Do you pride yourself on being the most frugal traveller? Are you the one person you know who can stretch your travel dollars from here to Russia? Do you budget your funds down to the last centesimo and always stay within those guidelines? If so, I applaud you. Give yourself a pat on the back, Scrooge. Now after you’ve finished patting, take that hand and use it to rip up that budget of yours. Seriously. Do it.
Now, think back to all the cold showers you had to endure in bathrooms down the hall from your bedroom, the hard and creaky bunk beds you had to sleep on in dorms full of strangers, the sketchy neighbourhoods where you found the cheapest accommodation . Think of the cattle-car train rides that left you standing and squished. The restaurant meals you didn’t eat, opting instead for cheap, easy and lacklustre supermarket fare. The sites and attractions you didn’t visit because they were cost-prohibitive. The whirlwind itineraries that left your adventurous spirit weary, because you just had to cram all of Europe into 10 days. Sound familiar?
Is that what you wanted your European vacation to be? Didn’t think so. So what’s my advice?
Spend. Spend time and spend money to make your travels more worthwhile.
“But Sarah, I don’t have a ton of money to spend! Or time! But I still want to have a great European adventure that isn’t going to leave my adventurous spirit weary…”
Spending more time (especially researching beforehand, not necessarily in-country) and/or money can sometimes actually lead to savings in the long run. And not just the financial kind either! You can save on headaches and heartache and even enrich your travel experience. Think about the following points to help you understand how spending time and/or money really can be a good deal:
Accommodation: Accommodation is pricer (or too pricey, you think) in the centre of town? Well, if you opt for accommodations far away from the sights you want to visit, you’ll be paying through the nose for bus fares, taxi rides, metro tickets and potentially the odd donkey ride, depending on where you’re visiting. Now, if you happen to find a hotel or B&B within walking distance to the things you’ve come to visit, you’re laughing! Not only does the heel-toe express give you a better sense for the place you’re visiting, but you save all that money on transportation costs, and burn the calories from your gastronomic indulgences.
Additionally, it’s hard to enjoy your trip if you don’t feel safe and secure. The cheapest beds in town may be found in a hostel near the train station, but do you want to have to travel through a rough part of town on a Saturday night just to save 10 euros on a bed? Nuh – uh. Not only is it dangerous, it leaves you feeling uneasy which will probably lessen the overall quality of your trip. Also, (this comes from an unfortunate firsthand experience), bed bugs do bite! Spending a few more euros a night on a place to stay may make all the difference between bed bugs nibbling on your toes, or not…
Meals: Eating is a cultural experience. When I think about possibly heading back to Italy in the summer, the first thought that pops into my head is all the eating I’ll be able to do. So while street meat and grocery store meals may be quick, easy and cheap, they are sometimes (but not always) lacking in the cultural experience department. Nourishing, quick and easy this Parisian breakfast surely was, but eating the French equivalent of Silhouette yogurt wasn’t exactly a culture-rich experience for me:
So mix it up a bit. And remember, just because you eat at a restaurant doesn’t mean it has to be an expensive one. Most mom and pop places aren’t trying to hose you, but tourist-laden restaurants on the main drag or main piazza might be. Be smart. Figure out the going rate for a plate of pasta or a pizza, and check out restaurants within that price range. I’ve left many-a restaurant saying, “we can eat cheaper elsewhere” and had a perfectly good meal at a place just a little farther off the beaten track.
Doing and Seeing: With all the technology that we have in our life these days, I tell you there is absolutely no excuse for not knowing what sightseeing and activities cost (give or take a euro or two), especially the biggies. Spend time doing some research before you go and realize that, yes, it’s going to cost you 17 euros to climb the leaning tower of Pisa. Yeah, it’s outrageous, but deal with it. Do you really want to travel all the way to Europe (or wherever) only to learn that your Scroogey self didn’t budget enough for sightseeing, so you have to miss out on one of the experiences you were so looking forward to? I think not. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it – the forlorn traveler staring longingly at a museum, church or monument, wishing they could go inside, but unwilling to budge on the budget, or kicking themself for not having planned for the expense. Balance splurges with lower-cost or even free activities to avoid feeling gipped out of the experiences you wanted. These free activities exist. I promise.
Also, splurging the extra 3 or 4 euros to reserve tickets ahead of time for big sites like Versailles, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Vatican, the Coliseum, or the Uffizi and Accademia galleries can save you a ton of time and headaches. Do you want to be the schmuck stuck in line, waiting outside, in 40-degree weather because you refused to pay the 3-euro reservation fee for museum tickets? I think not!
Keeping Up With The Joneses: Maybe you’ve heard all about Venice, but you’re afraid of boats. Do you really think you should go there, just because everyone else has? I don’t. If your best friend went to Sorrento, but you have absoultely no idea what there is to do or see there, should you spend your money and time to go? Not unless you do some research and figure out if what Sorrento offers is worth your hard-earned travel dollars. If you’re not a Renaissance art type of person, why pay the money to go to the Uffizi or the Accademia? Don’t go somewhere just for the name – you’re bound to be disappointed. There are tons of other places that are probably right up your alley – you just have to do some digging to find them.
Lastly, keep your itinerary manageable. If you try to cram too many things and too much distance into a shorter trip, it’ll leave you feeling exahusted. And when it’s all said and done, you won’t be able to distinguish between any of the places you went. Your trip will turn into a blurry whirlwind, and at the end of it all, you’ll be burned-out and disappointed.
Now, did my case for spending seem all that outrageous? I’m not advising you to break the bank, but I am inviting you to look at the realities of travel so that you can have a more worthwhile, stress-free trip. Maybe your budget this year doesn’t allow for the kind of trip you’d like, but an extra year of saving could let you have the kind of trip you’ve always dreamed of. Or, maybe you’re bound and bent to go somewhere this year, with or without the funds. That’s fine too, as long as you adjust your expectations so that they’re in line with the reality of what you’re going to get.