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Scrimp and Splurge

I suspect we all make some budget choices when we travel. There are some items we're willing to spend extra for to ensure quality or a top-notch experience or convenience or efficiency. There are other things we do on the cheap to save our money for other things.

I'm curious about not just what people scrimp and splurge on, but why.

For me, I almost never take a taxi anywhere when I'm traveling. I prefer to walk or use public transportation. It's not just to save money, but also because I don't really enjoy the experience of sitting in the back of a taxi (or Uber or whatever) and being whisked past things there's no time to see. I will spend extra for more legroom on a long flight from the US to Europe, though.

For lodging, I'll spend more for character and location, especially if I'm staying more than 1 or 2 nights, but I'll never spend more for amenities.

In general, I eat on the cheap, but I will splurge on a nice meal on occasion, maybe one or two really superb dinners over the course of a 2, 3, or 4 week trip.

And for special experiences, I'll do it whatever the cost. Opera or symphony tickets, hot air balloon rides, and unique tours. I'm occasionally willing to pay for a private guide in order to get a personalized experience, but I also love some of the free walking tours.

What are your scrimps and splurges?

Posted by
2762 posts

I scrimp by only flying coach, not premium economy, let alone business class. I don't even consider this a scrimp, though, because I don't even think of anything else. I will pay for seat selection, though.

I mix it up with food - I will scrimp some days by cooking or eating cheap picnics/take out but then will splurge another day on a very memorable meal. I'd prefer one great meal and 2 days of cheap eats instead of averaging it out to mid-range every day.

I never scrimp on admission fees, but I don't like to pay for tours/guides/special extras. I'll pay whatever it costs (within reason) to get into a sight or museum I care about, but once in there I prefer to explore it on my own. I learn better that way AND save money. I also rarely spend any money on "experiences" in the sense of hot air balloons, jeep tours, paragliding, scenic boat rides, etc.

I splurge on car rentals in some locations. Some places public transit is best, but in others it's an inconvenience. Waiting extra hours for the bus that only comes at weird times and takes 3x as long as a car just isn't worth it to me - my vacation time is limited and has value in and of itself. So I'll rent a car in those situations. It's always a simple, basic car, but automatic transmission, which makes it kind of expensive.

As for accommodations, I'm in the middle. I see no need for fancy hotels, but I don't want to sleep in hostels either. I tend towards inexpensive but not super-cheap apartment rentals. A 2 bedroom apartment (I travel with my spouse and kids) costs much less than 2 rooms in an average hotel. More than one room, but most rooms don't fit 4 people. If I'm alone, a small single in a basic hotel is all I need, so that's a scrimp.

I scrimp by not shopping very much. I save money, time (I'd prefer to spend my time exploring, eating, or sightseeing, not shopping), and suitcase space. This is a win all around!

Posted by
1654 posts

Well Lane, I "splurge" on a very nice, smallish, cozy hotel with services and amenities that work for me (even though it's near by to Termini) -- actually it's closer to The Diocletian Baths. I also splurge on the shuttle from FCO to my hotel.

Since my hotel offers a full, unlimited buffet breakfast, I would eat foods that kept me full most of the day. I took my water and may have snacked on a bar or get a Gelato until I go to dinner about? 7:30 or 8:00 pm. The restaurant I favor is lovely, but very inexpensive. My hotel offered a non-alcoholic mini bar complete with bottled water, Frizzante, juices and coke -- replenished daily/as needed.

I usually ordered a pasta dish or pizza; (once in a while melon/prosciutto if I was extra hungry), a glass of Pinot Grigio and Tiramisu (w/o the lady fingers, so delicious and creamy.) No bread charge. Pinot was 5€, but they were generous.

I would also order an espresso ( free, mini round Biscotti accompanied); espresso was comped. I don't know, it may be because I was a repeat customer from the year before as well. It also may depend on the waitstaff. Most nights, I also got served a complimentary Limoncello. Also, the Limoncello sorbetto was unbelievable, they had taster size flutes for complimentary by the staff. A full flute was not bad for pricing though.

I walked a lot but took buses too when I tired. No taxis. My first trip, I definitely contributed to the Roman economy in terms of shopping. Second trip, I mainly enjoyed the company of friends I made before and wandered around Rome.

Oh, getting there -- I was able to secure a RT (steal of a deal -- about $550) airfare on BA from Logan > LHR > FCO (two years in a row now, same pricing for Econ. I'm about 5'4", so, the legroom is okay for me.) One free checked bag. A carry on and a tote allowed on board.

Posted by
3332 posts

We usually take taxis or car service when we have luggage, especially going to a hotel that we haven't been to before and thus might spend time looking for it with luggage in tow.

In England, I also prefer to buy my rail ticket the day of my trip, with the trip being after 9:30 am.

When going to Vienna in Sept, I insisted on paying for a centrally located hotel rather than staying in the (free with points) Hiltons that were on the outskirts of the central area. I love to stay where I can walk to lots of the sites-In Rome, that means a couple of nights at my favorite splurge hotel-the Alimandi-down the steps from the Vatican Museums and wonderful bfast.

Posted by
2310 posts

I could almost say exactly what Mira said! Only fly coach, prefer to suffer for a few hours and have more money for other things.
As for food, we usually have one or two special meals out over the course of a 2 week trip, but also don’t mind scrimping (as in fish and chips), but NEVER McDonald’s! I will splurge on food! And I absolutely do not want to cook on vacation. Now in the future, when we are able to travel for longer periods, this might change.
We would never do a hostel, but don’t like fancy either. Discovered that I have no wish to stay in a castle after visiting one in Ireland. So I guess middle of the road on accomodations. A comfortable bed is a must!
We prefer to walk too, my favorite way to get to know a town or city, plus we like the exercise. Not opposed to public transport or taxi if we are too tired though.
Also, very rarely do we shop. No interest in spending my time doing this. We are into experiences, not things.

Posted by
10242 posts

I wouldn't call it actually a splurge for me but I go Premium Economy at least for the International leg. Just really need the extra space even though I'm not tall.

