When to Splurge When You Travel — And When to Save Your Cash

For some people, going on vacation means loosening the purse strings, and going all out to ensure they have the best possible trip. This might mean reserving a room at a luxury hotel, five course meals, and spa treatments — the works.

For others (read: most of us) vacation means enjoying yourself while staying on budget. Some might argue that if you don’t have plenty of money to spend, you should just stay home, but we think it’s possible to have an amazing trip and still come home with a few dollars left in your wallet. The trick is to know where to splurge, and where to save. Once you’ve saved some cash booking on a discount travel site, here are a few good places to consider paying a little bit more.

Maldives

Photo Credits (Flickr CC): Maldives by nattu

1. Once-in-a-Lifetime Experiences

When planning your trip experiences, ask yourself this: Will I ever get to do this again? Unless this will be the last vacation you take for the rest of your life, there will probably be activities or experiences that you’ll have other chances to experience.

For example, almost every Caribbean cruise and resort offers the chance to swim with dolphins, meaning that if you return to the islands you’ll have another chance to do that. However, Jamaica is the only place that offers Dunn’s River Falls, meaning that spending money to experience that legendary attraction might be a better choice.
In short, if you won’t have the chance to do something ever again, it’s worth spending a little more cash.

Dunn's River FallsPhoto Credits (Wikimedia CC): Dunn’s River Falls by Xlonv00

2. A Destination Highlight

Some cities are synonymous with certain attractions: the Eiffel Tower in Paris, gondolas in Venice, the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls. When you are visiting these places, it’s worth spending money to experience them, even if you’re convinced they are just tourist traps.

If you’ve never been to Paris before, and don’t plan to return any time soon, you may regret not shelling out the extra euros to ride the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower. A sunset tour of Venice in a gondola tour might cost $150, but it could prove to be the highlight of our trip — especially if it falls into the category of once-in-a-lifetime experience, too.

Eiffel TowerPhoto Credits (Flickr CC): Eiffel Tower by sapoague

3. Time Savers

When you only have a short time to explore your destination, paying extra for things that help you get the most of that time can be a good value. One example is a guided walking tour. Paying $20 to $30 per person for the services of a knowledgeable guide who can help you navigate an unfamiliar city can prove invaluable. Sure, you can grab a free map or use an app on your smartphone, but if you spend the bulk of your day attempting to navigate unfamiliar streets, you might go home feeling as if you haven’t seen anything at all.

Other time-saving splurges include taxi rides when public transportation is slow or inconvenient, or using the services of a hotel concierge (which usually only requires a gratuity) to find tickets or reservations for you.

iPhone MapsPhoto Credits (Flickr CC): IPhone Map by smjb

4. A Memorable Meal

When you are visiting a place that’s known for its cuisine, don’t content yourself with sandwiches and street vendor fare (unless of course, that’s the local specialty). One fast growing trend that’s catching on both at home and abroad is the “progressive meal,” in which each course is served in a different location, thereby combining your meal and a tour. While such an experience will cost significantly more than a hot dog from a cart, you can have a more memorable experience and get in some sightseeing.

Of course, having the cash to spend on these worthwhile extras means saving money elsewhere. By planning on avoiding airline fees, declining add-ons (there’s no sense in purchasing “bonus” tickets to attractions you have no interest in seeing), and visiting during the off-season or times when admission is free or discounted, you’ll have the extra cash you need for an amazing meal or a personal tour.

Ancho Seared SalmonPhoto Credits (Flickr CC): Seared Salmon by dinesarasota

In the end, it’s all about defining your priorities and deciding what type of trip you want to have. Even if you don’t break the bank, it’s possible to have a memorable, even luxurious, vacation where you see and do just as much as the big spenders do.

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