New York Times columnist Seth Kugel may get paid to find inexpensive ways to explore some of the world’s most exotic destinations, but even he takes off his “Frugal traveller” hat once in a while. “Most budget-saving tips involve either a time or a comfort trade-off,” Kugel told Business Insider. “People who research airfares will spend a whole night searching for airfares and setting up alerts and at the end of the day they save $50. To some people, that’s worth it and other people would rather watch ‘Breaking Bad’ and read a story to their kids at night.”
In Kugel’s case, there are times when being frugal is top priority––you won’t catch him in a hotel that charges more than $100/night––and times when budget fiends take things a little too far.
Hostels vs. Hotels. “I was in a little town once near Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. I found a hotel that was quite a lovely place and it cost like 16 or 18 bucks a night. I went on a tour of Lake Titicaca and ran into these backpackers who were staying at a hostel for $9 a night. I’m paying $16 to stay in a nice hotel and they’re saving $7 to stay in a smelly, 12-bed hostel and we’re on this tour boat that cost $30. To me, it’s unthinkable you wouldn’t spend $7 extra to choose a hotel over a hostel.”
Haggling with the locals. “If [you’re haggling] a street vendor or somewhere where they’re living hand to mouth, let’s say you’re gonna buy something for $4 and you think you’ve gotta get the price down to $2. Just pay $4. Who cares? Think of it as a $2 donation to a person in a country much worse off than your own. Haggling with a taxi driver over a couple dollars is quite counterproductive and distasteful at times.”
Where it’s OK to haggle: Hotel rates. Even in developing nations, hotel owners aren’t so destitute that they can’t stand to budge on their bottom line a bit, Kugel says: “You can almost always bargain with [smaller] hotels and bed & breakfasts. The number one way to save is to say ‘I want to stay a week. What kind of discount can you give me?'”
Multiple layovers. “I’d even go so far as to say two layovers is a very dangerous way to set up a trip. I was gone this summer for nine weeks and there were only about six flights I took. Twice, I lost a day because either a flight was delayed or I missed a connection. In one of those cases, it was purely because I decided to take a roundabout route for quite a savings. If you’re a backpacker going on a six-month trip around the world, that’s unimportant. But if you’re getting x number of vacation days per year, those days really matter. Multiple layovers are just asking for trouble. If it’s to save $500, I’m with you. If it’s to save $27, I’m not.”
Discount airlines. “So many people don’t think about the fact that they don’t have agreements with other airlines to shift you to another flight if you miss a flight with them. If you take a discount airline and your flight is delayed and you miss a connection, you’re stuck waiting for that airline’s next flight. It could be a day later or even a week later. Whereas, if you’re with a big, major airline, they’ll have an agreement with other airlines [to book you on one of their flights].”
Obsessing over lunch. “People can be very obsessed with where they eat and reading reviews and figuring out what to order and making sure the ingredients are local. I think that’s a little overkill for one meal. I very much like looking around and poking my head in a place and looking at the menu. Just walk around and choose a place that looks friendly and the menu is relatively cheap. More often than not it’ll be good and it saves you the obsession of trying to plan out every meal.”