Budget Travel

The following piece is not a lesson how to save money, and although it will be moving along that line, it’s merely an indication of different takes various travellers can have about their own concept of budget, which is often a variable generally based on our backgrounds, thrills sought and other general circumstances.

In case you were interested in real numbers, I’ve prepared a more concrete text regarding the budget I’ve had during my nearly 8 months trip in Latin Americas, travelling from Tierra del Fuego to Yucatán and you can find it here (in few wks). However, because budget is such a vague term, let’s look at the numerous variables in the understanding of the concept of budget first.

There’s budget and there’s budget

So what does budget-something really mean? Context is obviously a king here as well. For instance when you say “US Defense Budget”, you’re not going to imagine a bunch of old rifles, few rusty planes and stuff like that. However, when you hear the term ‘Budget’ within the concept of travelling, you know that it could sometimes mean taking a rusty boat or a Sean Connery’s James Bond days kinda bus.

Public transport bus @ Granada, Nicaragua

In other words, “budget travel” basically means spending only the necessary amounts of money to achieve your objective. It’s like taking a Ryanair flight. It will do the job of getting you where you want to be but it will be with no frills, unless you decide to pay for them. We all know that ‘budget’ within a traveller’s concept subs the term ‘cheap’ when it comes to travelling just so it sounds nicer, same like ‘restroom’ sounds nicer than ‘toilet’.

The obvious fact is that everyone’s travels will eventually sum up to some sort of a budget, right? But we all like different things for which we’re willing or not willing to pay extra money for. We all have different preferences, perspectives, values, standards, goals or bank accounts. The question therefore is: What are the areas you would or wouldn’t mind compromising on? This is the bottom line that divides all the segments of travellers as well as the guides and blogs.

There are some precise budget planners, some with a gift to be able to survive anywhere, there are also some opportunists and there are some who are just lucky or good at improvising, the latter one being my fav group as I consider them the most free 🙂 In other words, there are many ways how to finance your trip, including the one people often mistake for the definition of the budget travelling, which is looking after every penny.

coffee is for example one of the things I would not think of compromising on in relation to budget, not even at nearly 5000 metres above the sea level like here at Uyuni Salt Flats

Your standards vs saving the money

Are you willing to drop your standards or the general enjoyment to save up few pennies? I’m not judging – after all it’s your holiday. My take however is: why would I bother about every penny spent on stuff I like, especially when I’m often forced to pay for the stuff I don’t really like in my everyday’s life? And this is what this blog supposed to be about. Stuff I like and stuff I might get to like once I try it 🙂

I personally like to travel (and live as a matter a fact) as much hassle-free (the unpleasant kind of hassle) and dickhead-free as possible. Eventful and lazy at the same time.

Kuang Si waterfall, Luang Prabang, Laos

Back to the budget. True, one could save 1-2 quid by taking the public transport to a bus station in Hanoi or Cartagena but it would take ages just to find out how and when you finally get there, you’ll be sweating and maybe even swearing right from the top of the 12 hour travelling day.

After doing so several times, I personally prefer to pay the small commission to my hostel that would arrange the pick up and get me to the spot. With air-con included. Without changing the inner city buses with all the luggage.. Now, I’m not saying that this is the universally right thing to do but it works just fine for me.

Other ways to save small money is if you’re strict with scammers. Like when the taxi driver with whom you agreed the sum before the journey in rather sufficient English suddenly doesn’t understand any English at all, right after he breaks the deal, asking you for the extra $3 upon your arrival to the destination. Or when the Cambodian border officer asks you to pay $40 instead of $35 for your visas.

Sa Pa, Vietnam

In the first case, you can argue, let it affect your mood and maybe the driver will let you go, which I doubt btw because he’s got more time for that $3 than you. In the second case you’ll just waste your time because the border official paid a huge bribe to get this post and the extra $5 is way to get it back with some profit. It’s your day and you can choose what vibes you’ll let to affect it with. Being able to switch perspectives (if that is possible) also helps.

Sometimes it’s just a street SCAM, sometimes it’s a SCAM received from officials AKA corruption but overall it is a human nature. If you zoom out – there’s a lot of dishonesty that hides behind those kind of smiles and positive PR. Companies sometimes state their prices without VAT so it looks less expensive or they only disclose some facts that might cause extra charges in a small print or they will charge you for “extras” like priority boarding, extra legroom, baggage fees, etc… Even Apple does it with all the stupid extra dongles, hubs and other accessories you have to buy due to the well calculated design of the original product.

From my cute €3 per night hut in Pai, Thailand 🙂

How much?

OK – I got a bit carried away – let’s go back to the subject of value travelling. I wonder how much could you save up if you really tried to save up whenever it’s possible. There are many ways. You can sleep in a shithole for €5 or you can add the extra €2 and the level goes up tremendously. Or you can get the cheapest wine on the menu, but the next one up is twice as good and only a quid more expensive, etc…

There are many ways. Except the sometimes massive 100% differences in prices in low vs high seasons, it’s just how you deal with the the clever/cruel design of the add-ons 🙂 When you count all the extra bucks you have saved against the time you spend sweating on the inner city buses, sleeping in horrible hard beds with bugs, nursing hangovers from the cheap booze, arguing with taxi drivers who broke the deal and so on – is it really worth it for you?

Speaking for myself, the experience taught me that some minor updates are often worth it, especially if it’s only for a fraction of the original price. But how much does it all add up to? I honestly don’t know. It depends on many factors.

However if you check daily costs for various destinations on some websites, my daily expenses could go as much as €10 or even €20 higher than the “budget travel” limits on some occasions, but most of the time I would squeeze in and that’s without monetizing the advantages of an occasional update of picking a better wine or a more comfy bed 😉

At the end of the day, on a six week trip – I’d say that the difference would add up to a number that could be just as well smaller than the money you’d spend on a proper night out in London, this, of course depends on your preferred combination of poisons and usual social habits 😉

Romantic but not entirely comfy chicken bus @ Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

At the end of the day

We all have different limits to various things and how far is one willing to go to save a quid is one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still most likely drink more beers in Prague at £1,40 each than in London but it doesn’t mean that I’d stay dry if I felt like a pint. And I certainly wouldn’t drink excessively in Prague only because it’s cheap.

Funnily enough, the alcohol consumption is a great example of a hypothetical budget breaker, unless you’re in one of the last few remaining countries with not overpriced alcohol but that’s a different subject.

A little thought for the very end.

I’ve heard many First World long-term travellers, many of which keep talking about making the world a better place, while abusing the fact that their economies allowed them to travel places with worse economies complaining about prices in Chile, Argentina or Uruguay. Prices for the First World items, such as meals in restaurants or alcoholic beverages.

I admit, especially Chile surprised me badly regarding those. Not to sound too preachery – I’ve checked the prices of the basic food items in supermarkets (equal or a tiny bit more expensive than in Europe) and googled the average wages and thought of the locals, rather than how much do I pay for a pint…

Sunset on a Mekong River, Kratie, Cambodia

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