Budget Travel – How Cheap is TOO Cheap?

Dirty Feet

Budget travel or cheapskate?

Budget travel – the ability to move around at cheap cost.
Cheapskate – The ability to put your life at risk, health in disarray, body through hours of discomfort and friends through torture to save an extra 5 cents.

So you’re really becoming a connoisseur in the realm of budget travel that can find deals where there are none to be seen?ย 

Fantastic!

The way I see it is if you can do things for 25% cheaper than everyone else, youย can stay for 25% longer (compounding interest aside), and that really adds up… an extra week every month, or extra 3 months every year… good on ya!

But where do you draw the line? At what point do you say, “Screw it, let’s pay it”

A crab too cheap to get a 'real shell'

A crab too cheap to get a ‘real shell’

After all, there are many things to do, things to see, and experiences to live that will require a certain amount of expenditure that is unavoidable… No one gets this right the first time, you will normally end up doing something too cheap and hopefully come away with a good lesson and no lasting effects. Here are a few categories to help steer you in the right direction, or in the very least, let you know when you’ve gone astray.

Sightseeing

A major part of being a tourist is, well… being a tourist. Get out there and see the sights! Get to see the sites that you find interesting (don’t let others tell you what is ‘must see’ and what ‘is not worth it’). When you’ve been travelling for long enough and have started to think in the local economy instead of converting back to yours, you’ll find that major tourist sites, like the Taj Mahal or the Alhambra, seem ridiculously expensive. This is the time to put it into perspective, budget before and after, and spend as long as possible on site. You won’t regret the $20 you spent… you will regret not going.

Sleeping Outside a closed bus station in the middle of the jungle... Too cheap

Sleeping Outside a closed bus station in the middle of the jungle… Too cheap

Sleeping

This depends entirely on the person. Personally, I find that really shady places provide some very interesting stories… however, there are limits. If you can lie down in your room and touch all four walls at the same time, you’re going to be a little cramped… seriously. Even this won’t be too bad unless you have bugs crawling all over the place. The moment you catch a cockroach in a cup and leave it in the middle of the floor you know you’ve committed to a bad place. Another great indicator is if someone quotes you a price by the hour… no good! If you consider putting deodorant under your nostrils just to mask the smell of the place, you’ve screwed up. When you go to bed with your knife in your hand, and wish you had a gun, you’re risking too much. When you try to use a mosquito net to keep the mice and rats at bay, you’re pushing it too far. Just a few guidelines to keep you from a sleepless night wishing that you had paid the extra 50 cents for a better room… damn 50 cents!

Travel

Taking a free ride as long as you can 'hang on to the canoe on the highway'... Too Cheap

Taking a free ride as long as you can ‘hang on to the canoe on the highway’… Too Cheap

Okay, so the whole point of travel is about the journey and not the destination, right? However, once we start moving around, we spend as little as possible on the buses, trains, plains, boats, goats, tuktuks, rickshaws, motos, and bikes, kind of odd isn’t it! While taking an overnight bus is a brilliant idea because you can save the price of a hostel for a night, it becomes a brutal idea if you do it on a chicken bus and don’t have a place to sit, thus don’t sleep at all and ruin the next day.
Really, the cheapest transport you can find is the best with a couple of exceptions. The least you can pay without being robbed on the way or arriving entirely exhausted whilst whimpering like a wounded puppy, is the fare you’re looking for.
If the guy beside you asks you what’s in your bags that you’re holding like a security blanket, you’re probably not on a great bus… and the correct response is ‘clothes’. If the locals refuse to take the bus that you’re taking, walk away. If someone shakes your hand before you get on the bus saying something like ‘I just want to shake your hand for trying’, you might want to keep your head up. If the bus driver tells you that everyone on the bus is a thief, you might want to stay aware. When you get off the bus and have multiple colours of sweat on you, it’s probably a good sign that you were too cramped. If your driver hits a guy on the street with his door, keep your eyes open. If you are awoken by a huge bump that can only be a crash, but the driver doesn’t stop, watch out… and if your driver pulls over to get in a fist fight with the guy he crashed into, but tells you it’s okay because ‘he’ll go to the police’… you might want to rethink the way that you travel… just saying.

Anyway, hope that a few of these lessons I’ve learned along the way will help you know when to quit.

Be a budget traveller… but don’t get carried away and become too cheap!

46 thoughts on “Budget Travel – How Cheap is TOO Cheap?

  1. Morgan Sullivan

    I really enjoyed this piece! It’s definitely a dilemma I can relate to. Though I try to be very budget conscious, I’ve found there definitely is such a thing as being toooo budget conscious. Just have to find the right balance!

    Reply
  2. Marissa

    Interesting read. I am really bad at budgeting but in my head I have it all figured out knowing what’s my limit at least. I need to remedy that. Reading your difference between budget and cheapskate have me thinking twice and that I should budget better (altho I probably will pay the extra 50 cents for the better room without thinking twice!).

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Honestly, as I read this I just paid $5 more for a room… I can hardly get over the idea of it… I keep telling myself that the first room was a broken bed (literally broken in half) with blood stains, and it not only screamed ‘bloody murder’ (again literally), but also decided to say ‘we know we can get away with it, so we don’t try to cover it up’…

      So… I guess even I, someone who comes out as a cheapskate freakishly frequently, may sometimes pay for the better room.

      Reply
  3. Andreja Jernejฤiฤ

    Really interesting read! I draw a line when it comes to my safety – definitely! And sometimes to avoid cultural shock – this means I spent more money first days of my travel for lets say better hotel or taxi – to get used to new country.

