Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why I really believe in budget travel

I've been getting a lot of new folks visiting me on this site, and so I decided it was time to say two things...

Welcome!  I love new friends!

Also, I love budget travel.  I actually love it a little more than expensive travel.

There are a lot of people in the blogosphere* who want to set up a dichotomy between people who backpack, who are rugged, who seek out "authentic" experiences and bathe irregularly, and people who like comforts, perhaps are more nervous travelers, and/or prefer keeping some of the familiarity of home with them.  This is often set up as "travelers" versus "tourists."

And it's bunk.  I believe that anyone who is traveling, who is making a sincere effort to learn more about their world, is doing something really f#!*ing awesome, and I support that!

But the folks who do like a bit of comfort, a bit of familiarity, tend to spend more on their trips -- hey, if you want pancakes for breakfast in country that doesn't usually eat them, you are going to have to seek out international restaurants and imported foods.  If you want a sit-down toilet in a country that uses squat toilets** then you will have to find hotels that cater to foreigners, that buy toilet paper, that have closing, locking doors.  If you want to sit down for your lunch instead of eating off a street vendor, if you want a taxi instead of a bicycle rickshaw, if you want to come home with a bunch of souvenirs... well, all of these things cost money.

There are times I'll splurge (Bangkok in the hot season?  Air conditioning, please!), but for the most part I think of budget travel the way I think of good eating -- I prefer to eat "close to the source," and I think budget travel is the same.  The less I pay to protect myself against the inconveniences of travel, the more nuanced and exciting I find the experience.

For example, if I insisted on restaurant dining every evening, I would never have sampled the amazing array of Indian street food.  Fried in front of me, the dosas and samosas and fried sandwiches were amazing -- and two of us ate ourselves silly for under 2USD total.

A blurry but delicious samosa with slaw in Varanasi
That sandwich haunts my dreams.

I also would have missed eating in this tiny back patio in Coptic Cairo, and would never have received a friendship bracelet from the owner, or met this cat.

That cat was an adorable S.O.B., and my face looks that attractive because I am allergic.
If I had gone to Prague on a tour bus, I would never have learned how to use the trains.  And I never would have found this gorgeous forest at the base of one of the Czech Republic's bajillion castles.

I would have stayed in a cookie-cutter hotel instead of this gorgeous guesthouse in Barcelona...

...and I would certainly have ended up spending money on Christmas gifts from Regent Street in London instead of seeking out Portsmouth and outlet shopping.  In that case, I would never have seen this harbor:

The thing is, if I need to spend money, I will.  I think it's silly to pass up amazing experiences -- like elephant riding in Chiang Mai, Thailand, or seeing Sufi dancers (even if it is touristy -- damn, they're good!) in Cairo, or hearing a concert in Vienna.  But the thing is, if you spend a lot of money to be comfortable, you don't necessarily even know what you're missing.  But I know that by consciously spending less, I am only missing out on cookie-cutter hotels, bad imitations of American food, and seeing the inside of a tour bus.  And by saving money, when that amazing experience comes along (a gourmet meal in Kathmandu, anyone?), I'll be able to afford AND appreciate it.

Someday an attractive photo of me will make it onto this site.  In the meantime, I think I am sufficiently communicating my joy at being at a dinner where they printed out a custom menu for me with my name, gave me a traditional tile to take home, and served me the best Nepali food around.

Spending less seems to lead to more adventure, and I think we all know how I feel about that!

For more on budget travel versus cheap travel, click here.

 * great word.  Took me three times to spell it right.
** a fun adventure for the whole family, trust me.

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