When I signed up to teach in Spain, I had a list of priorities I was going to live by. My number one priority was that I was going to travel as much of Europe as I could, no matter what. Set with the challenge of living off of 1000 Euros per month the past two years, I have inevitably become a “budget traveler”.
I am in no way an expert at this and, trust me, am way better at spending money than saving it. I have discovered that although budgeting during traveling is incredibly important, there are certain situations where it is always better to “splurge”. I have conveniently explained these situations for you below, and hope that you can maybe even learn from my previous mistakes.
Situation #1: When to Buy a Flight
I have been in many situations where I wished I had just bought a flight instead of the mess I had ended up in. One example being when my two friends and I decided we were going to take a six person sleeper train from Paris to Venice in 100 degree heat with three smelly men with hairy feet. Another being when my best friend and I took a 36-hour bus to Mexico from Chicago, whist being stuck on the side of the road in a snow-storm in April for 12 hours on our way back.
So. Learn from me, if it seems like a red flag from the start, save yourself the trouble and buy a flight instead. Usually the difference in price is 100% worth it.
Situation #2: When to Spend More on Flights
Buying your first round-trip flight for less than 30 Euro is probably one of the greatest feelings. What is not so great is finding out that the budget-airline flight you booked does not actually take you to the city you were planning on flying into.
Take my friend, RyanAir, for example. RyanAir flies into Paris. What many budget-travelers do not realize is that the airport RyanAir flies into in Paris is 55 miles (88 km) away from the city center, in the city of Beauvais.
When you eventually connect to the airport WiFi and discover through Maps that you are not actually in Paris, you will find that there is a shuttle that is 13 euro. You will eventually have to pay for this twice, and then you will have to pay for your metro ticket to get to your hostel.
If your RyanAir flight flies in late at night, this means you will be scrambling around 55 miles outside of Paris with the possibility that the shuttle service isn’t running at that time. If you fly out in the morning, you will have to pay for a taxi to get you to the shuttle service (that, again, might not even be running at that time) from your hostel so you make it to the airport for your 6am flight.
So, you can see how all of this adds up. In my experience, it has been way better to bite the bullet and pay a little extra right off the bat.
Usually the difference in cost is around 30 Euro. Seriously trust me on this one, you will want to spend that extra 30 euros. Save yourself from my previous mistakes.
Situation #1: Multi-Person Dorms
Basically 90% of hostels have multi-person dorms. I have stayed in ones ranging from 4 people to 20, and I am sure you know the one I prefer.
Obviously when you are booking these hostels, the 10,12,14 person dorms are the cheapest. Most people fail to notice that the 4-person dorm is probably only 5 euros more per night.
If the price difference is small between the two, pay a little more. It will save you a lot of restless nights and groggy days.
Situation #2: The Hostel Itself
Last month I accidentally booked my sister and I a hostel in Amsterdam that was actually a “Coffee Shop”. If you’ve been to Amsterdam, you know that coffee shops are not a place that they only sell coffee.
This meant that this hostel did not have a common area. Their common area was in fact their coffee shop, which was only open at night or on the weekends. Oops. We stayed there four nights and I would have much rather paid more to stay somewhere with a common area where I didn’t have to intake second hand smoke while I was just trying to have my morning cup of coffee.
Moral of the story: If the hostel is $12 a night and you realize it is going to be an absolute shit-hole, spend more. Read reviews on www.hostelworld.com before you book. Sometimes these reviews might not be accurate, but most of the time they have worked for me and will save you a lot of trouble.
Many budget travelers choose to buy food from local grocery stores and cook food at their hostel. While this is a great way to save money and is something that I do often when traveling, you do have to keep in mind that the local food is an important part of the traveling experience.
I had the best meal of my life while I was in Italy. It was about 40 euros for the meal but I would have paid it over and over again. We were cooked a 5-course meal by this Italian mother who owned a ranch in the middle of Tuscany. She spoke no English, thus leading to lots of laughs and hand gestures involved. You could tell how much she loved what she did, and her caring personally and passion for cooking shined through. To this day it is one of my favorite experiences.
Experiencing the local food does not mean it has to be a 40 euro meal, but definitely make it a point to try at least one local food specialty each trip you take. You will not regret it. It adds so much more to your travel experience.
Once in a Lifetime Experiences
Whether it be Skydiving in the Swiss Alps or going horseback riding through Tuscany, there are these “once in a lifetime” experiences that you should definitely take part in. Big experiences like this usually come with a hefty price tag, but do not let that stop you. If you have wanted to go Bungee Jumping in New Zealand since you were 5 years old, you will go Bungee Jumping in New Zealand. I always say, if there’s a will there’s a way.
These can even be tiny experiences, like spending 10 euro to go up to a viewpoint over the city. Renting kayaks for 15 euros for 3 hours. Spending a little more for drinks on a rooftop bar.
These experiences, big and small, are the ones I look back on with the fondest memories. I realize it is not feasible for every trip you take, but make it a point when you are looking at your budget to try and make room for experiences like this. All of the situations I have described are important, but these unique experiences are what are going to make your carefully-budgeted trips better than they already are going to be.
Good luck and happy budget traveling!