I’ve touched on the topic before, so when the venerable New York Times Frugal Traveler Suth Kugel discusses “The Argument Against Pound-Foolish Travel” I can’t resist playing along. Traveling on a budget is a reality for most of us. A big trip is saved for and dreamed about months, if not years, in advance. The choice to spend hard-earned money on a trip is not one made lightly so the expenditure of those dollars is something to keep track of, no matter your means.
There are two basic approaches to spending money when traveling. For some, a kitty has been pulled together and it is there to be spent, no questions asked: extravagant meals, expensive suites, bags full of decadent souvenirs for the folks back home. For others, that lump sum is there but you hope to return home with some of it in tact, or plan itineraries so you don’t dip into the reserves. Either approach can make for an excellent trip. But, as Kugel points out, if your trips hew to the latter approach, it is worth avoiding crossing “the line from frugal traveler to irrational cheapskate.”
In Kugel’s words, “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.” He identifies ways in which people attempt to save money in the name of budgetary discretion and then counters the examples with his own experiences where spending a bit more yielded greater gains in terms of time, comfort, and safety.
Food is always the central part of any trip for me and I agree wholeheartedly with Kugel that “[e]ating is also fraught with potential for superfluous stinginess.” This is not to say that the only way to eat enjoyably when on the road is by going to sit-down restaurants. However, leaning over an over-used pot in a hostel kitchen waiting on water to boil might not be the best use of your time, or money. Why not go to a local market and eat some pre-made foods? I’d take a loaf of fresh bread slathered with pate or stacked with cheese over generic store-bought pasta any day. Or find cheap street vendors dishing up authentic, affordable fare for locals and savvy travelers alike?
Kugel goes way beyond food, citing plenty of examples when a campervan rental Iceland makes more sense than a bus and a slightly more expensive direct flight is worth more than an eight-hour layover. His argument deserves attention because there is no reason to leave home if you don’t want to let yourself have a good time and new adventures.