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The Benefits of Budget Traveling

by Caroline King

I am all for the challenge of traveling cheap. I’ve done both kinds of traveling – the kind where my parents pay for it and we eat at restaurants called “le something” and the kind where I pay for it and I eat out of my pack. I’ve dirtied the pillows at the Ritz and I’ve also slept in hostels that definitely dirtied me. Really, budget travel is better. Really. Now, when I say “budget” I don’t mean brainless. Obviously, pick awesome travel mates or know that you can have fun flying solo. Obviously, don’t try to live off something crazy like a dollar a day.

Assuming you have enough common sense to budget an adequate amount of money and find satisfying company, you should prepare your creative mind – because being creative is key. I know you can do it. The reason I’m such an advocate for this is because I think technology has ruined our creativity. You can do a 10-minute web search and plan the perfect trip for under a grand. That’s nice and all, but you’d really just be banking off someone else’s idea of the “best” trip for under a grand. Maybe their schedule includes too many museum stops and not enough pubs.

I guarantee the lack of guidelines and fat cash in your wallet will make the trip more difficult. However, I also guarantee that if you can muster enough creative juices and independence, in the end you will be more satisfied than any other “pre-planned-packaged load of poop” you get by spending no creativity and too much money. This is not to bash all package vacations, but the more bullets I see on those trips itineraries, the less I like them – because they are doing all the personal growth I will get on my trip for me!

Traveling is a great way to learn about yourself. How creative can you be with a few dollars in a foreign country? To me it’s “cheap” (in a non-money sense of the word) to do all the expensive things like eat at the “best” restaurant, see the “top-rated” musical, buy the touristy sweater that says “Harrods” on it or whatev. The richest experiences are more like sharing a sandwich in a park and maybe making friends with the locals – then you might have an authentic taste of culture. Authentic. Personal. Way, way better than a hoity toity hotel where they rub your feet and you never have to go outside because everything’s “at your finger tips.” Just go to a spa for that.

I’m about to break my own advice and give you some tips on how to be creative. Make friends! You will remember a place not for the walls and statutes but for the people dwelling within those walls and the words you exchange. Be brave about talking to people – the least that can happen is they aren’t interested and, oh well, you’ll probably never see them again.

Hang out in free public places like parks, beaches, free museums, gardens and friend’s houses. Ask locals where to get the best bite instead of looking it up in a guidebook. Find a pretty view of the city and watch a sunset. OK, I’m going to stop advising because I’m starting to feel like a checklist.

When you’ve had the time of your life – and not had to spend copious amounts of cash to buy the emotion – then you will understand why budget traveling is better. You will have had a personalized experience that no one else can ever relive; and that is a treasure that deserves to be called rich.