What is Value Travel?

Right now I’m traveling through Guatemala, riding buses for $1, eating $2 meals, and sleeping in $10 private rooms.  Some of this is because Guatemala is a cheap country to visit, but these low prices are also partly because I look for chances to cut costs.

However, in my past travels, I’ve also paid for a private driver in Morocco, stayed at a five-star resort in Virginia, and bought a $300 lunch.  Obviously, I am not a budget traveler.

That'll be $15 for one bite of toro, please.
That’ll be $15 for one bite of toro, please.

I’ve defined myself as a “value traveler”.  I’m not sure if that’s a real term or if it’s one I made up, but I think it fits me perfectly.  When I travel, I fully expect to spend money — at times, even lots of money — but when I do, I also expect memorable experiences from that cost.  I seek out maximum value, or bang for my buck.

In my opinion, value travel is encompassed by three main themes:

  1. Being cost-conscious
  2. Spending on your priorities
  3. Looking for discounts

Being Cost-Conscious

Let’s be clear: being aware of what things cost doesn’t equate to being frugal, but it helps you make informed decisions about how you spend your money.  I don’t like surprises, especially ones that can send me into a financial pit.  Researching potential costs is just as much a part of my travel planning as deciding where to go.


While everyone’s form of research, planning, and budgeting will differ, it’s important to understand general costs both before and during a trip.  I’ve splurged responsibly on private tours because I knew I was able to but also have chosen to rely on public transportation instead of taxis because I’d otherwise have to cut back on a dream vacation.  Keeping a running tally of my budget in my head also helps me to decide if I have the wiggle room for a last-minute splurge or if I need to be more responsible.

Spending on Your Priorities

Despite what marketing executives would like you to believe, expense does not equal value.  Once I stayed at essentially what was a campsite for $100/night when I could have had a nicer experience by spending that same $100 at a nearby bed and breakfast.


Just as important is remembering not to sacrifice money on someone else’s priority.  There’s no reason to do something if you don’t enjoy it, wasting your money and precious travel time.  I’ve learned the hard way that even a world-class attraction isn’t worth my money if it doesn’t hold my interest; the Louvre id a great option for art aficionados, but I’d rather save $15 and buy a glass of wine.

Look for discounts.

If you paid $100 for a tour but found out the person next to you had only paid $80 for the exact same thing, would you feel overcharged?  I’ll gladly pay full price for things that I know I’ll love, but I don’t want to stupidly pay extra if I don’t need to.  Discounts are everywhere, if you take the time to look for them.

Cheers to business class!

Using frequent flyer miles has provided huge discounts to me, in the form of free flights to places like Nicaragua and Slovenia and also in the form of business class upgrades that help me arrive comfortably.  This is a time-consuming strategy to fully enjoy, but other discounts are much simpler.  Check out coupons in travel guides or simply ask if it’s the best price available.  You won’t always be able to pay less, but sometimes it can work to your advantage.

It’s All About Balance.

Even in Guatemala, where my travels are primarily basic and simple, I splurge sometimes.  For every private guide I hire, there will be another time when I take a free and fulfilling walk around the city.  For every time I travel slowly to take advantage of long-term rentals, I’ll have another weekend when I rapidly pass through another town.  And when I’m shocked that I can get a spa treatment for $10?  I’m sure it’ll even out with an expensive trek into the jungle.

I paid extra in Chichicastenango to skip the tourist shops on a tour and instead witness a traditional Mayan ceremony. Worth it? For me it was.
I paid extra in Chichicastenango to skip the tourist shops on a tour and instead witness a traditional Mayan ceremony. Worth it? For me it was.

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Would you consider yourself a value traveler or do you spend blindly?  Are you willing to splurge on things you deem rewarding or do you exercise restraint and frugality all the time?  What works for you?  Tell me in the comments!

7 thoughts on “What is Value Travel?”

  1. I like to think of myself as a value traveler also and am very similar to you in that I like to be aware up front of what things will cost when going on vacation. With that said, I also find that I throw out some of the principles I follow at home when it comes to cost. If there’s an activity I want to do or an item I want to eat while on vacation that seems to be more expensive than it should be, I’ll pay for it anyway whereas at home I’d usually skip it. I look at vacation as a venture meant to get away from the hassles of everyday life, and for me one of those hassles is worrying about money. That’s not to say that I will just spend, spend, spend, and for items that have options, such as flights and hotels, I’ll go with what makes sense financially. But I don’t want to miss out on an experience simply because of the price.

    1. @Joanna, I completely understand what you’re saying! And a lot of times, I follow the same principle but that means maybe taking a shorter trip or traveling less frequently so the bottom line still works out for me. But I definitely agree that paying for experiences is often worth the cost.

  2. Mark Licciardo

    I’m with you.
    In Bali I mostly stayed in bungalows at $12/night which included a great breakfast on my patio. At the end of the trip I stayed in a five star resort @ around $300+ per night (free for me on points) in this case I wanted my bungalow back, other times the reverse occurs. It’s all about variety.
    As far as a budget, it’s about the average. I’ll often spend $80-$100+ for a nice meal and regularly eat at roadside & local places for $1-$12 a meal; both excellent experiences. In the end the average is still low budget travel compared to a “typical vacationer”.

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  4. Becky, I think you and I are related somehow. We have to be! I feel almost exactly the same way you do. I don’t mind spending money, but I want value in return. I’ve spent $280 on just one hotel night, and would do it again. It is an exception rather than the rule, but sometimes it’s worth it to splurge in order to experience something unique and authentic.
    I’ll confess, I would never spend $300 on lunch, but my husband totally would. He loves sushi, so this would be up his alley. Now that I think about it, yes, I would spend $300 on that lunch, but only because of my husband! When your loved one is happy, you just can’t put a price on it…

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