|leather working tools on display in Florence, Italy Image cropped and adjusted for color/contrast|
Leather Working tools on display in Florence, Italy Original image courtesy Bethany Weeks
Whether traveling long term or for whatever amount of time we carve from our lives, odds are most of us are sticking to a budget. Decisions must be made, balancing the essentials with all the little extras that tempt us along the way. There's a certain pride some folks take in spending as little as possible, turning their nose up at any extra spending or hint of luxury. Naturally we all travel for different reasons and on different budgets, so the definition of splurge is somewhat elastic. For me, I tend to feel guilty if I get a little crazy and eat out one extra meal or buy a trinket for myself. After all, I'm there to experience a place - if I spend or splurge on wants, it's taking the "easy" route. Of course, the stress of a budget blown can really ruin a trip too.
I am an advocate of selective splurging. It can be good for the mind and body, and punctuate a trip with a delightful highlight. You are not a bad traveler if you drop fifty or a hundred bucks on something that makes you genuinely enriches your experience. Just shuffle that budget around, and be honest with yourself while you're still in the planning stage. I've learned by now that I will almost always spend more than I plan on food, so I've learned to pad that budget by as much as 25%. It might mean shaving a few days off my trip, but food is a huge part of a travel experience for me, and I'd be sad to miss out by being a miser.
This is way beyond my home culinary skills. Definitely worth the price!
Couchsurfing, hostel stays, or renting a spare room are terrific ways to save on lodging. After all, you're only sleeping there (most likely), so who cares if it's stylish or the water pressure isn't as high as you're used to? As long as it's safe and clean, everything else is a bonus in most cases. It's nice to be pampered on occasion, so maybe booking a night or two somewhere a few (or many) steps above your usual standard is a worthwhile treat that will let you recharge after days or weeks on a shoestring. Upscale lodgings usually come with perks beyond the luxe rooms: gorgeous views, attentive service, spectacular showers, and central locations. Imagine waking up among a pile of pillows in a cozy bed, then watching the morning sun skim across the Grand Canal (or Eiffel Tower or Central Park) while you enjoy a gourmet breakfast in a plush robe. Or lounging by a private plunge pool while you watch the sun set over a brilliant blue sea. Doesn't sound too bad huh?
Photo of Danai Hotel in Greece, courtesy John Stefou - what a way to recharge!
One of my favorite activities is horseback riding. I'm certainly no expert, but I love trotting through the countryside of my destination. I've ridden through the King's Forest near Paris and cantered through fields and forest in Tuscany - and I still remember those experiences with a huge grin. Horseback riding isn't terribly expensive as recreational activities go - usually running in the neighborhood of $60 to $100 - but it's a splurge that has high value for me so I find a way. Riding a hot air balloon over Umbria or Piemonte is a long running travel splurge dream of mine, but it is a pricey one with no shortcuts. I could take 3 or 4 solo gondola rides for what a group balloon flight costs!
Balloons rise over the famous Cappadocia area in Turkey. Photo courtesy Lassi Kurkijarvi
Getting creative can help offset the cost of certain splurges, especially if traveling solo. Find a few like-minded travelers, and pitch in together on something you can all enjoy. A gondola ride in Venice is very pricey to do alone, but if you can find three more people it's not so bad at all. If you usually dine solo, finding a fellow foodie can allow you to try more items and reduce the cost a bit. If a luxury hotel is just not in your cards, many high end hotels offer day passes to their spas or facilities, which lets you enjoy the perks but are still cheaper than staying in a room.
Recently, I watched the Copenhagen episode of Anthony Bourdain's new show, Parts Unknown. Copenhagen is home to the highly rated, highly unusual restaurant Noma. Now, I'm not much for molecular gastronomy or randomly weird shenanigans that garner attention in pricey nouvelle cuisine joints. And yes, they ate moss. But the look of surprise and delight on Bourdain's face when he ate that moss made me put Noma on my food bucket list. Does a dinner there start around $300 (without wine)? You bet it does. The amount of work that goes into sourcing, prepping, cooking, and plating each item is mind-boggling. It's adventurous innovation but with taste remaining the primary concern. And now I want to go.
Food and hotels are not the only ways to splurge: have a leather item handmade just for you in Florence, charter a boat for a weekend in Croatia, spring for prime seats at a concert, or a private guide in a new city. The options are endless, and you don't have to decide before you go. Before your trip, find a way to save a few dollars a day and you could have a sizable splurge-fund by the time you leave. I throw any coins or singles I have into a special box, and right now I'm rocking almost $400 in my fund. So maybe I'll take that balloon ride after all!
Have you splurged while on a trip? Do you have a special trick for squeezing extra funds from your budget? Please share in the comments!