Pound Foolish Travelers

Seth Kugel has an excellent post over at the Frugal Traveler about irrational saving when traveling on a budget:

There are also hard-fought discounts — finding an online coupon, negotiating a better price, sweet-talking your way to an upgrade.

Then you have those grin-and-bear-it sacrifices necessary to keep the budgets under control: packing sandwiches for lunch or packing four people into a motel room.

So far, so good. But things begin to fall apart when what you save in cash is far from commensurate with what you lose in other travel currencies: time, comfort, taste, nutrition, convenience, ethics, health or safety, to name a few.

I see it all the time. People become so obsessed with saving that it becomes the focal point of the trip, the primary topic of conversation and even the subject of competitive one-upmanship. Oh, you drove a hard bargain at the hostel and paid $11 instead of $12? Well, I crashed on the floor of a church for free — unless of course you count the cost of aspirin for the backache and coffee for the lack of actual sleep. (Accounts of these grand victories, by the way, all too often take place over drinks that wipe out any savings many times over.)

While backpacking across Italy during a summer in college, my friends and I decide to do what all the other young people with little disposable income were doing: stay in hostels, and when hostels weren’t available or completely booked, stay in a tent in a camping ground just outside the city. This worked fine until we arrived at one of the camping grounds and unzipped the tent and peered in. We found a cot on the floor covered with what looked like a lot of dried blood. We immediately left and scouted for cheap hotels nearby, and found a room for 20 more euros a night than what it would cost us at the camp. The beds were like heaven, there was a complimentary breakfast and lunch (which saved us on food costs), and most importantly, there was a shower. It was one of the best non-savings decisions we’ve ever ever made.

Photo: Orinzebest

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