8 Signs That You’re a Too-Cheap Traveler

I get asked a lot of the same questions from the media, but I liked one particular question in this interview that went up last week on a budget travel site:

Does the average backpacker slumming it in the hostel have a more authentic experience than the elderly couple staying in hotels as they visit Europe for the first time?

If you’ve been a backpacker already and kept your eyes open, you probably already know the answer to this is “no way.” Backpackers have a tendency to look down their nose at tourists dressed in nicer clothes, staying in nicer hotels, and taking the best transportation from place to place. Going slowly is great, but there is a very real danger of missing a whole lot by being too cheap. Here are 8 signs you’re probably getting a less authentic experience than those short-term vacationers.

1. You haggle with a shopkeeper or taxi/tuk-tuk driver for 10 minutes over what would be the cost of a pack of gum at home.

2. You take the hellish basement room with dirty sheets and leaky plumbing over the sunny clean one with a balcony because that will save you one dollar.

3. You don’t know what well-made local food with the best ingredients tastes like because you’ve only eaten at cheap market stalls and backpacker cafes.

4. You went to Jordan and skipped Petra because the entrance fee was too expensive. (Substitute Cambodia/Ankor Wat, Peru/Machu Picchu, India/Taj Mahal, France/Louvre, Mexico City/Teotihuacan, etc. etc.)

5. You passed up the souvenir you really loved and would have cherished forever because that $10 would have put you over your budget. (Meanwhile, what’s your bar-hopping budget?)

6. You’ve had the runs for three weeks straight because you don’t want to spend the money to go see a doctor.

7. You spend more daylight hours in your hostel/guesthouse than you do visiting museums or attractions that cost money.

8. You’ve never hired a guide, visited a local history museum, or bought a book about the country you’re visiting.

* Feel free to insert your own numbers 9 and on below in the comments…

[Bangkok Flickr photo by Allie_Caulfield]

Comments
  1. Carmen

    Great points. I love traveling cheaply and getting a bargain but you’re completely right. If you have to slum the whole way and miss world renowned sites because you can’t or don’t want to pay you’re going over the line and damaging your own experience.

  2. Edward P.

    I travel with more money now than I used to and even though my time is shorter, I see and do more just because I can. I like the fact I can go on organized adventure trips or tours to remote areas without worrying that I’m going to have to cut my trip short because I’ll exceed my budget. (Indie rock isn’t better just because they recorded everything for $500 either! But it’s the same hipster attitude.)

  3. Asa

    I disagree somewhat with Number 4. I don’t think avoiding the most touristy spots is so bad at all. Sometimes the entry fees are ridiculously high so I think it’s appropriate to skip them. Egypt comes to mind as a good place to pick like one or two things to see and skip the rest. Compared to other tourists I hardly “saw” anything when I was in Egypt, but I much preferred walking around and playing backgammon in cafes than spending money on seeing a bunch of artifacts.

  4. DML

    I have to say Asa that I disagree with you. My one biggest regret in my travels is that I didn’t visit Angor Wat back in the late 1990s. At the time it would have cost my partner and I around $125 each for flights, plus the entrance fees, hotels, food, etc.. At the time it just seemed too much. We should have said screw it and put the flights on a credit card. paying off that $250 once we got back home and started working would have taken a couple of weeks to pay off. I have not been back to Asia since then and don’t know when I will return.

    However, we did go to the pyramids in Egypt at the end of the day so we avoided entrance fees…we skipped the inside because we knew we were going to Luxor and would go inside there. i didn’t regret the guided tour in Luxor or the trip to Abu Simbel….never regretted anything we did anywhwere, just the ONE thing we didn’t do.

  5. Jeremy

    #9 – All of your bad travel stories involve 100km bus rides that took a whole day of your life. (While everyone else was already at your destination, enjoying themselves, because they spent 30 rupees more than you.)

  6. Craig Zabransky

    Great post. As a veteran of travel, I never have regretted the things I did compared to the things I didn’t do. We all have budgets, but at times, those budgets need to be blown.

    And I’d say pick the things you want to see, you want to experience – that is where you need to spend your money. (not what others might deem important – its your journey)

    stay adventurous, Craig

  7. lea

    #10 you want to save this extra Dollar, do some exercise and decide to walk from the bus station to the hostel. Taking 30minutes with your huge backpack plus extra bags – ending up with a terrible back pain for the next few days.

    I love walking and hate paying for short distances, but sometimes it’s definitely worth it!!

  8. Dan

    #4 Hands down, if your skipping the Wonders of the world because of the entrance fees or because they are “touristy” you’re not cheap, you’re a complete moron.

  9. Oleg

    I agree with number 4,if you want to see something that much and dont because of a few dollers then its stupid,but at the same time i never do any of the typical touristy stuff purely because i have no interest in old ruins or temples or anything of that sort,there is no right way to travel or things you must do or see,only what you want to do or see,there are hundreds of different reasons people travel.

  10. Jhanella

    Ha! Ha! Ha! You are so amazing. I just love this article so much. It is always favorable for travelers to have minimal expenses during travel but of course you have to weigh it with the quality of the travel. Make sure that quality is not sacrificed when trying to cut down budget. Take not that travel is about having fun not limiting fun.

  11. Nicole

    What a great article! And so true! I think a lot of people think that a great deal means cheap & nasty. A good deal is something that is going to give you a lot more value than what you paid. I would rather spend a bit extra on that 3* hotel right on the beach than save a few dollars but be stuck in a hostel miles from anything. You’d probably end up spending the amount you saved in taxi fare just getting to the areas you need to be in.
    As for #4 – if you have spent that much money on the airfare & getting to that point (because let’s face it the flights are usually where the bulk of our money goes) what is those few extra dollars to go see that amazing attraction? I can’t imagine having gone all the way to Agra and then not going to see the Taj Mahal! Or having gone to Paris and not having gone up the Eiffel Tower.

  12. Stacey

    Great article. Sometimes when I read the blogs of the ATW backpackers I just don’t get their rationale when they make choices on what to see or where to stay. They settle for flea infested hostels and go on and on about the local experience w/o even visiting the ancient wonders and museums that, quite frankly, I’m very interested to hear about. I can only surmise that their only reason to travel is to be able to say that they’ve been somewhere exotic and see how far they can stretch their dollar. Definitely not fun and a tremendously wasted opportunity.

  13. travelerkate

    Great post- I think a lot of us have felt that way a time or two. When I interned in Florence I almost didn’t get to Rome because it was too expensive, but I sucked it up and spent a day there (not long enough) just because I was so close.

    Also, about museum fees, if you look at websites you can find a lot of them have free or super discounted prices for young adults (usually 26 and under). I got to see the Louvre for free!

  14. Ana

    I hate traveling cheap!!! this is nuts! I travel cheap because otherwise I wouldn’t travel at all!!! The same goes to low-cost airlines…It’s just that….other idea of super-cool beeing poor vs. narrow minded is having a wonderfull stay in a luxury hotel it’s just childish… you are narrow minded or you are not, you can be poor narrow minded or rich narrow minded.

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