Some budget-minded travelers count every penny on a trip, ensuring that they never go over a carefully planned budget and go as cheap as they can (get some Hitchhiking Tips here!); others prefer not to worry about the costs at all, spending what they want without a limit. Most travelers, however, fall somewhere in the middle. We want to keep costs low but we’re willing to splurge on a few things to ensure we have the best experience. How do you know when to splurge or save on your trip? Here are some tips to help you decide.
When to Splurge or Save on your Trip
When to Splurge
When it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience you want to have
The term “once in a lifetime” gets used quite a bit in travel. But just because something’s labeled a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, it doesn’t mean it’s worth doing. A hot-air balloon ride over Tuscany would be considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience by most people, but while some people would cherish the experience, others might find it underwhelming. Only you know what matters most to you; if there’s an experience you can’t imagine not doing in a particular place (because you want to do it, not because everyone says you should), then it’ll be worth the splurge to you. Another way to look at: if you’ll regret not doing it more than you’d regret spending the money, do it.
When it’s a souvenir that offers practical use or years of enjoyment
Throughout Europe, there’s no shortage of cheesy souvenir shops that will happily separate you from your money and offer in exchange a made-in-China trinket worth pennies on the dollar. Buy a few of these poorly made souvenirs and the cost can quickly add up; but rather than a bunch of cheap items that you’ll probably throw away, why not splurge on one high-quality item that will last for years? For me, that means buying artwork, well-made clothing and leather goods. For example, I still have the leather bag I bought nearly a decade ago in Italy; it still reminds me of that trip, and when people compliment it, I get to reply “oh this? I bought it in Florence on my honeymoon.”
When a tour guide will offer additional insight or exclusive access
No matter how much homework you do before a trip, you simply don’t have the same knowledge as a local guide. A tour guide can bring history to life, offer deeper insight into the local culture, and even get you special access you might not get on your own. You’ll nearly always walk away with a better understanding of a museum or historical sight if you visit with an expert so it’s worth splurging on a guide when it’s a place you really want to dive deep into and learn a lot about.
For example, in Athens I knew I could have wandered the atmospheric Anafiotika area on my own, but with a guide I learned so much about the neighborhood’s history, found areas I doubt I would have located on my own, and when we came upon a Greece family dining alfresco in their garden, my guide was able to translate a lovely conversation between us.
When money is more available than time
Traveling on a budget often means sacrificing time but when time is also a limited resource, sometimes it’s worth breaking your budget for a few more precious hours. For example, if you’re taking a day trip from one city to another, going via public transport will likely be cheaper than taking a tour or renting a car, but if the less expensive option takes several hours longer, it’s worth it to spend the extra money so that you have as much times as possible to enjoy the destination.
When it will make you happy
When it comes down to it, consider which will make you happier in the long run–having the experience or going home with some extra cash in your pocket? Of course, you have to be reasonable, but if the splurge won’t hurt your finances and you think the cost is worth it, you don’t need much more justification. A good rule of thumb: if you say no to the splurge and instantly regret–or are still thinking about it hours or days later–it’s likely that going for it will make you happier than having a fatter wallet. Splurge away!
When to Save
When the lower cost option is just as good as the more expensive one
We all know that just because something is more expensive, it isn’t automatically better. If there’s no discernible difference to you, or the difference is in areas you don’t care about, there’s no need to pay more. For example, many people are just as happy with France’s “house wine” as they’d be with a bottle from a named winery. If you’re only traveling a few hours by train in Italy, there’s no need to spend extra for 1st class seats when 2nd is a barely perceptible step down.
When you can time it right
Museums across Europe often offer free or discounted entrance on certain days of the week or month. Always check the schedule and plan your visits around the least expensive time to visit if you can.
When it’s something you simply don’t need
Ask yourself if you’ll really miss the item or experience; if you won’t feel like you’re missing out, save your money to use on something you care more about. For example, I avoid spending money on breakfast if I’m just going to order the same egg dishes I can get at home. Instead I opt to stay at a place that has free breakfast or a kitchen, and I save the euros I would have spent on a (usually overpriced) American-style breakfast and put them to better use on something else.
When you can do it just as well, or as easily, yourself
In general, doing it yourself will always be cheaper. Making your own dinner is cheaper than going out, taking public transit is less expensive than hiring a cab, carrying your own bags is cheaper than tipping a porter, downloading a self-guided tour costs less than the services of a tour guide. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay for any of these (see above; it depends on your priorities) but when it won’t make much difference, why not do it yourself and save when you can?
Whatever you you choose, allow yourself no regrets. A trip is a gift to yourself, so enjoy and come home with great memories.
Written by Katie Hammel for EuropeUpClose.com