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Scrimp or Splurge on Your Next Vacation?

The magic formula to answering for yourself where you should save money and where you should splurge on a vacation comes down to using your overall budget to meet your priorities—so you’ll need to know both of those things really well! In most cases, you’ll experience more (i.e. authentic culture) by spending less, but it’s also true that splurging can be good value when you gain unique experiences and save time.

To quote renowned travel guide Rick Steves, “Anything that puts me in touch with the pulse of a place finds room on my splurge list….[the goal] is to have the more efficient and enjoyable experience, to use my time as wisely as my vacation dollar, and to know my options so my trip fits both my budget and my dreams.”

Hotels or other accommodations

Across travel industry experts and hobby blogs, there is agreement that your hotel or other sleeping accommodation is a place to scrimp—unless the whole point of the vacation is to stay at and relax in an all-inclusive beachy resort, of course! The other exceptions include if the budget hotel is so poorly located that you’ll waste a lot of time traveling to and from it, or it’s in an unsafe location.

Beyond those three situations, however, you are better served choosing a modest, local B&B over a fancy or chain hotel. You’ll get more cultural experience, a deeper connection with locals, and probably some good advice on where to eat and what to do!

A third option, and combination of accommodation and experience, is to splurge on a few nights in a unique hotel experience—like a remodeled estate home, a historical mansion or converted industrial building, or even a tower house.

Transportation

Scrimp on airline fair. In the grand scheme, it’s only a few hours out of your vacation, and the price jump from coach only makes sense for people who are flush with miles or cash. The exception to this rule is if the cheapest flight involves so many layovers that it drastically cuts into time at your destination. And, in all likelihood, regardless of where you sit in the airplane, you’ll still want a shower afterward and a cup of coffee to combat jet lag.

The same logic of time saved (and sometimes safety) being worth the extra money also holds true for taxis who can get you somewhere quickly. Private car hires or guided minivan tours are a good splurge for sprawling destinations that lack good public transportation infrastructure.

Depending on your location, bike-sharing could be a scrimp—if it means not renting a car, or taking fewer cab rides—or a splurge—if you choose it instead of walking everywhere.

Finally, public transportation in many places should be a budget-friendly go-to option. You get a glimpse of what it's like to be a local, it should be dependable and affordable, and you’ll more quickly learn your way around a city.

Tours and activities

Splurge here! Tours by knowledgeable local guides are almost always worth the money. And no doubt you’ve picked a location that is known for something you enjoy—history and museums, art, food, scenic hikes, water sports. Be sure to pick activities that mean the most to you and spend your money there.

A middle-of-the-road budget option is to book an AirBnB tour guide. The experience will be more personal (no large groups), unique, and cost less than a traditional tour.

Food

If you’re a foodie, then obviously meals or a food tour is a worthy splurge. Or if you’re visiting a region with world-renown cuisine and want to expand your palate. However, even within this priority, you don’t need to be dropping hundred-dollar bills or more on every meal of every day!

For many people, breakfast and lunch can be enjoyed on a budget by buying pastries or fruit with the free coffee at their accommodation, a packed picnic, or splitting a sandwich at a café. Like with hotels, if you head into expensive restaurants on the main drag, you’ll mostly be eating with other tourists. Street food, home cooking at your B&B, or neighborhood pubs deliver on local cuisine and value.

In the end…

…It comes down to knowing yourself and doing the research. Any time you don’t know your options or are unprepared, you will be forced to spend money for convenience, and that can turn into a big regret if you later have to forgo something.

Save money by:

  • Knowing the exchange rate and where to get it in your favor
  • Knowing if and how to tip service workers
  • Using a credit card without foreign transaction fees
  • Carrying your own bags, if you can!
  • Packing a refillable water bottle
  • Buying snacks in a local store instead of at expensive stalls at tourist locations
  • Packing less luggage to avoid checked luggage fees
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