because later it will be a lot harder to stand it.” Now that I’m a middle aged lady I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in sharing a dorm room with youngsters who want to get drunk on cheap beer and party all night or who are willing to walk miles for that cheap 7 11 sandwich. I’m more of a mix and match traveller now. I just went to the French Laundry ($$$$$) with friends and family but I’ll eat a taco on the street in Mexico City (>$) or enjoy “the cornbread of life” in a bright blue painted shack in Sacramento.

  • Reply
    scar
    May 17, 2016 at 9:42 am

    Ohhh I feel this so hard!

    There does seem to be a trend in the travel blogger community to see budget travel as the only “real” or “authentic” kind. I disagree: I mean, sure, if you’re going somewhere and you literally spend the whole time sitting inside a resort refusing to leave, then maybe. But I see no reason why staying somewhere you don’t have to *shudder* share a bathroom would make you a bad or less authentic traveller.

    Plus, like you said, when you work hard all the time and you make enough money, well then, why not spend it on travelling? I prefer a little luxury these days, because frankly I’m too tired to be kept awake all night by fellow hostelers’ partying noises.

    Yay for splurging on travel! 😉

  • Reply
    Kym
    May 17, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Girlllll! If this wasn’t the truth then I don’t know what is! My favorite part … ” I done changed”

  • Reply
    Kate
    May 17, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Well said! You work hard and as you said deserve a vacation, and how you deserve to vacation is up to you! As long as you’re happy and enjoying your travels, that’s really all that matters.

  • Reply
    Elle
    May 17, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    Oh, I’m so with you on this!
    As a travel blogger I used to feel pressured to only write about ultra-affordable travel. But here’s the thing: my audience, like me, is in her mid-20s to mid-30s, works full time and wants to feel pampered and luxurious every once in a while. Sure, I’ll still save where I can by booking an Airbnb or (luxury) hostel, but my travel style has changed and that’s OK.
    BTW your Thailand pics look epic!!

  • Reply
    Alyssa
    May 17, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Loved this and you and your girls had mad swag! I do a mix of both. I spend more on what I value the most when I travel–food and a clean place to sleep. I’ll still stay in hostels but nice(r) ones and eat at restaurants. I think the key for me is not to deprive myself!

    Also, I think it’s incredible that you found a career you enjoy and that allows you the holiday time and money to travel! I thought about teaching as well but frankly, can’t deal with tiny humans haha

  • Reply
    Gai Spann
    May 17, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    I am so happy you finally wrote this article! So much attention is now being paid to millenial travel which is who can collect the most selfies in the most places yet pay $10! There are many ways to travel and for more people than the media will let you know, having a luxury, specialty, experiential and cultural vacation is an investment in themselves. And using a travel professional to craft your vacation is another way to take stress out of the process. As a travel professional I recommend VALUE to my clients after interviewing them to find out exactly what experience they are looking for. We are compensated by commissions so clients don’t pay more to use us but on the other hand score expert advise, access to perks and special amenities and most importantly support! Your travel professional is your advocate when things don’t go as planned. I hope my post inspires you to learn more about travel professionals and to try booking your travel through a professional! http://Www.stgtours.com

  • Reply
    Her
    May 17, 2016 at 2:15 pm

    I was never a hardcore backpacker but I was broke and trying to do the best I could with my few dollars. Lol I think a big part of it is getting older. Now I have a lot more requirements and service needs. I still try to save money when I can (it’s just my nature) but now I’m looking for VALUE. I want a good thing for 40% off not an okay thing for cheap.

    I just returned from southeast Asia for a month and did the high and the low cost thing. It’s nice to be able to CHOOSE how to spend your money instead of having few options.

  • Reply
    Matt
    May 17, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    Moving into my 30s, making more money, and being used to business travel, I’m definitely more of a comfort traveller now. However, I think one thing that could have been mentioned here more is only do what you can actually afford. And the key to that is saving for a trip so that you can enjoy it and not come home to credit card debt.

  • Reply
    Kara
    May 18, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Makes sense! I am still definitely on a budget, but when there’s something that I do want to do (tends to be tours or going to an out-of-the-way place) I’ll absolutely spend the money to do it. I stay in dorm rooms but prefer the smaller ones and will usually be willing to spend a few more dollars per night for the luxury of an in-room bathroom, if nothing else! Overall, I think you’re doing it right – travel is supposed to be for you, not for anyone else.

  • Reply
    Victoria@ The British Berliner
    May 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    LOL! LOL! ‘Love this post Oneika, so where do I start!

    Seriously though, I’ve paid my dues and have done the $2.00 a night and sleep in a casino all night ‘cos I-was-taking-the-night-bus-from-Prague-to-Berlin-and-I-missed-it-thing! That was really funny. Not!

    These days, I look for a nice boutique place and I fly around. In 2014, we went to Thailand and Indonesia. We flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. In Bali, I booked a house and paid $150.00 per night in a resort-hotel. My husband was ill and they constanty took him tea and cake every day. On the house. Worth every penny!

    Last year, I went to Finland. I didn’t even bother to look for a “cheaper means,” I paid €120.00 per night for an Art Hotel in Helsinki and I was enormously happy with the quality and the service. In fact, they gave us free cocktails almost every night! Oh, and when we went to the Baltics. We took taxis everywhere as they only cost between €3.00 – €5.00 a ride. Why struggle with the bus, over peanuts?

    It just makes common sense. I’m British, I would hardly call it a luxury. We’ll be going to the Nordics throughout the summer, and to be honest, the Nordic region isn’t cheap. We have a very tall boy tween who needs his wifi and eats like a horse, so a hotel is actually cheaper than any hostel you can find IF YOU BOOK AHEAD!

