Guys, consider this my official resignation. I am formally recusing myself from the traveler Cheaplympics – I was never going to make it through qualifiers anyway. Below are direct quotes (some perhaps feature slight embellishments) I’ve heard on my travels – spend any time on the road and you’ll soon learn this is a serious sport.
“Oh… you paid seven dollars for a dorm bed? Yikes. We’re paying five for a private room up the road…”
“I guess a luxury bus would be nice for a 17 hour journey across Peru, but we don’t really have a spare $50 to throw around… we’re on a budget. Plus, we much prefer the ambiance of the local buses. They don’t even charge extra for the faint urine scent or the rigid upright non-reclining seats!”
“Oh, cute! You actually paid for rock climbing lessons in Thailand? We just hung around the rock climbing bar for three weeks and flirted with the instructors until one of them offered to lend us his gear on his day off. We almost died, but it didn’t cost a thing except three weeks of Changs!”
“Hmm, four dollars for a hot dinner? Not to embarrass you, but we basically ate the same thing totally for free from the dumpster out back! Ha ha, sucker!!!”
Don’t get me wrong – I love searching for travel deals, snagging coupon codes for my travel gear, and scoring free hotels with the credit card rewards game. I’m a natural budgeter and a backpacker at heart, but I like to think of myself as a person just as comfortable in a hostel dorm as I am in a five star hotel suite. Yet it seems no matter where I go in the world, I find a few unpleasant travelers who take competitive cheapness to a new, ridiculous level. When I press publish on a budget breakdown post, I often feel a mix of emotions. On one level, I’m proud of my detailed accounting and my ability to plan a $50 a day diving trip to Honduras. On the other hand, I know I’ll get at least a few condescending comments wondering why I couldn’t get by on $12.
Penny-pinching backpackers of the word, if you’re badass enough to take a local bus for any ride lasting longer than six hours – kudos, you are tougher than I am and I applaud and respect you! It costs the equivalent of a dollar per hour? Even better. So why can’t you be cool with my decision to score an early-release sale seat on the tourist-friendly luxury line – even if it does cost three times as much? Sorry, but this blogger needs her beauty sleep – and she isn’t going to get it with her seatmate holding a live chicken in a plastic bag, as happened on a particularly memorable bus ride through the Malaysia countryside.
I get it, when you went to Turkey, you took local transportation an hour outside of Istanbul in order to visit the most authentic, frugal-friendly bathhouse possible. That’s awesome, and I’d love to do the same on my next visit. But I just needed to ease into all that public boob-swinging somewhere plush, okay? It was worth the extra couple lira for me.
When it comes to food, I’m the first to admit I splurge. Whenever I’m in Chiang Mai, I practically sprint to my favorite lunch spot – a pricey place where a bacon broccoli quesadilla and a peanut butter smoothie set me back a whopping 200 baht ($6.50US). It’s possible that I eat there so often that a guy at a bar once tried to chat me up with the opening line, “So, are you the girl who sits at Smoothie Garden all day every day with her laptop?” But any time I ate lunch there, I balanced it out with a cheap street-food dinner at my favorite food cart in the city. I swear I did! Just ask the lady at the third pad thai stall past the Tha Pae gate. She’ll remember me – I was the girl with the Osprey backpack. (It was totally a graduation gift!)
And speaking of those free hotels I scored, if I’m being frank here, shouldn’t you be asking me for tips on how I managed to finagle them rather than sneering at me from the back of the combi van when I get dropped off at one? I mean seriously, I didn’t pay a dime for this – it was the credit card points, I swear! So why are you giving me those looks while you compare budget guesthouses over your well-worn copies of Southeast Asia on a Shoestring? For the record, I totally spent the previous month living in a hut with a cold water hose for a shower, mkay?
Joking aside, I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have wiggle room in my travel budget, and in fact, to be traveling at all. I work hard in order to stay mobile, and to afford the occasional splurge on a flight over a bus, or a better trekking company for the Inca Trail. I also know that when you’re traveling long term, how much money you have equals how much longer you have on the road, and so it’s easy to see how people lose perspective on a couple of centavos. But I am really sick of the one-upping that goes on among travelers when it comes to who-paid-less-for-what. As travelers we should all try to be a little less judgmental of each other (emphasis on the try). Condescension is ugly in any form.
I love a good deal – I think there are very few people on this planet who don’t. So let’s all assume that, $800 sunglass purchasers aside, we’re all doing our best as travelers to get the best deal possible for ourselves. Sure, those deals may vary from person to person, but life would be no fun if we were all the same, right? So let’s meet up and toast to our budget victories, be they $5 bus tickets to Laos or $500 flights to Iceland. I know the perfect place to celebrate – have you heard of Smoothie Garden?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Cheaplympics in the comments below!