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How Do You Define “Budget Traveler”?

Buzz Poole
09/27/2011 - 00:00

Started by self-proclaimed budget travel blogger Matt Kepnes, writing under the handle Nomadic Matt, his eponymous website is a place I’ve checked in on from time to time. His spry take on his travels and the people and places he encounters pull you in, but more important than his style is his attitude. He’s made the choice to be a permanent traveler because he gets “it,” and if you read enough of his words, his appreciation of discovery, exploration and having a good time shines through.

A couple of weeks ago, Kepnes wrote a lengthy treatise on “travel hacking,” defined by him thusly: “Travel hackers are the people constantly chasing miles, rewards points, and elite status. They are looking for every possible way to game the system . . . However, for me, travel hacking is more than that. It is about bringing costs as close to zero as possible.” It’s made the rounds on the internet, and rightfully so, as he thoroughly outlines how to travel inexpensively without depriving yourself, from hacking flights to hotels and attractions.

I know a guy who is a “flight hacker,” flying coast to coast and back again for the sole reason of accruing miles through various deals and schemes. I’m sure it is nice to guarantee yourself a year of business class travel, but I’m skeptical about it being worthwhile if you need to spend two years flying around for the sake of flying around. People like my acquaintance aren’t really in it for the travel; it’s a game of one-upsmanship.

While Kepnes is all about finding deals and getting the most bang for his buck, he dislikes the competitive nature of certain travelers, especially budget travelers who boast of being on the road for eighteen months straight having only spent $5,000. As Kepnes sees it, “traveling is about being frugal – not cheap. It’s about not wasting money on frivolous stuff. Not snacking or buying a million tacky souvenirs or going out and getting drunk every night. It’s about knowing when and where to spend your money, no matter how much you happen to have.” He’s spot on with this, in my opinion, and his article “Defining a Budget Traveler” is well worth a read.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been in a foreign country with other travelers whom I met on the road. All nice people to be sure, but why go all the way to Japan to eat instant noodles in a hostel kitchen every night? When I suggested going out they all rolled their eyes, happy enough to slurp their dinner on the couch, watch TV and maybe drink a beer. In none of these instances was I clamoring to go to an expensive restaurant or spend all night in a pricey club. But I did want to go out and check out the local scene.

Kepnes emphasizes how you spend your money when traveling and asks the important question: Why go someplace if you spend the whole time trying not to spend money? He writes, “You aren’t a better traveler because you went to France and decided not to spend any money. That doesn’t make you a budget traveler. I think that just makes you cheap. I think the conversation needs to shift from ‘cheapness’ to ‘frugality.’ A traveler who spends his money wisely, no matter how much he spends, is a budget traveler.”

How do you define “budget traveler”?

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