Save or splurge on vacation? What to do cheap and when to spend big to make the most of your travels – stuff | Gmx Pharm

Josh Martin is a Kiwi journalist based in London.

OPINION: Despite the plethora of blogs and books devoted to both the highs of luxury travel and the lows of budget backpacking, most of us fall right in the middle.

Sorry, you’re a solid three stars, just like me, if all you have to do is use statutory annual leave and burn through the average bank balance.

So the trick is knowing when to splurge on five-star luxury and when to grit your teeth and skimp.

* Traveling on a budget: 12 things not worth spending money on
* 10 tips for planning the perfect stay

Much of this is subjective, you’re usually the best judge of what brings excitement, ease or comfort to a trip: but are there any rules to live by?

Save on

Business class vs. five star hotels

Oh to have both, right? Out of sheer complacency, it’s hard to turn left to the pointy end of the plane or take the elevator all the way to the penthouse suite. But given value? That’s more controversial.

Business class tickets are a luxury; The food, service and bed are just better than beef class. But that 200-300% bounty, often equivalent to thousands of dollars for a long-haul flight, goes much further and longer when you’re on solid ground.

Michelin-starred restaurants, infinity pools, shopping sprees, overwater villas, California king-size beds, yacht charters, ski chalets, and private helicopter tours could all make up for your lack of reclining at 32,000 feet — and will better relieve your jet lag.

Even in economy class…

Some airlines have achieved near-cult brand loyalty (“but the Tier Points and airline miles!”), but for flights under two to three hours, it’s best to think of them as a flying bus. Go brand neutral. Just get me from A to B, please, in a reasonable time with minimal hassle – and minimal additional fees. Checked baggage, priority boarding, seat selection, meals, and even inflight movies bring little but cost more. Know of a great alternative that in many cases comes with less hassle and sneaky fees? Trains.

hotel breakfast

Is it really free? no Is it one of the biggest premiums in the hotel? Yes. Are you only subsidizing the buffet abusers if you’re not overindulging too? Yes. Instead, just go to your room, explore local cafes, street food spots, and restaurants, and continue your itinerary in a less bloated way.


Bulky, tacky, fairly useless, rarely made locally, and very much forgotten by almost everyone who receives them. You weren’t there and your key ring, t-shirt or jewelry will do little to ease the envy. Avoid.


I have a friend from London who, despite living in one of the most well-connected cities in the world, wastes hundreds of pounds a month cruising around the city in Ubers, Bolts or black cabs. Please don’t be like him. Aside from being jet-lagged at a poorly connected airport or at a very cheap destination, there is a better way to experience a city through its pathways and public transport.


In direct contradiction to the advice on taxis above and guided tours below, this one stands: One of the biggest travel ripoffs is the transfer-dressed-as-guide tour that often lurks on sites like Viator. It’s a hefty fee for a day or half-day shuttle or bus to two or three attractions (sometimes even a 10-minute stop at a roadside lookout counts), entrance fees not included, a very simple Wikipedia-like blurb broken out by the driver English and no lunch. Or have an extra lunch in a brightly themed restaurant. Your best bet is to get quotes on trains, taxis, Uber or proper travel guides that offer either better prices or better service, not this transfer service which is the worst of both worlds.

It makes sense to splurge on bucket-list experiences like safaris.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

It makes sense to splurge on bucket-list experiences like safaris.

Try it

Private tours, guided tours or experiences

Having embarked on luxury travel in a past life, it’s the exclusivity, extra insight, and privacy that many deep-pocketed travelers seek more than high-thread-count sheets or champagne magnums of five-star vacations. However, you don’t have to commit completely to it, but have a day or even a half day with a dedicated safari guide, private ski lessons, a charter boat or an experience that suits your needs, answering your individual questions, off course and at your own pace and leave the paint-by-numbers script behind you to leave lasting memories.

No Escape Stays

Any accommodation or destination that’s remote or all-inclusive (think safaris, island resorts, or other all-in tours) deserves special attention and is likely worth money. Unlike spending too much money at a city hotel and then barely being in the room, this type of vacation gives you back what you put in and you can take full advantage of included food, drinks, excursions, pillow menus, guides and more . Because, well, there’s no escape. But skimp on it and you’ll be both stuck and disappointed.

centrality of the city trip

There are many false savings in the travel industry and one of the most common is to avoid downtown hotels (and city airports) and choose options further afield because the upfront cost for the convenience of being in the hustle and bustle is too much. When you factor in the cost of travel, you often break even, not to mention the time saved exploring on foot.


Your parents asked me to add this one – your health and safety isn’t worth haggling over a 10% discount. Try to make sure that the instructors are certified, the equipment is in good condition, the neighborhood isn’t too seedy and, yes, insurance is on.

Bucket List Events

Well, if you can’t spend an extra hundred or two to really make your bucket list event or destination special, it probably shouldn’t be on the list in the first place. If it’s once in a lifetime, you can recoup the cost when you get back home.

What is your favorite thing to spend when it comes to travel? Let us know in the comments.

Leave a Comment