    My motto. Smart travel and enjoyment. Nice one Oneika!

  • Reply
    Danny
    May 19, 2016 at 6:15 am

    Some good points here! I’ve noticed that my travel style tends to vary from trip to trip. While I sometimes try to save as much as possible (although I’ve never slept in a park 😀 ), there are other times when I’m willing to dish out a bit more for a nice hotel and a great meal. So I guess you could say I’m a bit of both a budget and comfort traveler, depending on the circumstances!

  • Reply
    jonny
    May 21, 2016 at 4:29 am

    Great post. I’m 26, and have been travelling regularly on the cheap for about five or six years now. I’m not quite at the level where I splurge regularly, but I am definitely starting to tire of the hostel scene, and I definitely find myself justifying expenses that I previous might not have. I can only see this going further in the same direction as I head towards 30, which I think is perfectly natural.

  • Reply
    Rebecca
    May 21, 2016 at 10:10 pm

    Oh I hear ya! I love finding bargains but nothing beats being able to go to nice restaurants and stay in comfortable places!

  • Reply
    Mary B
    May 23, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Yes!! I think some people get so stuck on the cheap olympics because they think it makes their travels more “authentic” – but is it really more “authentic” to eat cup-o-noodles from the grocery store in your hostel every night, or to go out to dinner at a local restaurant? I also think it’s important to contribute to the local economy of the places I’m visiting, especially in lower resource settings.

    Getting old(er) changes things for sure. I still do some budget travel, because it helps me be able to go farther and stay longer. But I pick and choose where I scrimp and where I splurge based on what’s important to me. Like, I don’t really mind staying in a (clean, quiet) hostel dorm, but then I’ll take myself out to a great dinner that costs more than my bed. Just in the last few months, I’ve started buying NOT the cheapest possible plane ticket – that’s right, I’m paying more to fly nonstop or leave not at the crack of dawn… and I even upgraded myself to Comfort on a cross-country flight. My 21-year-old self would be horrified, but my time and comfort is worth an extra $50 and I have the resources, so why not?

  • Reply
    Noelle
    May 24, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with this post! While I’m probably a bit more in between luxury and budget (I’ll stay in a hostel, but splurge on a meal or activity), now that I am in my late 20s and have a higher salary then I did when I started out, my overall preferences have changed quite a bit. There’s nothing wrong with spending more if it makes you feel more relaxed on your trip!

  • Reply
    Rae
    May 24, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I used to be an extreme budgeter — and like you, that was because I had to be. But now since I’ve entered my career and put in more than 5 years, I can reap the benefits of not having to do that all the time. I still budget here and there but if there is something that I really, REALLY want to do, I will do it with little or no consideration of the cost.

    Because well, I’ve earned it. (:

  • Reply
    JaMeka
    May 26, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    My husband would never go for a hostel (even when he was in his 20s) so we’d find a hotel that was fairly priced, yet clean and in a decent enough neighborhood. We mainly ate menu specials (like lunch or dinner of the day, breakfast was included at our hotels) because it’s usually a good deal. For instance in Rome, we ate 3 course meals with wine included and only paid $11 US each most of the time. On the last couple of days of each of our trips that’s when we’d splurge on more expensive dinners and shopping since we’d normally have lots of money left that was designated for that trip 🙂

  • Reply
    Tina
    June 1, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you for this article!! My days of budget travel are far behind me, so I can completely relate.

    Travel is a treat for me, an escape and I want to hear tips on how to most enjoy a particular destination – not related to a budget. So many of the interesting travel bloggers seem to focus on traveling for less (including you), so I really hope this means I can look forward to seeing you share a lot more non-budget related experiences.

    BTW, I remember your Thailand post and thought given all the wonderful massages there, why aromatherapy? But for the cost, I remember when I went the first time and got those $5 massages. Although the work was good, those rough, scratchy towels have kept me away since! $40 was a steal!

    • Reply
      Oneika
      June 8, 2016 at 12:00 am

      Glad you could relate!! As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized the beauty of vacationing and spending that extra bit of money for an infinitely better experience! However, most folks are interested in how to “get the most for the least” which is why I tend to talk about the budget side of things. 🙂 That said, if you take a look through the archives I’ve reviewed a number of “luxury” properties and experiences! I think a mix is always good. 🙂

  • Reply
    Art Travel Eat Repeat
    June 16, 2016 at 7:16 pm

    My recent trip to Australia was the first since my honeymoon that wasn’t done on an extreme budget and it was so incredible! It was nice to be able to relax, have some nice meals, and sleep in an actually comfortable bed. Of course, there are benefits to budget travel as well and I’m thankful for the stories and experiences I had while doing it, but it’s sure nice to live it up once in a while.

  • Reply
    Lala
    July 17, 2016 at 2:17 am

    I usually have a total budget of what I am willing to spend per trip. Sometimes I will skim on the accommodation and splurge on meals and experiences or vicversa. Just depends on what type of trip it is, what amenities are being offered, or if I’m travelling solo.

    I started travelling a while ago (11 years ago). I remember the first time me and my sister stayed in a hostel, we didn’t know it was a “thing” and were horrified at these orphanage like accommodations! I think my tastes have actually gotten more realistic vs. when I was 17. I don’t mind hostels now…

    Another thing that has allowed me to spend a little more is travelling with a friend/ sibling or partner or staying with family for a few days because cuts accommodation in half…allowing me to be my true bougie self.

  • Reply
    Mann
    May 9, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    I live and work in Haiti.. got a massage for $80.00 bucks. I found $40.00 to be super economical 🙂

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