On not being a budget traveler

I used to care more about being a budget traveler. Now I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not, which leaves me with mixed feelings:

First, I don’t care as much about being low-budget for cred. There’s a subset of traveler who will gleefully tell you of the best bargain they ever got. (Mine might be staying at The Bunker in Verbier, Switzerland for like 10 francs a night, or maybe the $3 sleeper class overnight train across India) These travelers will also look down on you for spending any more than you absolutely have to. (“That place was good. Expensive, though,” about a ¥25 ($4) lunch stop.) I was once excited to find a place in Dharamsala where I could eat some crummy rice and dal for $0.60, as opposed to the usual $2 I’d spend on a nice meal. This is kinda masturbatory, don’t you think? Does that extra $1.40 you saved on lunch really matter?

Maybe that $1.40 does matter. Am I erasing the experience of the actually-just-scraping-by travelers by assuming they’ve all got a stash of money here or there? I assume that if you can afford a $1400 plane ticket, you can afford an extra $1.40, but that’s not always true. I’m kind of inspired by folks who don’t have a fallback plan or a stash of money, or the folks who work-travel-work-travel, and I’d hate to snob on them.

… unless they’re imposing terribly on local people. One nice thing about traveling with some money is I can assume I’m not imposing on folks, whether it’s couchsurfing hosts or hitchhikees or the Amritsar Golden Temple cooks. I’m loath to travel retailwise and just graze the surface, but I’m even more loath to cause trouble or discomfort for anyone.

… but that implies that the hitchhikers and couchsurfers are causing trouble for their hosts. As a former CS host myself, I can tell you that is 85% false. It was a little trouble, but way more fun and interesting. Often budget travel leads both traveler and host to a more interesting and fulfilling time than if you took a plane, booked a hotel, and ate at a restaurant.

To make this more fulfilling experience is really hard, though, and the difficulty increases the more different you are. Couchsurfing was fun, but I’ve only interacted with a few non-US/Canada/Europeans on it; it’s hard to say I’ve been really opening my horizons. It’s difficult to have fully equal relationships, especially short term, if your countries are radically different. And maybe I don’t have the mental energy to keep talking with CS hosts and hitchhikees; I need to be able to retreat into my shell sometimes.

Hmm. Like I said, a bit conflicted. I hate being a yuppie and hate being a freeloader. (Plus I like some creature comforts.) This is most likely the kind of thing I should just ignore, but also hey I guess I record feelings on my blog, so here you go.

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