I take public transport EXCEPT in some instances to/from the airport. The exception is London and I've got the National Express Coach from Heathrow to the hotel down as my easiest method. Paris? Always taxi to/from. I've never used an Uber or Lyft (laughable in my rural town) so don't see using them. I generally take transport to my furthest sightseeing spot of the day and then sightsee my way back to the hotel. Last summer in Edinburgh I was with my brother and SIL. SIL had fallen so we wound up taking a taxi a number of times. We loved the experience with the Black Cabs there - the cabbies were wonderful and talkative and so much fun. The only time we had the hotel call a cab it was a private car with a non-English speaking driver. Not near the experience as with the local guys.

I always go for the Paris Museum Pass, usually a 6-day one even if I am only going to use 5 days so I guess this is a splurge. So much easier and I can drop in to the smaller museums if I need a quick comfort stop. I have also found it encourages me to go to museums I might not normally pick. One year I went to the Picasso and Pompidou Museums in Paris. I'm not much of a fan of either BUT I had the pass and they were covered so I knew I could drop in for a short visit and leave if I was not engaged. I enjoyed both but don't need to go back.

Food? I'm vegan so just want to get food that works for me and don't care about fancy. "Fancy" vegan food is often pretty weird so I'll pass, hahaha!! So...my food expenditures are pretty low and I guess some would call this a skimp. I am happy in Paris with a 6E falafel pita from Maoz which makes me so full I might not want much dinner - well, maybe sorbetto from Amorino! When I'm with a friend we'll go to a cafe for a glass of wine before dinner but I don't do that much on my own.

Hotels? I go with the RS level of hotel. I may want AC depending on where and when but otherwise the only thing I really want is a 24 hour front desk and an en suite bathroom. I don't spend much time in the room, don't care much about breakfast, never turn on a TV.

I agree about special experiences - will pay for concerts or exhibits if they strike my fancy but do love my London Walks and Paris Walks which are so good for the price. A couple of times I've looked at taking a day tour with a birding guide. It hasn't worked out yet but I'd be willing to splurge on this with no problem.

editing to add: I'm not much of a shopper either. My Mom and Dad traveled a lot and brought back "stuff" from every trip starting in 1974. Cleaning out their house after they were gone was an eye-opener. What the heck do you do with all that stuff? It wasn't MY trip so had no meaning to me....altho it did to them. The local charity shop got some weird items.

Fun topic, Lane! Interesting to see what's important to some and not so much to others!

Posted by
5778 posts

Splurge: Extra legroom seats. The last time I didn't do this, I swore it was the last time! Nothing worse than arriving at your destination after 9 hours of pain because the person in front of you reclined seconds after take off and kept it that way for the entire flight! A hotel room with a view, if a view is available. Experiences that are not available elsewhere. Good communication/phone service while abroad. Luggage: I don't care about fashion or purses but I do love my luggage. Go figure, there is no reasonable explanation.
Scrimp: I plan carefully and far in advance looking for early bird discounts or lower rates. I don't pay for expensive meals and frequently picnic. I usually take public transport. I only to go to sights that actually interest me, not that someone tells me is "must see." I always save up for my trip in advance and don't pay more money than I have.

To be honest, I don't truly view travel in terms of "splurge and scrimp." All of travel is a bit of a splurge. It is a treat we allow ourselves. I try to look at things in terms of value. What is the value of the expense to me and my experience? Paying more for a view room gives me better value for the experience. Having a private guide for a day at Hadrian's wall gave incredible value to the entire 3 days spent there. I am looking for value over cost savings while keeping my budget carefully in mind.

Posted by
13227 posts

I do both, scrimp here so that I can spurge there on occasion.

Flying over Is the main area for scrimping, getting the dirt cheap fare price as low as possible in Basic Economy, aisle seat towards or in the rear, put up with the non-stop 10-11 hour flight from SFO or OAK to London, Paris, or Frankfurt, scrimp more by staying in a B&B in Kings Cross or the 2 star hotel in Paris Nord, take public transport from the airport to the train station.

I do blow the money on the Heathrow Express to Paddington, that's why given the choice I prefer landing at Gatwick, from which I get a direct shot by train to St Pancras.

On taking taxis...only for a compelling reason, eg, not feeling very well, No Uber...not an option. Just take public transport, hotels where I've stayed offer a combi-ticket valid for the duration of your stay on buses and subways, plus I walk a lot.

Where I do spurge in terms of a pattern is on food in restaurants but no beer tab, no desserts. I eat in train station eateries quite often on a trip, ,,,mainly depends on which station it is.

In London I take the B&Bs en suite, which means paying more, but not so in Germany, where I take the hotel/Pension room without the amenities, which obviously is cheaper. Staying in a hostel dorm room is still an option., depends on location, ie close to the train station, price, or other attractions. I don't pay extra for A/C. If the small hotel has it, fine. No AC..fine, I can live with that too, ...no need to pay extra for it.

I don't use private guides. I do take occasionally bus tours mainly to get the above seat, picture taking with the digital is more effective that way. I do splurge on guided tours where the only permitted way to see a place/chateau, etc is to sign up for the tour. No other way is allowed.

Posted by
1720 posts

Since I am still in the planning/booking stage of our May trip, parts of this may change after we get to Italy. Of course the Rick Steves' tour will not change except for the added excitement of actually being on the tour.
I have booked what appear to be nicer hotels, Hotel Due Torri in Rome and Rosa Salva Hotel in Venice, for our pre- and post-tour days so maybe those are a slight splurge. We have booked Walk of Italy tours and an Eating Italy tour, but I don't consider those a splurge, just a way to see the sites. Food I can't comment on since I don't know where we'll eat, but I am thinking of Cafe Florian for our last night in Venice before flying home the next day.
Since I haven't been to Europe in 26 years and my sister-in-law has never been, I'm not too worried about the cost, just have a wonderful time. To contradict that, we are flying economy to save a bit of money and overall we're fairly cost conscience in daily life.

Posted by
5778 posts

Horsewoofie, After what you went through last year, you deserve every possible splurge! Enjoy

Posted by
3789 posts

I travel economy, but pay for a seat in order to get a window so I can sleep. I have a $100 cdn a night apartment budget. If I have a special slightly more expensive one, I cut back on other locations. Public transport, occasional Uber for after dark arrivals. I am finding taxis are becoming more important with luggage week 3 of a trip that involves lots of walking and moving and a body that is always hurting.
I will pay for a private bird guide one day a trip. It is my only 'experince' . I will look to save on combination tickets or museum free days, but never limit the things I want to see. I don't spend a lot on meals, but will have maybe one higher priced local specialty meal (suckling pig in Segovia). I don't shop unless it counts towards Christmas presents.

