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Right now I’m obsessing over costs in Kenya, wondering how long of a journey I’m willing to take on a matatu bus and whether or not I should pay up for the hotel closest to Nairobi airport or stay farther away to save $50.
I define myself as a “value traveler”. I’m not sure if that’s a real term or if it’s one I made up, but 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
- Using discounts when available
Let’s be clear: being aware of what things cost isn’t the same as 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 when that’s sensible.
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 while I’m at my destination or if I need to stick to my plan the whole time I’m there.
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. It was all about location, location, location — my priority for that moment.
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 is a great option for art aficionados, but I’d rather use that $15 to buy a glass of wine.
It’s also okay for your priorities to change from trip to trip — or even during a single trip. The right choice on one day of your travels could be the exact opposite seven days later.
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 large sums 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. Check for coupons in travel guides and brochures, buy vouchers on Groupon, and follow companies on Facebook for special offers.
In travel, my largest discounts usually come in the form of rewards points — free hotel rooms and flights! This is a time-consuming strategy to learn the ins and outs of, but it can be worth thousands of dollars.
It’s All About Balance
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 pay extra to stay in a central location.
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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Some of my favorite money-saving tips:
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!