10 Reasons to Embrace Budget Travel

Most travelers throw themselves into a category or two of traveler- backpacker, luxury, tourist, adventurer, long-term, volunteer, etc.

Most categories are ones that the traveler chooses to identify with. But there is one category that most people, travelers included, assume is a category that one belongs to out of circumstance, not choice:

Budget traveler

My partner and I are proud budget travelers, currently on an open-ended journey around the world. While it’s true that most people travel with a budget out of necessity, I say why not CHOOSE to travel on a budget, particularly if you are planning a long-term trip?

The benefits of traveling on a budget are immense, regardless of whether you need to travel on a budget or not. Choosing budget travel, instead of viewing it as a circumstance that has been thrust upon you, also has the very real benefit of keeping you connected and feeling in control of the type of traveling you do. And, believe it or not, purposely choosing budget travel opens doors. Even if we had the money to travel differently, we would still choose budget travel.

‘While it’s true that most people travel with a budget out of necessity, I say why not CHOOSE to travel on a budget, particularly if you are planning a long-term trip?


1. Traveling on a budget keeps our feet firmly planted on the ground.

We do not need anyone waiting on us, picking up our dirty towels, or otherwise stroking our egos. We view travel as an opportunity to dig into our world, not take a break from living. We are human. The people who would be waiting on us are human. The surest way to remember our common playing field is to not place ourselves within a hierarchy that feels false to us. We prefer to avoid the false hierarchy when we can and to try not to accept service without offering some of our own in return. Budget travel doesn’t allow us to pay for luxury services- and that’s the way we like it.

2. Budget travel keeps us from adding one more barrier to connecting with the local population.

We are American and we are white. There’s no getting around the privilege that these two factors afford us, whether we like it or not. These factors also give some locals pause before they interact with us, no matter where we go. There are assumptions about white Americans who travel the world- mainly that we are rich. And by local standards, we often are.

Staying in hotels that cost more than a local person’s salary for a month or dining at ridiculously overpriced restaurants does not do anything to bridge the gap created by that perception. Add to this the fact that many upscale hotels instruct their staff to paint the greater area as somewhat unsafe and you have a recipe for disconnection. Budget travel requires us to eat in local eateries and stay in hostels, at least most of the time. Given the option, we will always choose to stay, eat, and do things that, at the very least, do not add to the chasm between us and the local population.

3. It makes us less of a target for unscrupulous characters.

I’ve always been interested in the concept that some travelers perpetuate that staying in a nicer, more expensive hotel or neighborhood will keep them safe from theft and physical harm. Many people travel on tours because they think they will be “safer” at tourist attractions. Now this may or may not be true (and there are certainly neighborhoods that are “safer” than others, all over the world), but it seems to me that if I were going to rob someone, I would rob someone I was pretty sure had something to steal, right?

Most travelers know not to flash around their wallet, iPod, or Rolex to help avoid unwanted attention. But often those same travelers will proudly announce the fancy hotel they are staying in and loudly explore tourist traps with a large group of fellow targets. Seems to me like announcing that you are staying at the Ritz Carlton while walking the beach in Mumbai with 10 other westerners has just as much potential to draw negative attention to you as that Rolex.

Traveling on a budget means we walk more often than ride in taxis, are seen entering and exiting basic accommodations, and pay for lunch at local eateries with small bills. Our entire being exudes “we don’t have much,” and I think ultimately leads to less potentially negative attention. It’s not fool proof, but it helps.

4. Budgeting keeps us traveling longer.

This is no secret. Stretch the money out and the trip stretches out as well. We could spend in a week what we currently spend in a month. We can also make what the average tourist spends on a two week vacation last us for a month or more. Easily. Not everyone wants to or has the ability to travel for a long period of time. But if you are planning a long-term trip, why not stretch the budget as far and as long as it will possibly go so that you can spend more time exploring the vastness that is our world?

5. Traveling on a budget makes us think “outside the box.”

When you have finite resources, no matter where you are, sometimes you need to get creative with what you eat, where you stay, and what you do for entertainment. Some of our best recipes have come from getting creative with what’s in the house, and our last housesit came about as we were wondering how to make our thin budget stretch even further.