Posted by
2762 posts

One more thing - not really a splurge but a priority worth spending a bit more money is LOCATION. I am fairly picky about the area of town I like to stay in. I like a great atmosphere for walking around right outside my hotel door. This doesn't always mean the most central or expensive area, but the one I find most pleasant. Sometimes that means the historic core of a city, sometimes it's a mainly local residential area a bit outside the popular zone, but I always aim to be somewhere I enjoy the immediate environment. I won't stay in a safe-but-dingy train station neighborhood even if it's a great place for a great price. I'll pay a little more or take a less nice apartment to be in the best location for me.

Posted by
2013 posts

Lane, good thread idea.

As for Mary and me, well, we've "evolved." When we were young we'd always choose the super basic economy options with everything; I mean, we really didn't have much money to splurge beyond getting getting to destinations, eating, sleeping, and paying for tourist sites.

Nowadays we still don't live "high on the hog" as grandpa would say, but we've upgraded to premium economy at times (unless we can get two window seats without a third seat in the row). We're also a bit more picky about the airline. For example we spent about $2800 from Washington to LHR round trip on Virgin for premium, while basic would be $1500 or so, so yeah for us that's splurging.

We do VRBO and save a lot of money there. No problem eating breakfast at an apartment and we love the extra room to unwind in the evenings after dinner. As for eating we aren't foodies, so fruit, salad, and sandwiches are fine. We do like a couple (or few) drinks in the evening so we'll splurge a bit on that. For our 8-night trip to London we will pay a total of $4700 that includes everything but some meals. If we flew basic economy it would be only $3000. (Adding all the costs it's probably closer to $5000, or $3300. I'm not a cheapskate but we aren't rich, either.)

We will do a RS Italy tour next year and would consider more, but the truth is we can take two trips on our own for one guided bus tour.

As for location we limit the transportation into the city center to about 30 minutes, and that's worked fine for us as we tour all day until returning to the apartment. We have stayed in city centers when we find a "deal."

Posted by
4125 posts

We tend to do well in the "luxury" suite (that's our "splurge") of an old, creaky budget hotel (our "scrimp").

These places are often family run and have great character, but staying in the presidential suit means for an extra 5 or 10 euros per night we have more space to spread out and relax.

It is often the sweet spot for us.

Posted by
446 posts

I will pay extra for premium economy, especially for the overnight trip to Europe. I don't expect to sleep, but those several extra inches of legroom makes a big difference. I try to get a hotel that includes breakfast or get an apartment and buy food for breakfast. I eat at mid-range places for lunch while out and often will stop in a grocery store for take-out to eat in the room to save a few dollars. I usually use a taxi just when I have luggage to deal with. I'll take the tram or train from the airport to the train station, then take a taxi from there. I'll take local buses some of the time. I buy only a few souvenirs and maybe one item that represents the place I'm staying, such as a small leather item in Florence. I drink the house wine or the local beer. This is a great thread, it's fun reading what others do.

Posted by
1806 posts

I splurge more if I'm traveling with someone vs. on my own. On my own, I'm usually fine with coach seat. I tend to use public transit or walk vs. taking Uber or taxi. On my own, I splurge on location for a hotel and want to stay as central as possible to where I'll likely spend most of my time and I'm not sleeping anywhere in the summer that doesn't have A/C - I paid my dues in my younger days staying in roasting hot hostel dorms or super cheap budget hotels or B&Bs, so I will splurge on A/C - but I can often find it in a typical Ibis budget business class hotel without having to spend a lot of money.

I don't do guided tours unless it's to get to somewhere I can't access without a car (I don't generally rent a car if I'm solo, but will rent one if traveling with someone else). I will splurge on some really nice dinners and I won't scrimp on cultural events or admissions to something I really want to see.

When I travel with my significant other, he's pretty economical for the most part, but he likes to splurge on a really comfortable hotel and going out to nice places for lunch & dinner. With my best friend, she spends money like there's no tomorrow, so when I travel with her I know my wallet is going to take a beating because she's all about flying business class, staying in luxury hotels or apartments, hiring a driver/guide and we eat and drink at some really nice places - but even I end up admitting that I had a really good time (at least until I see my credit card statement).

Posted by
1849 posts

We’re at the point where we are starting to realize that there are only so many more trips we’ll get to take. That doesn’t mean that we blow the budget wide open, but we don’t hesitate to spend on things that are important to us. We’d rather spend money on a history guide than food. Actually, it’s kind of fun to get breakfast and lunch food from a Tesco, Sainsbury, Carrefours, Monoprix or farmers market. We’re pretty good at navigating with local transportation and we like to walk. My husband is at the point where a hotel elevator is pretty important, although I can make the trek back to the room if he forgets something and there’s no elevator; AC is nice, but being in the heart of things is more important. One splurge is not taking a flight before 8:00a.m.!

Posted by
13227 posts

"...roasting hot hostel dorms...." Eloquent but very accurate descriptions of hostel dorms rooms in Germany when I was there in July and Aug 1971...yes, those were the days.

Posted by
5835 posts

We lived in Germany from 87-91 while I worked for the US Army. We didn't have the money we have today, so we scrimped a lot.

We stayed in modest (not ratty) hotels or B&Bs as well as Zimmer Frei (individuals would rent a bedroom in their home and include breakfast. We took overnight trains back then, to save a night in a hotel. We did most of our touring on our own with guidebooks (michelin green guide).

When bargains were there, we took bus or rail tours that were available through the US Army recreation office. We ate well, but rarely did expensive restaurants.

In retirement, we have more $$$ for travel and do cruises as well as land tours or even self planned tours on our own. One of our favorite trips was a 4 week drive tour of Wales and England, staying in B&Bs.

On cruises we compare different cruise lines for the best bargain and usually book a balcony, not a suite.

Fly coach and use credit cards to rack up flyer miles, so we fly free a lot.

We still avoid the five star hotel, since we are usually maximizing our time sight seeing, not laid up in a hotel.
However, we look for B&Bs or small hotels that are close to the city center, so we can walk to the sites. Since we have the internet, competition does keep the prices of lodging down, except in some cities.

