Cheap Travel vs. Budget Travel: There’s a Difference

“Pssht, I only spent $8 a day when I was in India.”

“I traveled the world for a year, and I only spent $6000.”

“Dude, you spent waaaay too much on that.”

“Brah, I spent half that during my time in Thailand.”

“How did you spend that much in Southeast Asia?”

We’ve all heard the comments. We’ve all had these conversations with the headier than thou backpackers who wax poetic about how little money they have spent on their trips. We see them comment on Facebook or Twitter or in the comment sections of articles. You know the ones. Those travelers who clearly think they’re better than you because they spent the least amount of money out of everyone else in the room.

We published an article a few years back chronicling the The Real Costs of RTW Travel, where we highlighted 11 trips and what people spent on those trips. I was kind of surprised at the comments. There were lots of people coming out of the woodworks to comment about how everyone in the article must have been doing it wrong because the dollar amounts revealed.

We absolutely promote the idea of budget travel, there is a massive difference between traveling on a budget and just being downright cheap. BootsnAll is full of budget travel articles and tips for making the most of your trip with the money you have, and in my eyes, that’s what budget travel is all about. It’s not about who can spend the least.

It’s not a contest.

Travel is a not a contest. The traveler vs. tourist debate is a tired one that simply makes people sound stuck up and pretentious. Just because you spent $10/day in Thailand doesn’t make you an awesome traveler that everyone should bow down to. Making snide comments like “How someone can spend that much in Laos I’ll never know” simply makes you sound like a douchebag.

There is no prize for traveling the right way. Actually, there is no right way to travel. While we promote the idea of indie travel, we also completely respect a person’s wishes to take guided tours, go on cruises, and head off to an all inclusive resort – if that’s your style, go for it!

There is no prize for traveling the right way. Actually, there is no right way to travel.

The same goes with the budget. I certainly respect those who manage to get by on a paltry budget (though I have to question what one can actually do on $10/day, but more on that later), but I also respect those who like to stay in hotels and have air conditioning when it’s 100 degrees and humid outside. You don’t get an award by spending the least, so stop bragging about how little you spent and get out of the hostel common room and actually do something.

Read Stupid Travel Arguments (And Why We Should Stop Having Them and check out the Six Travel Types You Love to Loathe 

You can’t do/see anything on $10/day, no matter where you are.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with trying to get the best experience for what you spend, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay more for something you really want to do. There are plenty of travelers out there who claim to be able to travel in countries like India, Nepal, and areas of Southeast Asia and Latin America for $10USD/day. I am not calling them liars, but I certainly have to question what it is they are doing on a daily basis. Yes, there are plenty of free activities when visiting a new place. Simply wandering around different neighborhoods, hanging out in parks, and just taking in the natural beauty of a place or hustle and bustle of a city are all things you can do for nothing. But sooner or later, you’ll actually want to visit a museum, see a famous site, or take part in an awesome experience that may actually cost some money, no?

So say you spend $5 on a bed, get breakfast for free, and then eat at a street stall for your other two meals, you’re at $7. What the hell else can you do for $3?

Let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we?

Even if you can get a bed for $5/day, which is still possible in some areas, you still have to eat. I’ve eaten plenty of $1 plates of curry from the streets in Bangkok and $1 bowls of pho from an alleyway in Hanoi. I’ve shopped in markets in South America and cooked my own meals in hostel kitchens. I usually try to find hostels with breakfast included.  So say you spend $5 on a bed, get breakfast for free, and then eat at a street stall for your other two meals, you’re at $7. What the hell else can you do for $3?

Even in the cheapest areas of the world, doing things cost money. And while you can certainly maintain that $10 budget for a while, I would imagine you’d actually want to do something at some point or another.

Read 12 Reasons Why Southeast Asia is the Best Place in the World for Backpackers, find out 8 Ways to Travel for Free on Your RTW Trip, read How to Travel Around the World for $40 Per Day

Comfort is not a bad thing.

The travelers who like to brag about how little they spend are also the ones who like to say things like, “I don’t need comfort when I’m on the road, bro. I like to get back to the roots of man and keep it simple.”

Hey, I’m all for keeping it simple. I’ve embraced my inner hippie many a time while on the road. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping in a dorm bed, camping in order to get closer to nature and save a few bucks in the meantime, or cooking your own food in order to save money for something else. Comfort is all a matter of personal preference, and we all have our levels of comfort we prefer.