Sticking to a budget is like a puzzle that keeps your brain thinking and the creative juices flowing. Bartering, gift economies, trades, and volunteering are all creative ways to exchange for the basics you need. Knowing we have the ability to get creative when times get tough is a valuable life skill.

6. Traveling on a budget really forces us to connect with who we are and what we need.

There are lots of things each individual wants. But very few people actually know, without a doubt, what they need to be the the healthiest, most content, most present person they can be. Stripping yourself of the luxury of first world living and really identifying those things you actually need to make you a whole person is a gift you give yourself when you travel.

Traveling on a budget illuminates this inner knowledge even quicker. No one’s answer is the same, but almost everyone I know is somewhat surprised by the answers they discover and always thankful for the journey they took to realize those answers.

7. It completely re-defines can and can’t.

When money is flowing, there are lots of things I hear travelers say they “can’t” do. Travel on a local chicken bus in Guatemala? Can’t do it. Eat street food in India? Can’t do it. Sleep in a hotel room in Mexico without air conditioning? Can’t do it.

Now take away the cash flow. Suddenly a $10 hotel room, without air conditioning, looks pretty great, especially when it happens to offer an ocean view. Bhel puri from a roadside stand in Mumbai becomes a delicious daily treat. Those rides on the chicken bus become memories you will relay over and over to friends long after you have returned home.

There are lots of “can’ts” that suddenly turn into “cans” when money becomes scarce. It’s a good idea to explore the edges of those “cans” and “can’ts” once in a while to really find out who you are and what you are capable of.

8. Traveling on a budget keeps us moving slowly.

No doubt about it, slow travel costs less than lightening fast travel. In order to arrange more cost effective, long-term accommodations, spread transit costs out over longer periods, and eat in more than we eat out, we need to travel slowly.

Thank goodness budget travel forces us to stick to a slow schedule, because slow travel also keeps us in touch with the real reason we are traveling- a deeper connection with the world’s people and time to soak in everything our world has to offer. You can’t do that by zipping through a city in 2 days.

9.Traveling on a budget makes us really consider where our money goes and the impact it may have.

It’s harder to thoughtlessly throw money around when there is a very limited amount of it. Having limited monetary resources means we have a more connected relationship with what we spend. We know where every dollar is going and choose exactly how we want to spend it.

Do we really want to hand over $5 to a “tour guide” who seems to be taking advantage of the street kids milling hungrily around him? It’s impossible to say “well, it’s only $5” when your daily budget for two people is $40. It’s much harder to “look the other way” when literally every dollar matters.

10. Budget travel reminds us day after day that the world is absolutely humungous and completely awe inspiring.

When you travel on a budget for a long-term trip, you realize very quickly that you cannot “see it all”- your budget won’t allow it. But here’s the thing…. you could never see it all anyway. Money produces the illusion that you “know” India, Mexico, Ghana, or Switzerland by allowing you to buy experiences and visit place after place and site after site, all the while worrying that you “missed something”.

In truth, no matter how many entrance tickets you buy, no matter how many cross country flights you take, and no matter how many “world class” restaurants you eat in, you will never, ever experience all that a country has to offer. Traveling on a budget creates an immediate sense of freedom.

You can’t see it all, and you know it from the start. So, instead of zipping as quickly as possible from place to place, you get to slow down, appreciate what lies within and beyond the great sites, focus on what really fascinates you, and release the dread of “missing something.” That sense of wonder that comes from the simple realization that three months, six months, or one year in India will never be enough, even if you had a ton of money, quickly manifests into utter awe at just how much there is to see, experience, and learn in every corner of our planet, not just the country you happen to be in.

That awe is, without a doubt, the best gift we have created for ourselves by traveling on a budget.

Most travelers identify as budget travelers on some level, but unlike other forms of travel, few embrace the concept that budget travel can be a conscious choice rather than a limiting circumstance.

Why not change our perception of what budget traveling means and embrace that budget and all of the unique opportunities that come from it?

To read more about budget travel, check out the following articles:

manifesto - value interactions

Photo credits: pogonici

Filed under: Budget Travel, featured