Posted by
4811 posts

I'll splurge on business or first class for long haul flights (first only if it's that odd combination where first class is almost equal to or a couple of hundred or so more than business). I'm 6'3" and quite broad shouldered, those economy seats are too small for me and if someone reclines that's it, I can't move, I can't eat, I can't read or watch the IFE. I need the space that business or first offers however the bed is a godsend and the food and wine isn't too bad either. On intra European flights I'll stick with economy in an aisle seat so I can at least stretch one leg out plus pretty much all flights no longer have reclining seats.

We prefer multi room accommodation so that the kids have their room and the adults theirs. We like apartments or villas where there is a kitchen, a lounge area, at least two bedrooms and two bathrooms. When travelling with very young children who require early bedtimes, having proper living space makes it so much easier to put the kids to bed and not disturb them, this is why we often stay at rented properties rather than hotels. We purchased several Marriott timeshare weeks a few years ago on the resale market (saving £thousands from not buying direct from Marriott). They are two bedroomed villas in Estepona and Mallorca both in very nice resorts. Initial outlay excluded (which we believe we've now covered by what we've saved over the years) the price we pay, via maintenance fees, allows us to have several week stays at these fantastic properties at a fraction of what we'd pay for something similar particularly during the peak school holiday periods. As they have kitchens I tend to cook around half the meals we'll eat during our stay there so we save some money that way.

If travelling with friends we're not particularly fussed about accommodation. We're there to see the sights but more importantly, eat some fantastic food. It doesn't have to be an expensive splurge to be good. We recently ate some great food in Prague, Warsaw and Sofia which was relatively inexpensive.

I'm happy to take public transport but I'll just as happily take a taxi if it makes things a bit easier. Always rented a car in the US as public transport is generally poor there and the US is just geared towards cars.

Posted by
509 posts

Interesting topic!

I travel with my kids and husband, often with mom-in-law as well. We scrimp on the plane and fly with the cheapest airfare possible; we figure we’ll survive the few hours of being cramped.

We splurge on accommodations. My son is disabled and tires easily, so we spend more time in our rooms than other people might. So I look for comfortable apartments, enough space so we aren’t on top of each other, close to sights so we don’t waste time going back and forth, with a balcony and/or view so we enjoy where we are and don’t feel trapped. Elevator is mandatory. All of those requirements can get pricey.

On the other hand, since we’re in an apartment (still cheaper than hotel rooms for 5), we always eat breakfast there, and often have one other meal or happy hour at “home,” so we save a good bit vs eating in restaurants all the time.

When we eat out, we are looking for good-tasting food (we LOVE to eat!!), but this is often in our experience not the most expensive food. So although we don’t specifically try and save when eating out, I think we aim for relatively lower-cost restaurants because we often find them to have better food.

I’ll splurge on a private guide or special tour if it’s a sight that has a ton of history that we just wouldn’t “get” on our own. A good guide can make a pile of bricks come alive and tell you a few thousand years of stories.

I always save with advance transportation costs whenever possible. Our itinerary is booked ahead as far as accommodations go and I know when we’ll be traveling city to city, so discount fares with no changes allowed are a great way for us to save money.

But I try to keep our individual days as flexible as possible so we can “go with the flow.” I get stressed if our whole day is planned too far ahead; if we’re enjoying a place, we like to linger. So sometimes that means we are spending a little more to make last-minute daily plans.

And I will pay anything for private transport to and from the airport. I HATE arriving jet lagged with a pile of people and luggage in a place I don’t know and then trying to navigate to an apartment that is usually in the historic center with only unmarked alleys. I will cheerfully pay the nice driver anything it takes to get me there without any brain cells on my part.

Ditto for the return back to the airport at the end of the trip; too stressful worrying about if we’ll get there in time to catch the plane — why ruin my great mood at the end of a wonderful vacation?

Posted by
2013 posts

I get the taking a taxi to and from the airport to reduce stress, but thus far using public transportation has been easy for even for a dimwit like me. Well, except at CDG in Paris when there were LONG waits at the ticketing machines and the human ticket person line was ridiculous. Then at the machine I got confused and the guy helping people was stuck with someone else while I stood there like a doofus. Hmmm... taxi sounding better all the time.

Posted by
6543 posts

I scrimp on transportation - always fly coach (economy) even if a bit uncomfortable and rarely (almost never) take taxis or private cars; I scrimp on meals - I try to stay in apts if 3 nights or more and eat in, otherwise I eat on the run (picnics) or have a sit down meal at lunch when it's cheaper.

I splurge on sights, have never skipped a 'must see' sight because of cost since that's often the reason for the trip/destination in the first place. I have splurged on souvenirs at times - not kitschy stuff, but things I will actually use and enjoy at home - clothing, artwork, etc that remind me of my visit. I will occasionally splurge on a good wine to enjoy in my room.

I don't consider a comfortable lodging, whether hotel, b&b, apt or whatever a splurge. Luckily I don't need fancy, I don't need concierges, A/C, or elevators, so it's easy for me to find clean, safe, well located places at a reasonable cost.

Posted by
11983 posts

Scrimp on flights. My last four round trips have averaged just over $500. I choose to fly steerage because you get there at the same time and it's hard to justify spending half the cost of the trip in less than one day (which is what it would be for me) - especially when you're still crammed into the same cold, loud, aluminum alloy tube as those who paid steerage. If I had a severe medical need, I might pay thousands for the flight (notice, even then it's "might").

Scrimp on lodging. My last five trips (four solo, one with my ex). I rarely spent more than 50 euro on lodging, many times much less (camping was less than 20 and hostels were a little more). I want clean and quiet; a place to sleep and shower in the morning. If there's a comfortable bed and hot water, it's five star in my book. I don't care if it's a hostel, hostal, Airbnb or if the bathroom is down the hall. Like Mira, I do care about location. Any amenity is a waste of money for me because I wouldn't have time to use it. I don't need a restaurant or bar onsite because I'd rather go out. A concierge? I can go to the TI. Valet parking or someone to carry my luggage? I'm likely walking in carrying a small (12 lbs or under) shoulder bag only. I rented a surprisingly large apartment for five nights walking distance from Notre Dame for around 65 euro per night (in early October). The catch was no AC, 6 flights of stairs and it overlooked a noisy (in the day) elementary school; I'm good with that.

