Don't Fear the Splurge
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. Naturally we all travel for different reasons and on different budgets, so the definition of splurge is somewhat elastic. Don't beat yourself up because someone else thinks it's silly to spend $100 on a single dinner, or whatever creams your twinkie. It's YOUR trip, try not to get bogged down in the well-meaning but often terribly biased or plain wrong advice of others. Especially if they've never been to your upcoming destination or have totally different interests.
A blown budget can spoil a trip of course, but 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'll cherish years later. You are not a "bad" traveler if you drop fifty or a hundred bucks on something that genuinely brings joy and 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 pad that budget by as much as 25%. It might mean shaving time or other experiences off my trip, but food is a huge part of a travel experience for me, and I'd be sad to miss out by succumbing to misplaced guilt.
Lodging gets expensive fast. It's is a bit of a balancing act so that you don't end up in a crap part of town or outright flophouse. Use common sense, read reviews thoroughly, ask questions, and listen to your gut. However, it's quite lovely to be pampered on occasion, so 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. Avoid weekends/major holidays and try out last minute bookings if your schedule is flexible to save big on the finer things. 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 a magnificent view 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?
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 fallen off a pony in Scotland - 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.
Getting creative can help offset the cost of certain splurges, especially for those of us 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. Traveling in off or shoulder season can save big bucks all around, just make sure what your interested in is still offered at that time.
Recently, I watched (again) the Copenhagen episode of Anthony Bourdain's 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. One day I will go, and I won't feel an ounce of guilt dropping that kind of cash on something that brings me great joy on many levels. Neither should you!
Food and hotels are not the only ways to splurge of course: 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. Do a little research, have a few top choices in mind, and when possible book ahead - especially if there's a flexible change or cancellation policy. 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 $300 in my fund.
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!