I know this is a weird statement to come from someone whose entire website is about budget travel, but sometimes I wish I would have spent more on travel.
Hear me out.
On my very first trip to Europe, I was dead-set on traveling as cheaply as possible. I did just about anything I could to save a buck. I never ate out. I skipped museums. I took the cheapest transportation possible. I never stopped for dessert. I chose the cheapest hostel bed I could. I didn’t go out for drinks with people I met at the hostel.
I wasn’t quite hobo-level but I certainly bought into the notion that “true” travelers could get by on only a few dollars a day.
So after two months of traveling around Europe, I was $1000 under budget. Yes, under budget.
But I’d argue that the price I paid to give up those extra experiences was worth way more than a measly $1K.
I realize now that I should have spent more money. I missed out on so many opportunities because I wanted to save a buck on everything. Travel should be about experiencing new things… and that often takes money.
I’m not saying you should spend frivolously or that you need to spend a lot to have a good time. I’m saying that it’s important to consider the difference between price and value.
Because value is key. Value is paying an extra $20 to take a two-hour high-speed train ride instead of a 10-hour bus ride. Value is having a few authentic meals instead of cooking pasta and grilled cheese sandwiches every night. Value is doing a few incredibly memorable things that you can’t do back home instead of opting to stay back. Value is getting your own room or a rental apartment if you start to feel burnt out from hostel life.
Again, you can certainly have a great trip on a limited budget but spending money on “valuable” activities will greatly add to the experience. And trust me when I say that simply “surviving” isn’t a lot of fun.
So what are some things that we’ve spent extra on and felt was a good value?
- Airbnb Rentals: Just look at the lead photo of this article. Paying extra to get an apartment in Florence with a view like this was 100% worth the extra cost (it was actually pretty affordable). This is one of those memories you’ll have for a lifetime. These days, we don’t really stay in hostels so we opt for a budget Airbnb/rental apartments (which, for two people, can often cost nearly the same as a hostel).
- Meals: We’re not foodies by any stretch of the imagination, but we set aside a little extra money for an authentic meal in every city we visit. We’re not talking about super fancy meals or anything like that, but we’ll spend something like $100 total (including drinks) for two people. The rest of the time we eat fairly cheaply.
- Walking Tours: Simple walking tours add a lot of context to what you’re seeing. Plus, they’re usually affordable.
- Fun extras: We’ve taken Vespa tours through Tuscany. We’ve taken cooking classes in Paris and Rome. We’ve rented a car to explore the French countryside. I went skydiving in Switzerland. These are all things that were on the expensive side, and we limit these bigger purchases to one or two per trip, but the memories are priceless.
- Transportation: Our time is valuable so we almost always choose the fastest transportation option — which is usually a high-speed train (when available). We plan ahead to get the best price but it’s still more expensive than taking the bus or a slow train.
- Dessert: I don’t even want to know how much we spent on gelato in Italy. Actually, I don’t want to know how much weight I gained eating gelato in Italy.
- Flights: We spend a lot of time looking for flights. We rarely get non-stop because those are out of our price range but we also don’t do the cheapest option if it means having super long layovers or multiple stops.
- Travel Gear: I’ll admit that a lot of travel gear is a waste of money and that people spend too much time, effort, and money finding the perfect gear. However, simple things like quality socks, underwear, and shoes are worth the investment. Read More: Our favorite travel gear.
Of course, if you have to choose between being super frugal and not traveling at all then, yes, choose travel.
You can always earn more money, but you’ll never get this time back so make the best of it.
Or maybe I’m just getting old.