Sort of scrimp on food. I've paid for too many not good restaurant meals. I wished I'd just gone to a Gyro shop on the corner. Cheap food is at the grocery store, even if you aren't cooking. My rule is to eat local rather than eat fancy. I'll eat at cafes when there is a decent fixed price menu (and it looks like a good place). Other than that meals come from street side take out, grocery stores, bakeries, etc. (but no McDonald's or Starbucks).

Scrimp on shopping. If you need to save money, don't worry about bringing everyone you know a gift. I rarely shop for anything other than food. I don't buy gifts or souvenirs but I will replace something needed or visit a pharmacy.

Scrimp on transportation. I have taken a taxi but it's rare. Generally in cities I use public transportation or walk. Between cities is by train (flight if the train is more than two or three hours). In rural areas without easy transportation choices, I'll rent an economy car with manual transmission and ask locals for the cheapest gas options. I plan the trip not to have a rental car when I don't need it.

Don't scrimp on sights. You're here, see what you want to see. Years ago, I would hem and haw about paying admission for sights I wanted to see but wasn't sure if they were worth it. Now I don't scrimp on sights; I decided I missed not seeing the sights more than I would miss the money in the long run. The cost to get here means this may be your one shot at seeing a sight. If you sort of want to do it, go ahead. An example is the gondola/cable car rides in Chamonix are more than 100 euros. It's a once in a lifetime thing, however, so if you're interested, do it. Guided tours, private guides are similar. I don't hire guides often but have in certain circumstances. In St. Petersburg, I considered $300 for two days with a private tour guide, driver, van and small group (admissions included) the best way to see the city.

Add it all up and I average between $2,500 and $3,000 traveling solo for 19 nights. For two, lodging goes up only slightly, food and sights are essentially double, transportation is the same in a rental car - double on plane, train or metro. If you travel like I do, you'd probably spend $5,000 for two people for almost three weeks. I'll spend more if I need to, but only if needed.

Posted by
3689 posts

We usually fly premium economy (or whatever they are calling it this week) for the extra leg room and advanced boarding. On occasion we "splurge" for a car service. The convenience of having a driver meet us in the terminal when we are sleepy, jet lagged, and perhaps on unfamiliar turf is well worth the cost. On the other hand, we often enjoy a large lunch and a smaller dinner to keep cost lower.

Posted by
6990 posts

When I was younger, I would scrimp while traveling, eating from grocery stores and markets, walking everywhere, cheap B&Bs, and mostly free attractions. But I've given that up with age (and marriage) and scrimp at home to afford a higher level of travel overseas. I am not a foodie, but will now appreciate restaurants that are convenient to where we are ( prime criterion for RS) and enjoy a meal. The RS tours hit my comfort zone these days, and some people might consider that to be a splurge, but I think people need to consider time and efficiency as important as money.

Posted by
2916 posts

Scrimp --
Always fly coach
Almost never take a taxi
Prefer to rent gites by the week (in France)
When not renting a gite, we generally stay in B&Bs, small hotels, or AirBnBs
Cook most dinners when staying at a gite (this is only partially a scrimp; it's also a way to eat local foods that otherwise might be difficult to get

Splurge (although these are not all really splurges per se) --
Foie gras
Wine (although only a splurge compared to getting everyday simple wine; no high-end Bordeaux or Burgundy)
Cheese (again, not really a splurge, but we'll pay whatever it costs to get really good local cheese)

Posted by
13227 posts

The Michelin Green Guide on Germany (west) in the mid-1980s provided good, comprehensive information. If it had not been for that source, I would not have known about Rastatt near Karlsruhe; based on that I did the day trip there in 1989.

B&Bs in London are relatively cheap places to stay, the option I've always used, although hostels and university dorms are still cheaper but for privacy the B&B is the way to go. You can expect two characteristics of a B&B....no elevator and no AC.

Posted by
1272 posts

Scrimp, fly economy since the price difference is usually too great between premium economy and the regular economy. Unfortunately, there’s almost no business travel at my company for people at my level and if there is, it’s always Southwest so no chance to rack up miles that way.

Scrimp, kind of. If the hotel has a breakfast, I’ll usually take it there for convenience, it’ll really depend on where I am. The charming local café might win out, but many mornings I just want something to eat, coffee, and some time to plan my day, check weather, check social media, and wake up. But, it depends on the plans for the day, if I think I’m eating a substantial lunch and dinner that day, I’ll just skip breakfast or grab a banana.

I splurge on a few nice meals every trip when I’m with friends. Most of the other time, I prefer pubs, Pret, M&S, or the equivalent.

I definitely splurge on alcohol. My trips are usually in May, so that’s right after Lent most years. Sampling the beer, wine, and spirits is absolutely essential for me.

To scrimp, I look to see if the musuem has an app, many of them have an audio guide included for free! I have a serious interest in art, so an audio guide for any art museum is a must.

I splurge by checking a bag. Not going to reignite the carry on vs checked bag wars, but having a reasonably packed bag is worth it to me, nothing better than a shower and a change of clothes before heading out for the night for dinner, drinks, and a concert or show.

I scrimp by looking for the Ibis/Premier Inn or other local equivalent. And, guess what? They’re great places to meet other Europeans, as that’s what they use. I’ll sometimes have a nightcap at the hotel bar and I’ve met some great people there from all over Europe and the occasional traveler from other parts of the world. I do smile a bit when I read trip reports from people who go to the hotel with local charm and only find other Rick Steves reading Americans there.

My souvenirs tend to be museum books and they get read. Sure, I’ll grab a few things for my five year old nephew. He’s impressed his kindergarten class with his knowledge of European geography. Form my other friends, it’s mainly inexpensive magnets or beer coasters, although I’ll occasionally buy a pack of cigarettes for my friend that smokes. But, I make sure everything I buy will definitely get used or else is very inexpensive.

Posted by
1978 posts

I'm more on the scrimp team, though I still want a comfortable holiday.
I look for ages for the best priced airfare, then snap it up.
I will only book airfares with up to one change of flight though, and I try to find the flight that is the cheapest but with the least amount of travel time.
I look for rental apartments for months beforehand, and bookmark all the ones I like the look of.
It doesn't have to be fancy at all, just have good reviews and be clean.
I would rather spend my money on museums, galleries and local transport than dinners out.
As I'm often travelling alone, I might eat a modest restaurant lunch, but eat dinner and breakfast in my apartment.
I love the grocery stores in Europe!
I don't take cabs, unless there is no other easy way from the airport to where I'm staying.
I love to shop while I'm away, so I guess that's where I splurge!
Oh, and I've never travelled with a carry on only, as where would I put all my shopping?! ;)
Interesting to hear everyone's opinions.

