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.
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:
- Being cost-conscious
- Spending on your priorities
- Looking for discounts
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.
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.
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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!