After spending nearly three years on the road, we look back on all that we put up with to save a dollar. Were all the long bus rides and sleeping at airports worth it to keep the expenses in check?
You’ll never hear me claim that there is a better way to travel than budget travel. Getting as close to the locals’ spending as possible is the best way to understand how their life is…and isn’t that why to travel? Not only the experiences, but also the differences between experiences in different places are enlightening. Exposing yourself to where the locals eat, stay and play will teach you more about a place than a tour ever would.
If I wanted something easy and comfortable I’d try to have that at home, not in some distant land. Why would I put my money towards temporary comfort instead of investing in permanent comfort? At home I want the most comfortable things possible, but on the road I want the most locally authentic experiences possible.
This does create some problems though. It’s caused us to end up in some places where I was deathly allergic to things. It’s led us to some pretty dirty places. It’s made us terribly sick. The romantic idea of living like a local is much better than it is in reality.
Here is one great example. We thought we had scored a great deal on a place to stay in Seoul, in a student building, on AirBnB. The listing made it clear that it could sleep two, evenings were quiet times, and there was free rice. They had me at the price, but I fell in love with the idea of free rice. See the photo above? That’s how we slept for three nights. On the fourth day I ran into the building manager, the same person who had checked us in, and he asked how we were sleeping. I responded that we were doing fine. Then he asked the key question, “would you like another mattress?” Why yes we would! How had he failed to mention this earlier, such as when the two of us checked in?
The funny situations like this one are the good, bad and learning of budget travel. I would never experience this at the Ritz…
Budget travel is not for everyone. It is not a vacation complete with private beach bungalows and drinks with little umbrellas. It is hard work, long bus rides, cold showers and beds with no pillows. It is the path we chose for many reasons, first and foremost to save money and travel longer, but also to live a little bit more like the locals.
This trip was never about just seeing the world, it was about experiencing it. Which meant dining where the locals did, taking the long bus rides and lower class transport. Some of my most fond memories are from the crazy things we did to save a few bucks. But, there are a few things that I just didn’t like about budget travel:
Ordering food from right to left, when price is your main concern I often found myself reading the menu from right to left- look at price first. Several times I passed up the item I really wanted for something more affordable.
Cold showers, I got pretty tired of trying to get the soap to lather while showering with the glacial water on offer at many of our budget hostels and hotels. Hot water is a luxury when your trying to stay on budget. Along those same lines I hated that space was also a luxury, bathrooms in most places we stayed would have the shower right over the toilet and everything in the bathroom would be soaked.
Overnight buses were the bane of my existence, especially in South America where averaged one overnight bus every 10 days. Not only did you get a terrible nights sleep, but you had to worry about your stuff getting stolen, which happened to us on an overnight bus in Bolivia.
These three things may have saved us a considerable amount of cash, but I’m glad that there is no overnight bus in my future or terrible two dollar meal around the corner. Ultimately these were small sacrifices to fund our 37 country tour and I would do them again in a heartbeat, but life is better with hot showers!