Posted by
10242 posts

Sorry to post again but I realized my actual big splurge is taking Rick's tours. Of course I could do it on my own to save money but the experience they provide is worth spending the extra money for me! Ditto Road Scholar programs as well.

Posted by
10292 posts

Like Patty, we are aware that there are only so many trips left. When we were in our 40s and 50s, we spent less, worried about the budget more. We are not complete spendthrifts and far from luxury travelers but our standards have gone up

from “make do” accommodations to desiring better apartments.

So we spend more now on

  • Lodging, insisting on A/C even in shoulder season, elevator if more than one flight up, dishwasher because I am tired of inefficient Italian kitchens, and a clothes washer. Still, we averaged (last fall) a reasonable $148 per night including some nice stays in Switzerland because we travel off-season.
  • Airfare. Last year we decided anything landing on the east coast was too exhausting. We want to get over water from the west coast, and to do that we have a very long flight, so will splurge (big time) on business class.
  • Longer trips, 5 to 8 weeks
  • Guided tours where they really matter to us. This year, the Route di Vin in Alsace, D-Day Beaches, and the Magical Mystery Tour in Liverpool.
  • Occasional nicer dinners, wine every day.
  • Travel guide books! Never enough!

Skimp:

  • Cooking many meals, all breakfasts and at least half of lunches and dinners when we have apartments. Last year we averaged only $97 per day over 7 weeks and had several splurge dinners, too.
  • Never rent a car (almost never as this year we will for 3 days). We take buses, Metro, and love love love European trains! Taxis probably three or four times in a long trip and only for transportation to or from a train station when we have luggage and especially in a new-to-us city.
  • Use Rick’s self-guided tours where they exist or other good self-tour guides.
  • Walking. We love to take hikes, both urban city-tours and mountain-country tours, on our own. Other than meals, most of our days have few expenditures as we’ve so many of the museums and churches. But we never hesitate to pay a fee for something we really want to see.
  • Pre-trip purchases. Inevitably we refresh our wardrobes and take care that each item is perfect since our packing selections have to sustain us for many weeks, but we take great joy in finding sales and off-season specials to keep that expense in line.
Posted by
4684 posts

Scrimp:
Rarely take taxis, although this is partly because I'm a bit of an urban transportation geek.
Never use first class on trains - not worth it.
Avoid overpriced hotel breakfasts.
Try to avoid spending more than 100 euros per night in accomodation.

Splurge:
Good quality food and drink.
High-priced attractions if they're worth it (eg not Madame Tussauds)
Sometimes spend quite a bit on transport for longer day trips.

Posted by
3493 posts

I'm curious about not just what people scrimp and splurge on, but why.

Scrimp:

I eschew taxis as often public transport is not only quicker, it's less expensive and more comfortable. Yes, with my back, it's better to travel by rail than sit in the backseat of a small car. I do this at home as well as at overseas.

If breakfast is not included, I usually pick up a yoghurt, fresh fruit and maybe a roll or pastry for breakfast at the local supermarket. For lunch, I get a sandwich or make a picnic from the local market as well.

I'll plan my hotels as soon as I get the approval at my office to travel. I will cash in my HH points, look at special HH deals, and look for B&Bs in small towns using a third party website like booking.com but then contact the property directly to get a better deal.

I travel in the offseason like I'm going to England and Wales in two weeks. Airfares are much less expensive than traveling May - September. The North American tourist crowds are also small if any.

Slurge:

Dinner. I'll eat the first two meals as inexpensively as I can so I can enjoy a glass of wine with dinner and have a lovely meal in which I can enjoy the specialities of the region.

Experiences. I'm a fan of experiential travel so I'll splurge on theatre tickets, the opera, and tennis events like the French Open and the Masters series. We too a horseback riding tour of the Caldera in Santorni. We've also taken an early morning hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. The best souvenirs are the memories from these experiences and thus worth the splurge!

Posted by
238 posts

What a fun topic, Lane!

Part of the scrimp versus splurge for me depends with whom I travel. Mom or spouse usually are more high maintenance, so with them, the hotel will be more of a splurge. If it's just me, then a basic, no-frills hotel is fine -- I really have enjoyed the Motel One in Germany and Vienna. Small but very comfortable rooms. A/C is pretty important in the summers (learned that the hard way with some sleepless nights). I'll usually take the optional breakfast buffet as it fills me up for the day's activities. Plus, it's just easier than having to figure out where to eat unless there is a favorite spot I have discovered nearby.

I'm not much of a foodie at all. So if I'm solo, then I usually eat a picnic on the go or from a grocery store / deli. If there is a nice museum cafe, I may eat there especially if I am just taking a break and want to explore more of the museum. If I'm with others, then I savor the experience more than the food.

My big splurge these days is the airfare. If I have a limited amount of time (say 10 days) in Europe, then a biz class ticket can be worth it, just to be able to sleep on the way over. I arrive rested and not wasting time fighting jet-lag. I try to find a good deal, with at most one connection and a relatively short duration. Not really a bargain if it takes 30 hours and multiple stops to get there. If I'm flying or taking the train intra-Europe, then economy is just fine. I explored flying economy plus on the return to the States, but airlines don't usually let you break up the fare that way, and purchasing 2 one-way tickets isn't economical when I have searched.

And finally, as others have mentioned, I'll splurge for the experiences of opera tickets, theater, and sites. That's the reason we are there, right? I also like to bring home souvenir books from museum shops. I also like to get things I might use daily that remind me of the trip such as shopping bags or postcards (that I use as bookmarks).

Posted by
143 posts

Scrimps:

Flights with basic economy; we don't even pay for the seat selection, because with 2 young kids with us, they always seat one kid with one adult at least. Tickets, especially to Europe never cost us more than 500$ per person. We look for the cheapest dates and then ask for the time off work. But every 3 years we fly business class with our air miles points.

Food: street food, supermarket food; once in a while a nice meal. Often we only get appetizer/drinks or deserts in the nice place with the magnificent views so we can still experience luxury.

Shopping: I hate shopping. so that takes care of that.

Splurge:

Experiences, tours, unique opportunities. Hotels we alternate, very basic to very luxurious, we like extremes, what can I say, it makes life more interesting.

