Whenever I travel in a foreign land, I often refer to the local currency as monopoly money in the sense that it comes with a laissez faire attitude to not really knowing the value of what your spending. In the short term that feeling is great- normally you would have spent time and effort saving for a holiday, and if there is any time to splurge it should be when you are away enjoying yourself. However, endless splurging is of course the reason why so many people get into financial difficulty! Therefore, there is an art to saving money well, in order to splurge it at the right time.
I am lucky enough that I have a genuine interest in money; and I don’t just mean earning it! I love investing money, moving it around accounts to earn more interest and I love ensuring I have the best deal on the things I buy. My money geekiness even spreads to looking at current exchange rates, even if I don’t have an upcoming trip to that country! All this means that I feel I am pretty good at managing money.
Saving money is great, but I am a firm believer that moneys primary purpose is to be spent. I save, earn and invest money so I can then spend it, not as a big stockpiling game. I remember backpacking around New Zealand 10 years ago and spending around £500 in 24 hours on a skydive and bungee jump, for a combined time of the thrill seeking endeavours being around 5 minutes (£6,000 an hour if you want to take the extreme to the extreme). That is not the sort of spending that should be associated with a then recently post university backpacker! Did I mind? Not one bit! 10 years later that £500 is insignificant of course but I have the memories, videos and photos of the events to last me a lifetime. In reality, the adrenaline gained from each event lasted way longer than minutes anyway.
This brings me to my favourite story and perhaps the most important lesson of this whole blog.
On my last backpacking trip to Australia, I was joined by my good friend Kerry whom I met at University and we had talked for months about travelling together. I had set off 6 weeks before Kerry was able to join me, and I knew from my early experiences away, that she would love the travelling lifestyle. However, she didn’t settle nearly as well as I had thought, she didn’t like the hostel we were in and had not particularly enjoyed the first city we visited together. She was seriously contemplating whether she had made the correct decision in quitting her job to travel, and she was talking about going home. Despite my attempts to motivate her to keep at it, I felt I was not winning her over!
Still convinced however that she would thrive in a backpacking lifestyle I noticed a few offers in a local backpacker’s travel agent in Melbourne near where we were staying. I convinced her to spend a fair amount of money (that neither of us had budgeted for), on a week’s trip to Tasmania. I felt it was the last throw of the dice to make her stay. In short, Kerry loved every minute of the trip, it re-energised her attitude to being away and in the end, she travelled for 18 months, far longer than I did, and even met her now husband Jim in a hostel we stayed in once we returned from Tasmania. I am convinced that that splurge was the best money she spent during her whole trip, and proves that spending at the right time can be the best thing you will ever do.
So, the key to the ultimate balance is when to save and when to splurge.
When travels are limited to a weeklong break here and there then things are a little bit more straight forward. You can save your money in your everyday life a lot easier- you can cut down on your daily Starbucks visit, resist the TV upgrade that you don’t really need and downgrade your restaurant date to a takeaway, all in view to reinvest those savings into well-deserved splurging when on holiday. The difficulty comes however if you are travelling long term. Splurging is not limitless, particularly those who are budget travellers, then the art of cutting corners or saying no to things is vital in sustaining your travels longer than a few weeks.
I have therefore outlined below how to save as a budget traveller and then when to splurge your savings. Not all of these methods will appeal to all, but hopefully some may help save a £, $, € here or there.
If you are staying in hostels you normally have a choice of a private room or a variety of dorm sizes ranging from 4 in a room to sometimes up to 20 beds. Sometimes the difference between the price of these rooms in minimal and so a smaller amount of beds becomes more attractive. However, often you can save significant amounts by being in a larger room, and often in less busy seasons the room is half empty anyway and therefore completely negating the disadvantage of sleeping with so many others in your room.
I am generally a sound sleeper and can sleep through anything. Living across from a mosque and building site for 3 years in Dubai has taught me to sleep through disturbances with ease. I would much rather sleep in a 10 bed dorm for 6 nights and then be able to afford a double, or even a hotel for 1 night rather than stay in a 4 bed dorm for 7 nights straight. But that’s just me!
And when it comes to hotels I’m all up for splurging, but again you need to splurge at the right time. Is the luxury 5 star experience in a hotel with fantastic facilities really necessary when you have a day touring a city planned and want to test out a local recommended restaurant? Similarly, you don’t want to be stuck in a cheap budget hotel when all you want to do is sit around and relax.
2. Free walking tours
I have recently discovered the gem that is the free walking tour, which are available in most major cities. Not only are they free, but they give you a great idea of where everything is in a city, meaning you can pick the things you want to revisit yourself on another day. Not only this but the guides invariably pass out their own tips on where to and where not to go meaning you do not walk straight into expensive tourist traps or waste time wondering the streets trying to work out which way up your map should be held.
They are also a great way to meet new people. I recently went on one in Tbilisi, Georgia and ended up meeting two really nice girls who I ended spending the afternoon with after the tour and then we had dinner together in the evening. The guides normally work off tips, so the experience is not totally free but all the same a great way to spend half a day on a budget.
3. Do you actually want to do it?
Many countries and cities will have their famous ‘must do’ bucket list attractions. And with the exposure of these landmarks normally comes a hefty tourist price tag. Most of the time you will want to experience these attractions, and fair enough, that is part of the reason we travel in the first place. But do you have to do everything? I remember being in Sydney and deciding against climbing the famous Harbour Bridge. For me it wasn’t a necessity, I was happy to go up to the pylon lookout for £15 and take in the views from there. I couldn’t justify spending the £180 (before paying extra for pictures) to go up the final few meters just be able to say I’ve been to the very top. No doubt I would have enjoyed the experience, but it was saying no to those things that meant I could spend my money where I really wanted to. I know some people who went up there and loved it, but also some who went up there because they thought that they should. You need to decide what your ‘must dos’ are and focus your splurging there. Be careful though, it’s a fine line between saying no to something and living in regret for never doing something!
I could go on, but hopefully you’ll agree that there are somethings you just don’t need to spend on when travelling. When I am old and retired I am unlikely to remember the night I spent in a 10 bed dorm instead of a 4 bed one, but I will remember deciding to go scuba diving in the great barrier reef rather than snorkelling.
The next tick is to know when to splurge.
1. Your bucket list once in a lifetime experiences
Living with regret is a horrible feeling. Not doing that skydive because you were worried about money and then realising you have forgone your last opportunity to do it is a killer. So, make sure you are splurging on the big things you really want to do. Plan for them, and make sure you are saving ready for when those once in a lifetime opportunities arise.
2. Spend it on what you want
This may sound obvious, but there is zero point in splurging on things you don’t want to do, especially if you are on a budget. I have read about people who will look to save money on alcohol by buying cans from a supermarket and drink it in their hotel or hostel. That is of course a good way to save, but one thing I love when I am travelling is to sample a local beer, out of the tap whilst taking in a great view. If that means spending that little bit more then that is fine by me.
3. Splurge when you are feeling down
It is unlikely that you will be happy every day that you travel. Whether its homesickness, a bad tourist experience or you have just left fellow travellers you have grown close to. A little splurge can help to raise spirits. Whether its time to treat yourself to a private room or eat out at a nicer restaurant, it can help to raise your spirits.
And it’s that final point that links perfectly back to my story about my friend Kerry, and proof that a well-timed splurge is the best thing you can do when travelling.