If you can stay in a room in Southeast Asia with no windows, a tiny fan, and a pet rat, more power to you. But it doesn’t make your experience more authentic than mine.

Usually our ability to deal with uncomfortable situations declines with age. When I was 20, I had no problem sleeping on the ground or having questionable cleanliness in the shower that’s supposed to be helping me get clean. Back then I was following Phish around the country, sleeping in rest areas, and showering in those rest area sinks. But now that I’m in my 30’s, I tend to like a bit more comfort, and I’m sure as hell not going to apologize for that.

The thing that irks me are the travelers who act like they’re better than me because I want air conditioning in April in India. I’ve stayed in non-air conditioned rooms while it’s hot as hell more times than I wish, and there’s nothing cool about having to take ice cold showers every hour just to temporarily stop sweating. In fact, it sucks. If you can stay in a room in Southeast Asia with no windows, a tiny fan, and a pet rat, more power to you. But it doesn’t make your experience more authentic than mine.

>>Read Five of the Worlds Most Expensive Countries and How to Visit Them on the Cheap

Saving for a trip is hard work. Don’t you want that hard work to pay off?

Usually when someone goes on a long-term trip, he or she has to sacrifice to do so. We forego nights at the bar or meals out. We bypass that concert or ball game in order to save more money. Saving for a trip, no matter the length, can be hard work. We did without a lot for 18 months to be able to save for our RTW trip.

Because we were on what we thought was a tight budget, I continued that mindset for the first month of our trip. We bypassed activities in order to not spend money. We didn’t try new food or go hang out with new friends because it was going to be too expensive. We’d walk around for an extra hour trying to find a hostel that might save us an extra $3. After a while, it became old. We were fighting about money way too much.

We weren’t being budget travelers. We were being cheap travelers.

And then something clicked. We sacrificed so much, we saved for so long, we quit our jobs, we gave away or sold so much of our stuff. And we did this to be able to travel the world and have the trip of a lifetime. But we weren’t doing that. We weren’t being budget travelers. We were being cheap travelers.

So we changed our tune. We decided that we’d bypass some comfort here and there for an awesome meal out. We decided to get that non-air conditioned room every so often so we could climb Franz Josef Glacier, ride the World’s Most Dangerous Road, and go on a full moon trip to Iguazu Falls. Our trip instantly became better. Our mindset improved, we stopped fighting, I stopped fretting about money so much, even if that meant we had to come home sooner.

What’s the point of going on a trip and then not doing the things you really want to do?

Read the Step-by-Step Guide to Visiting Machu Picchu, and check out these 10 Delicious Discoveries

Budget travel isn’t about spending the least. It’s about getting the most value for your money.

Budget travel is not about who can spend the least amount of money or who can travel in Thailand on $10/day. It’s not about finding the cheapest, grubbiest room. It’s not about eating ramen noodles for all your meals and sitting in the hostel common room watching a movie while everyone else is out having drinks and dancing.

Budget travel is all about getting the most value for your money while you’re on the road. There is no monetary value attached to the phrase “budget travel.” If someone sacrificed what they consider to be comforts and still spent $40/day in Laos, then that’s budget travel for that person. Just because you did it on $10/day doesn’t make your experience more authentic, or indie, or better.

Budget travel is all about getting the most value for your money while you’re on the road. There is no monetary value attached to the phrase ‘budget travel.’

There are many different types of travelers. Some would never think of setting foot in a hostel. Some would never think of paying more to stay in a hotel. Some prefer to eat out at decent restaurants on the road. Some only eat at street carts and cook their own meals. Some always do guided tours. Some never do. Our society likes to label everything, and that’s fine.  Budget travel, like all types of travel, isn’t a black and white definition – there’s a huge amount of gray in there, too.   And you certainly aren’t a better traveler because you spend less money than the guy next to you.

Read about these 12 Budget-Friendly Sustainable Travel Experiences, save some money by checking out these Eight Tips for the Newbie Hitchhiker, and check out these tips for Saving Money for Your Trip

 What are your thoughts on budget travel? Do you agree with the above statements? Comment below to share your thoughts.

Photo credit: 1, 2, 3, 5; picture 4 belongs to the author and cannot be used without consent.





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