Transitions: with two young kids we splurge for making sure that transfer from point A to point B is as seamless as possible: for example have a driver in Naples airport to take us to Ravello, not use public transport.

Posted by
13227 posts

Where I stay the hostel, hotel or Pension offers breakfast, included or extra. If it's too much I decide on the day to scrimp by eating in the train station. In terms of meals if I decide to picnic, it is going to be at dinner. Usually where I stay too grocery stores are around, more often more than one.

In Germany I scrimp too by choosing non-en suite rooms when offered such a choice. No question on the AC, which is not a necessity, since these small hotels and Pensionen don't have it anyway.

In history museums I scrimp also by never renting an audio-guide.

Posted by
2013 posts

I wonder how people's scrimp and splurge evolve over the years. We used to scrimp on everything at one time because that's all we could afford, but now with a little extra money we've gotten a little more, um, selective. Now we're considering a taxi or two, like on returning to LHR on departure day, simply to lighten the stress without much extra expense, really.

Posted by
3332 posts

@ Todd my husband's normal mode of travel for us is business(upgrade with miles) on the way over and premium economy on the way back. We usually fly Virgin to Heathrow and then connect to wherever. I don't know it he's better able to split the ticket this way because he's Delta platinum, but splitting the ticket doesn't seem to be a problem for him and I don't think it's two one-way tickets.

Traveling carryon only really improves your ability to take cheap public transportation-and if it's a backpack-stairs are less of a problem. And I also love European grocery stores-when my daughter is traveling with me, she prefers M&S sandwiches to eating out.

Posted by
4507 posts

*I never scrimp on admission to sights, but I do research passes. The Paris Museum Pass is a great option. We rarely do tours or private guides but do research quite a bit to understand logistics and to get history and background of the sight.
*I rarely use transportation other than public or walking. That said, with multiple people, some thought into various options is merited. For example, in Toledo, Spain, we just wanted to see the view across the river. We looked at two different bus options and then checked with a taxi and found that option to be cheapest and most convenient. We find public transportation usually cheaper, often faster and more fun than sitting in a taxi. We rent a car when we need to and it makes sense. Our preference between cities would always be train (or bus when applicable)
*I very rarely will scrimp by using a hotel/inn that is not centrally located to my sights. Typically, I don't really care about amenities. I'd like a comfortable bed, AC and clean bathroom. I don't care if its "dated". That said, we've occasionally, "splurged" on accommodations when we thought it would enhance the experience in the location--a chateau in Loire (which actually turned out to be cost effective) and a lovely BnB in Honfleur. Often, our choices do not feel like a "scrimp" because we find places with friendly people and local charm. If I can't find a place that I find "reasonable", I like the Ibis chain. They are very clean with great staff, but I prefer a more local, independent place when possible. I do more research than looking at booking.com. Just recently on a trip to get my parents south for a month, I found it cheaper to book directly with the hotel than booking.com and I had to book directly anyway because of their pet.
*Some people might call it scrimping, but we will use shops/grocery stores for breakfast (if not hotel provided) and lunch. We actually love the picnicking and it can also save time for sightseeing over spending time in a cafe. But, if the experience of sitting in a cafe mid day is desired, we will do that. We typically will not pay extra for a hotel breakfast, and fairly frequently have received "free" breakfast by mentioning RS when booking thru the hotel website. We typically prefer bistros and local styles of eating over fancy/gourmet restaurants, but again, sometimes a meal at a Michelin or similar type place, just really seems to be the thing to do. We always will enjoy wine or cocktails (Gin in Spain!)
*I hate shopping at home and when traveling. I tend to bring home a few bottles of wine or food items like olive oil, cheese, spices, etc. Occasionally, I'll look at pottery, and I do fairly often purchase a museum/site guide with info and pictures.
*I sure would love to fly 1st or executive class, but its hard to justify the price. It makes more sense, for us, especially now that my husband will be retired, to fly on the cheap and add another day on the front end for "recovery", though we are actually pretty able to sleep on the plane and "power through" the first day.

Posted by
86 posts

We usually fly economy and once and a while premium economy if the flight is a really long one. We prefer taking public transportation, but now that I have to use a small scooter we are forced to take taxis in some places. We usually take the train and only rent a car for places that are hard to reach or have sporadic bus service (Provence, Tuscany, Yorkshire, etc.)

We've determined we're view sluts and if we can get a room with a view, especially a water view, we will pay extra, but generally we stay in small family run hotels, B&Bs or AirBnBs. We usually have supplies in our room/apartment for breakfast unless its included, we'll eat out at lunch and then shop at local grocery stores or farmer's markets. Love the markets in France!

We have splurged on show tickets, and one or two guided tours, but for the most part we just travel like we live. Depending on the airport we may or may not take a taxi to the airport.

Posted by
2013 posts

Flying basic economy vs premium economy vs business class is dependent on a variety of factors. For example we watched Virgin carefully for about a year until we snagged $2700 premium economy tickets for two in late May/early June, Washington to London. Now the price is more like $3600, and business class nearly $10,000, which for us is crazy. If the flight is 3 hours or less, then basic economy is fine.

A friend flies premium when it's just he and the wife, but when they take the family of 5 it's definitely basic economy.

Also, if you're big and or tall, it might be torture to fly basic economy on an overseas flight.

Posted by
3493 posts

Big Mike, when you say "Basic Economy", do you actually mean that specifically named class as opposed to regular economy?

Posted by
2013 posts

Continental, some airlines have basic economy, although it goes under different names, which seems to be like regular or "delight" whatever economy regarding seat width and pitch, but basic doesn't include luggage or seat selection; maybe meals or things of that nature.

Anyway, on a recent search of googleflights.com, I noticed some airlines had a basic economy, regular economy, economy delight, and then premium economy.

Posted by
3493 posts

The only "delight" I've seen is on Virgin and I thought it was advertised as a more expensive part of economy offering more pitch and things like that.

I'm not a basic economy customer at all. That product to me is akin to any of Dante's 9 circles of hell. LOL

Posted by
1211 posts

Splurge: International travel!

Scrimp: Everything else!