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      That’s a good strategy, I like that. I’ve tended to pay more in the first day, but more out of lack of knowledge on bargaining tactics than choice. But that sounds like a great way to get your feet wet in a new country.

      Reply
  4. Alli

    Sleeping is one of those areas I will not hesitate to upgrade… especially if mice or an abundance of insects are of concern!!!! *shudder*

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Really? Hmmm… I tend to fall in almost the opposite end of this spectrum, sleeping is a place where I won’t hesitate to downgrade… I draw the line at blood stains apparently (see earlier comment), but apart from that, I always figure that I’ll spend so little time in my room (which is true) and can sleep anywhere (that one isn’t quite true, but another 10 years of training and I’m sure I’ll get there)

      Reply
  5. Elena

    I travel cheap usually but I kind of like it that way! it helps me avoid the people I would not like to meet while travelling and blend in more with the locals which is probably the most important thing for me!

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      I couldn’t agree more Elena! I love traveling cheap because of the people. Realistically, these days I could afford to travel in a bit more luxury, but I just don’t see the appeal. I don’t tend to love other tourists, and vacationers send me running… show me someone who can’t speak my language, and can’t conceivably help my career and I’ll show you someone I’m interested in meeting.

      Reply
  6. Laura

    Great points!!! When is it too cheap? We often do overnight buses and feel awful the next day, but then it’s only one night or so and we always feel great when we check our finances. When it comes to accommodation though.. This is why we love house sitting!! Completely free and often luxurious! No rats or mice for us, though there has been the odd massive spider ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Ya, I’ve gotta get into house sitting more. It’s always on that to-do list, but most of the time I don’t know where I’m going until I’m on the way, and it’s normally too late for house sitting… hell, it’s normally too late for couch surfing even!

      Reply
  7. Stephen & Jess

    This was a very interesting read – yes there are limits to how to travel the world for cheap – certainly some limits that we have not plans in pushing, unless really necessary.

    Reply
  8. melody pittman

    Great way to get all of us thinking. Are we paying too much? Everyone can benefit by saving money so these are very helpful reminders of how to gage the situations. ๐Ÿ˜‰ (and a bit humorous, too) lol

    Reply
  9. Emily

    Haha great post! I like to save money – but I also hate to waste time, so I’m normally the one advocating to just pay the extra instead of trudging around looking for a cheaper deal. My biggest money moan is the cost of tours and entrance fees, which I avoid when possible (you can see Sacsayhuaman in Cusco perfectly well from the outside!!) – transport and food I will happily pay extra for to avoid discomfort and bad tummies ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Emily, you’re singing my tune here on the tours and entrance fees… In Ethiopia at the moment, they kill!! I mean I’m a pretty big tour-hater in the first place, but it’s hard to get places here without them (no roads or some other gibberish)… and the entrance fees… I’ve tried saying in my totally flawless (yeah, right!) Amharic that I’m Ethiopian… but somehow that doesn’t work here any better than it worked in India.

      Side note, if you go to Nepal, the majority of entrance fees can be sidestepped through back entrances and stuff of the sort (and no, not illegal, just not well marked)

      Reply
  10. Roaming Renegades

    This is a great post and a good antidote to all those other budget posts. Sometimes we need to get real and know where the line is! I mean, what is the point in visiting somewhere and being on such a tight budget that you can’t do any of the things you visited for! Most places can be done on the cheap without compromising the experience. We like to save money on things like food and accommodation (within reason!) in order to be able to spend it on the big things we dreamt of seeing in that place!

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Food, accommodation and transport are my major three where I save the bucks… and agree with you totally, it’s about priorities and getting to do the things you came to do… and make those memories that last a lifetime.

      Reply
  11. Corinne

    I think everyone has to try it all out before they know what their comfort zone is. I can sleep anywhere for one night, even a couple of nights, but I need a good place in between to get the grunge off!

    Reply
  12. Andrea

    This was definitely something I needed to read! Though I didn’t get into your situations, my friends like to call me out on my cheapskate ways! I can’t help it! I’m too cheap for my own good! Great post! Thanks for questioning my ways!

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Hahaha… Oh, I definitely fall into much of the same category, but typically it turns into a decent story, or at least an opportunity to become a stronger person ๐Ÿ˜› As long as you don’t cheap out so much that you’re missing out on great experiences, that’s the key thing.

      Reply
  13. Rose

    Nice post! ๐Ÿ™‚ I always try to travel within a budget and I think it’s fun to challenge myself to travel as cheap as possible, or at the very least up to the point where I still feel comfortable. You’re right though, traveling is about the experience, the fun, the lessons you learn, not about seeing as much as possible for almost nothing while suffering a great deal on the way. Even when traveling with a slightly bigger budget it can be challenging enough sometimes ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Absolutely Rose! I can certainly get carried away at times, and that’s not what travel should be about. But, somehow, it’s a lot of fun to see if you can do it just a little bit cheaper. There’s no doubt that I sacrifice my comfort a little bit too much, and should probably remedy such… but hey, it’s all about the experience, right?!

      Reply
  14. Steph @ Every Steph

    Ahahaha this was fun to read! I always try to travel on a budget, but I would never risk my life or health or comfort just to save a few dollars (or cents)… Not worth it! I will make sure to budget appropriately before leaving!

    Reply
    • Jonny Jenkins Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it… Sounds like you have a good approach there! I’m a little more reactive than proactive I must admit, find the adventure in the discomfort… if nothing else, it certainly makes for a decent story!

      Reply
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