Let me tell you a story. On a dark evening in Copenhagen, a woman exited a Michelin-starred restaurant called 108 with two friends. They’d just had a great conversation over Spanish wine and world-class food in one of the best restaurants in the city. After bidding them goodbye, she walked back to her accommodation, over a mile away, in the rain. Upon reaching her room, she climbed a ladder into her bed and fell promptly asleep…
Until her hostel roommates’ snoring woke her up.
It seems almost oxymoronic, right? It doesn’t make a ton of sense to eat at one of the most expensive restaurants in Copenhagen while staying in one of the cheapest dorm rooms…or does it?
In my early days of traveling, I might have looked at myself and scoffed. Now, I know exactly why I chose to spend more than the price of a one-night’s stay on a meal. Before you click away, shaking your head, let me explain my reasoning:
Travel is About Tradeoffs
If you had $100, what would you spend it on? Clothes? Booze? A cheap flight? No matter how you’d indulge with your $100, you have to make that choice consciously. If you go out for a nice dinner, for example, you probably can’t also buy a new pair of running shoes.
The point here is that, like most travelers, you probably have a finite amount of money (and time) that you can spend on a trip. What you do with it is entirely up to you.
So, when I went to Copenhagen, I was curious about trying some of the world-class food in the city. I knew it would come with a high price, but it was an experience within my means, so I tried it since I’d saved money by finding a cheap flight and staying in a hostel.
This can swing in the other direction, too. For example, on a trip to Peru, I spent $100 on a boutique hotel in Cusco (a lot of money for Peru), but ate exclusively in small, family-owned hole-in-the-wall restaurants while I was staying there. Why? Because the hotel I stayed at was one of the cutest I’d ever seen, and the price was still within my budget.
The bottom line? The world is your oyster (within your budgetary means!).
Prioritize What’s Important to You
If you take the Peru example, you’ll see that I prioritized staying in a cute, unique hotel over eating at fancy restaurants. This was because I knew I could find some amazing Peruvian food at the smaller, local restaurants that was quite different than the food back in the US. Dining wasn’t one of the most important things on my list for Peru, so I was happy to explore some of the small restaurants and street food in favor of a nice hotel. The reason why I decided to splurge on the hotel in this case was because it was a really unique, hand-painted, artistic place that I knew I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in the world. I’d also just come back from trekking for 4 days on the Salkantay trail and wanted a comfortable place to rest and recover.
Save On What’s Less Important
The other side of this is being more frugal on the things that don’t matter. On the Copenhagen trip, I flew economy on a budget airline that didn’t allow any carry-on luggage. I stayed at a hostel, one of the cheapest options in the city. I primarily explored the city through free activities, and I walked everywhere (over 22 miles in a single weekend!). I didn’t party at all. So, when it came time to pay the bill at 108, I didn’t flinch. I’d made choices to save money in other areas so that I could have this experience.
For me, it’s all about putting money where it matters and cutting it where it doesn’t. I didn’t care as much about comfort on this trip because I knew I’d spend a lot more money on eating and activities.
Forget the Haters
If you do things like eating at expensive restaurants while staying with other backpackers, they will inevitably judge. But hey, I’ve also been judged at hostels for not having a backpack, for requesting the bottom bunk, and for not going out to party. People are inevitably going to be confused about your choices, but who cares? It’s your life.
Live A Little
When you’re in a new place, there are going to be things that you want to do that cost a lot of money. Don’t be afraid to spend a little more to get the experience that you want! After all, you may not get another chance to explore that exact same city again. I’m always in favor of spending the money on things that are extremely important to me and saving money elsewhere. If you constantly fret about how much things cost, especially in expensive areas like Scandinavia, you’ll end up missing out. So leave a bit of “cushion” budget for those little splurges, decide what you can cut down on, and make the most of your trip.
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What are your main priorities when you travel? How do you balance them with saving money elsewhere? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!