In all seriousness, we are middle-aged with three kids, the first of which will start college in two years! Our priorities are retirement and college savings. Travel happens because we scrimp (and because we are lucky to have a good income, and choose to live somewhere affordable). We follow Jules in our approach, and add to hers that we drive a long way to whatever airport is cheap any given summer.
And yes, once we get these kids through college, and if we get enough in the retirement savings, we may someday get to fly, gasp, premium economy :chuckle:

Posted by
2013 posts

It seems you have to upgrade to premium economy to get significant extra width and pitch, and there are other benefits as well, but for me the extra room is all that matters. I could care less about champagne and meals on china and that sort of thing.

I still smile when I read the term, economy "delight." Just sounds funny to me.

On another note I have a colleague who likes the top-of-the-line option at Sandals Resorts. To me it's crazy expensive but that's his thing. He and his wife live a very frugal existence for months at a time so they can afford the luxury. To each his own.

Posted by
2013 posts

Our last kid is finally married and on her own. For the first time we have (a little more) money!

Be careful, Jessica. Once you fly premium economy you might never want to go back to steerage.

Posted by
2933 posts

As I become older my standards have gone up...slightly. Conditions: comfortable flights & mattress. I hate to be tired for lack of sleep. I think it is a sure way to get sick on vacation...being tired.
1. Splurge: Transport Hotel: I almost always take the day flight to London. East coast, short flight. Economy only. I do reserve my seat at the front of coach so I don't have to wait for all the people with their suitcases to get off the plane. At Heathrow I spend the night at the Sofitel (this is the splurge part). I have a wonderful room service meal and sleep. Then late morning I continue on the same airline to my destination, continually well rested.

2. Splurge: Mattress (And, of course, splurging is relative.) Mattresses are my key to the best hotel for me. This usually means 3 stars, sometimes 2 stars. Many of the hotels at this level have excellent mattresses to make up for the lack of amenities. I study the photographs and the reviews to determine this the best I can. Otherwise, my only requirement is walkable to somewhere I want to go and near public transportation.
3. Scrimp: Food. Good food does not have to mean fancy restaurant. Another 2-3 star hotel buildup is breakfast. I like breakfast when it is making up for lack of whatever, elevator, en suite, etc. not when it is added to bring up the cost of the room; i.e., food costs more than across the street. I enjoy having breakfast and returning back to my room before leaving the hotel for the day. The scrimp side is that if I have a nice breakfast with protein, then I don't really need or want to eat much the rest of the day. If I eat and sit, it is because I'm tired or there isn't an interesting park to rest in.
4. Splurge: Night trains. Private compartment. Love them.
OK, so I guess I don't really think there is too much scrimping when I am somewhere else in the world, but my tastes are not extravagant. If I'm there, cost will not keep me out of sights or the opera or symphony, etc. I'm not one to spend much on things at home or when traveling.

Posted by
13227 posts

Basically, it's all a matter of trade-offs, what one considers worth it as it pertains to scrimping and splurging. I will splurge at least once, twice on a 4 star hotel, depending on its rate for a single in Germany, if it need be, especially, depending on location.

Scrimping is saved for the flight, I let "them" at check-in to give me an upgrade, otherwise it's a rear aisle seat in Basic Economy, in that sardine seat.

Posted by
3493 posts

Economy Vertical PLUS! I hope those listening were commuting by public transport instead of driving!!

Posted by
11983 posts

Why? My philosophy could be boiled down to "Save money where you can so you can spend it where you want."

That doesn't just apply to travel. I'll be 60 next month and eyeing retirement. These days if I see a nice car, for example, my thought is, "That's a great car, but I'd rather retire."

Posted by
148 posts

I am very, very fortunate that my husband travels for work and gets to keep all of his miles and points. Since he doesn't love to travel outside of work, those come to me and I take it as a challenge.

How awesome can my trip be for what incredibly low cost? So even with the points and miles, I am pretty strategic to maximize their value. My most recent airfare booking is for August 2019 - R/T, nonstop to AMS in Delta One for 128k miles and $52. I could have gone to London or Paris but AMS offered the lowest fees. Generally speaking, I'll spend miles to go 1st class on the way over and Comfort Plus on the way home. This AMS flight was a sale and had to be booked same class roundtrip.

I'll have 9 nights during this trip. Again, I'm just really thoughtful about measuring out the spend/reward of location and points needed. I do splurge in London by choosing to stay in Mayfair. I've booked 8 of the upcoming nights using hotel points and will take one overnight train on the ninth night. Speaking of trains, I go first class. I've saved enough on airfare and hotel, I don't mind paying more to ensure comfort. Even with that, I go first class as economically as I can.

I'm not overly fussy about food and will often get by on $15/day or less for meals. If there's a restaurant that intrigues me, I'll spend the money for the experience. I'll pay to go to classes, theatre, etc. - those are memory makers for me. I don't overdo the souvenir shopping but have developed a habit of picking up nativity sets wherever I go. I have a really fun little collection going and some of my favorites are the sweet little single figurine scenes that cost less than $10.

Posted by
13227 posts

With Economy Vertical, no need for standing. There is a choice. I'll sit on the floor instead just as I've seen passengers on ICE trains sitting on the floor on multi-hour day train rides.

Posted by
6543 posts

With Economy Vertical, no need for standing. There is a choice. I'll sit on the floor instead just as I've seen passengers on ICE trains sitting on the floor on multi-hour day train rides.

Nope

economy vertical

Posted by
681 posts

The older I get the more I just plan a vacation and go. I use to keep a really tight budget but then some experiences would turn up (ex. an up close and personal experience with bears in Alaska, tour of Paris at night with just hubby and me). We fly economy (much to my husband's chagrin). I just can't spend that much money for a flight. I don't like to eat all my meals out in sit down restaurants. It takes too much time as well as money. We stay in airbnb's so we will eat breakfast in and either eat lunch or dinner out. I will spend money on experiences, such as concerts, museums, wine tastings. In two years, we will be completely retired and it will be interesting to see how our travel changes. I can't imagine giving up and will probably have to think about how we can manage our love of travel on a fixed income.

Posted by
13227 posts

In that case I shall stand, if the flight is under 4 hours...if I stood for the opera 30-40 years ago, then I can on a flight.

Posted by
2013 posts

I'll add that if you're travelling as a couple, the 2-4-2 airplane configuration is better than 3-4-3.

Those two aisle seats are great without a third person sharing it with you.

Anyway, I have no doubt the airlines will come up with a new spartan basic economy seat.