Confession: I am an almost budget traveler.
What does that mean exactly?
It means that yes, I want to save money when I travel. I love finding cheap flight deals. I’ll stay in a hostel and eat their free breakfast. I’ve been on my fair share of free walking tours.
But it also means I’ll splurge on a hotel every now and then. I won’t pass up a good meal or a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t track my expenses day-to-day on the road and I don’t worry about affording dinner.
I’m an almost budget traveler.
If I had to pick a side, budget or luxury, I would definitely say that I’m budget. But because I’m not bare bones budget, I include the “almost.” When I read those articles on how to save money while traveling, I nod along to many of the suggestions. But some of them I skip over thinking, “Yeah, right! I don’t need to save a few bucks that bad.”
Sound like you? Welcome, fellow almost budget traveler. Read on for our manifesto!
We book cheap airfare
As an almost budget traveler, I know that airfare, especially to international destinations, is a large chunk of the budget. I also know it’s one of the best places to save money. You can book cheap airfare by using points (something I don’t know much about, but want to learn!) or by looking out for great flight deals. That’s how Colin and I scored $340 roundtrip tickets to Ireland and $50 roundtrip tickets to Austin! The almost budget traveler knows that airfare is a great place to save if you know how to find the deals.
We don’t stay in 5 star hotels
The other big chunk of a trip’s budget? Accommodation. Luxury travelers, or at least non-budget travelers, don’t think twice before booking hotels that are $200, $300, $400 or more per night. I can’t even imagine going away for a week and spending over $2000 just for a spot to lay my head each night. That being said, I have splurged on a hotel before. When I was melting in my Nice hostel with no air conditioning and a broken toilet, I made the decision to check into a small single room at the hotel next door. It certainly wasn’t five stars, but it did have air conditioning!
We also don’t stay in 24-bunk hostels
On the other hand, I also don’t stay in huge dorm rooms at hostels. I do stay in hostels. When I was traveling solo or with friends, I would book female dorm rooms with 4-6 beds. Now, Colin and I will do private rooms. The most crowded I ever did was 12 people in a co-ed dorm in Milan. It wasn’t awful. But I definitely would not want to stay in one of those cramped hostel dorms where they shove in 24 people and triple bunk beds (three bunks high! Can you imagine getting that middle bunk?). I don’t believe in spending tons on accommodation but I do think it pays to invest in a place where you feel comfortable, safe and relaxed. A great middle option between five star hotels and cramped hostel dorms? AirBnB! I always check the prices on AirBnB and am usually quite surprised with the great options in my budget. Never tried AirBnB? Click here to get $45 off your first stay!
We value good food
I firmly believe that food is one of the best parts of travel. It’s a great way to learn so much about a culture, a place and its people. Budget travelers are often told they can save money by making all of their meals in the hostel kitchen. While it might be cheaper to make peanut butter sandwiches and spaghetti every day, I would never do it. Why would I want to miss out on the local cuisine and local culture? I would rather eat cheap at home and save up so I can have some great meals on the road. Plus, in places like Vietnam, the local food is often super affordable!
We value good experiences
I travel for the experiences. I travel because I value memories made over physical objects like fancy shoes or non-IKEA furniture. As an almost budget traveler, I know that some experiences just can’t be passed up. When I was in South Africa doing a workshop in the summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to go on a night safari to Kruger National Park. We actually got a great deal (I think it was $50 USD for a three hour drive) but some members of our party decided to stay back because it was outside of their budget. That safari drive is still one of the best experiences of my life. Seeing elephants, leopards and lions was absolutely unreal. But the best part was getting out in the middle of the park, turning off all of the lights and seeing the most amazing night sky I have ever seen. Whenever anyone talks about bright stars, I remember that moment in Kruger. So so so worth $50!
We know the best things can be free
Yes, paying money for travel experiences is important. But remember: the best things in life are free! It’s easy to get into a trap of thinking that every travel opportunity that comes up is once in a lifetime and must be booked for top dollar. But the almost budget traveler knows that sometimes the free version is the best version. For example, seeing Westminster Abbey in London was something I wanted to do since it’s iconic (and I wanted to step in the same place where Kate and Will got married!). A ticket to Westminster Abbey is £22. But you know what’s free? Attending a service! I went to a choral service, where I not only got to see the abbey but I also got to experience a beautiful choir singing. And it was all free!
We do our research
The almost budget traveler is all about doing research for a trip. By doing research, I’m able to discover the cheaper way to do something, or the easier way, or the more efficient way. I can learn about off the beaten path places or secret things only the locals know. When you show up in a new city totally unprepared, you can end up spending too much on the wrong things. But by doing some research, I learned how to score cheap broadway tickets in London and New York and the secret way to do Machu Picchu.
We know what our time is worth
I’m not a long term traveler (yet). I’ve been on long term travels in the past – studying in Amsterdam for five months and volunteering in Swaziland for three months. But right now, I’m not going on any long term adventures (but you better believe I’m actively planning them!). So because my trips are shorter, I know my time is valuable. Often, the budget option is taking the overland train or traveling slower. And while I don’t believe in shoving a bunch of cities into a week long trip and jumping on flights every other day, sometimes I do have to sacrifice the budget to make the most of my time.
We value travel above all
I think this is true of all passionate travelers, but it’s especially true for almost budget travelers because we have to do a careful balancing act. We have to make sacrifices before and after our travels to be able to afford them. So maybe that’s working extra hours or cutting back on eating out so we can splurge on that fancy restaurant in Cork. But we also know that we can’t blow all of our money on one trip, or else we’ll never be able to travel again. We don’t break the bank staying at a luxury resort for one week leaving us unable to get on another plane for a year or two. It’s a balancing act. That’s the life of an almost budget traveler. And I wouldn’t have it any other way!
What’s your travel style?
Budget, luxury, almost budget or something else?