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For most of my 20s, I was the dictionary definition of a budget traveler.
I stayed in bunk beds in 16-person hostel dorm rooms. I packed carry-ons to avoid paying for a checked bag, even on long trips. Instead of eating in restaurants, I wandered the aisles of foreign grocery stores. And I never, ever took a taxi if there was a bus or subway available.
But now that money’s not quite so tight — and I just can’t with hostel snorers anymore — I’ve started spending more for the sake of convenience. I wouldn’t trade those utterly broke travel days for anything, but I’m glad to have more financial wiggle room in this new stage of my travel life.
If you have some room in your travel budget, but you also don’t want to break the bank, give yourself permission to treat yourself with these five travel expenses.
1. Take a taxi, Uber, or private shuttle from the airport
You’ve just gotten off a long flight, didn’t sleep a wink, and are already starting to feel jet lag kick in. You feel gross from all those plane snacks, and your suitcase is taking forever to come around the conveyor.
Although you planned on taking the subway to your hotel (or Airbnb), the thought of spending an hour in a hot, stuffy train jostling with the crowds, gripping your rolling suitcase, and fighting off motion sickness is too much to handle right now.
But on the flip side, an Uber costs $40, which is 11 times more than what you’d spend with the train. What do you do?!
Back in the day, my decision would have been a no-brainer: take the subway. Partially, I’d go with it out of financial necessity. But I think there was also a bit of budget traveler’s pride; I wore the difficulties of travel like a badge of honor.
But today? Uber all the way. Sure, it costs more, but you get to sit in a comfortable, air-conditioned (or heated, depending on the season) car while a driver brings you door to door. Then, you can crawl into bed and nap away some of the jetlag. In the morning, you’ll be reenergized and ready to take on the metro.
Private shuttles, by the way, tend to be the priciest option, but can be useful in some scenarios. For instance, if you’re traveling alone, arriving at night, or otherwise don’t feel comfortable figuring out transportation when you get there, then arranging a private shuttle before you arrive could totally be worth it for the peace of mind.
2. Ditch the hostel dorm room in favor of a hotel or Airbnb
Hostels are amazing…when you’re in your early 20s. They’re affordable, social, artsy, and often located right in the center of major cities. And inexplicably, you often run into the same travelers again and again (hey, didn’t I just meet you in Amsterdam and now here you are in Barcelona?!).
But at a certain point, the party ends — or at least, it did for me. It took a few subpar hostel stays before I was finally able to let go and say goodbye to my hostel habit. One involved a 16-person dorm room where two travelers decided to hook up (loudly) in the wee hours of the morning and wake everyone up.
My final two hostel stays were miserable for one simple reason: snorers. No offense whatsoever to those who snore, but if you’re especially loud, maybe don’t stay in a hostel dorm room. I mean, those little orange ear plugs they give you at the front desk do absolutely nothing.
Those sleepless nights left me groggy and in a bad mood during my trip, so what I saved on accommodation, I wasted in other ways. Unless you can sleep soundly when Mardis Gras is going on outside your window, it might be time to upgrade to a hotel or Airbnb.
3. Don’t buy a flight that takes 36 hours and has 4 stopovers
Cheap flight sites like Skyscanner and Hipmunk are amazing for finding great deals, but you also have to know where to draw the line on your quest to find the cheapest flight. Sure, one might save you $200, but it also involves 14 extra hours of travel time and an overnight in Dubai.
Luckily, many flight sites allow you to order your results not just by price, but also by trip duration (or as Hipmunk calls it, “agony”). Of course, a short stopover or two might not be dealbreaker if the flight costs a lot less than the one that flies direct.
But as wonderful as exploring new places is, the act of traveling can be kind of painful. Instead of suffering, try to balance how much money you’ll save with a journey-time that won’t make you dissolve into tears at 4 in the morning at an Italian airport (yes, that’s a personal example).
4. Go ahead and pay the fee for a checked bag
Budget airlines like Wow Air and Easy Jet are great, but checked bag fees is where they get you. You think you found a great deal, and suddenly you have to scoff up $150 more to bring a suitcase.
In an effort to save, you start strategizing about all the ways to minimize your packing. OK, you think, I can totally fit everything I need for my month-long trip into a North Face backpack. Clean clothes are overrated anyway.
Traveling light is admirable, but sometimes it’s impossible to stuff everything you need into a tiny bag (that you pray won’t be deemed too big by a surly gate attendant).
If packing-stress is putting a damper on your trip before it begins, just go ahead and pay the checked bags fee. Pay the fee for extra weight if you need it — but remember you’ll have to lug that big suitcase around when you get to your destination.
5. Purchase traveler’s insurance for your long trip
During my travel-on-a-shoestring days, I wouldn’t have considered purchasing traveler’s insurance for a trip. I still don’t think it’s particularly necessary for vacations, and travel rewards credit cards often come with trip and car rental insurance.
But if you’re backpacking around Southeast Asia for three months or ziplining and rock climbing your way around Central America, it could be a good idea to get a plan. Companies like Seven Corners and World Nomads offer affordable travel insurance options with extensive coverage.
Travel insurance could also be a good idea if you’re living long-term out of the country as a digital nomad. If you don’t have coverage in your destination, it’s a good idea to purchase a plan that will protect you financially in the event of an emergency.
Stay on budget, but treat yourself when it makes sense
Although you don’t want to end up lost and penniless in a foreign city, it’s also okay to upgrade your travels when you start making more money. If you’ve always been a dedicated budget traveler, it might feel weird to select the pricier option when you know there’s a cheaper one that Past You would have chosen in a heartbeat.
But sometimes costs aren’t just financial; they also come in the form of comfort, convenience, and overall well-being. So if turbulence is getting you down, go ahead and treat yourself to the airplane’s $12 glass of wine. And if you’re tired from traveling, feel free to hop in that taxi or Uber. It’s your adventure; remember to enjoy the journey!