What does it take to be a frugal traveler?

A urinal in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). Photo: Marcus Sortijas

Travel writers have it easy. They get to see the world, express their creativity through storytelling, have adventures–and their company pays for it all! How sweet is that?

Seth Kugel, the current writer of The New York Times “Frugal Traveler” column, bursts that bubble in his article, How to be a frugal traveler.  He answers the most frequent question he gets: “How can I get your job?”  Kugel says the more relevant question would be, “Are you sure you could handle my job?”

Kugel then runs down a list of the common compromises that are familiar to vagabonders: sometimes dodgy accommodations, “traditional” bathroom setups like squat toilets, and privacy concerns if you stay in hostel dorm rooms.

This is the kind of piece I’d love to show to friends and family who assume travel is all effortless leisure. We’ve all dealt with how some people think our trips consist of sipping piña coladas by the beach every day. Travel is work, whether you’re a travel writer or not.

Roberto Rocha, one of the writers of the terrific Mojotrotters blog, had this example of hitting rock-bottom as a frugal traveler: What a $5 hotel in India looks like.  I think we’ve all faced that problem at some point.  You’ve arrived in town too late.  You’re too tired to keep looking at more rooms.  And the alternatives are too expensive.  So you take the crappy room and hope you wake up alive the next morning.

Have you got any horror stories from your adventures as a frugal traveler? Please share them in the comments.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | February 25, 2011
Category: Backpacking, Notes from the collective travel mind, Travel Writing

4 Responses to “What does it take to be a frugal traveler?”

  1. Jo-Z Says:

    I once arrived in Tilcara, Argentina quite late at night. The town is pretty posh but we still had a Bolivia budget. A man at the bus station offered us a room at his “camping” (campground). We followed him a bit out of town to his house compound where they had an extra room with a few dirty old mattresses on the floor ($6). We had been feeling guilty about how little we’d used our sleep sacks so far on the trip so we took the dingy room. It’s definitely more uncomfortable to travel on a lower budget but you get to give your money to the people who really need it that way. We stayed 3 nights in this instance and the neighbor lady did our laundry. We prefer to spend more on food than lodging so it was perfect for us. Everyone wins!

  2. Beth Anderson Says:

    Why not just pee outside? Why use such an insalubrious urinal?

  3. carolyn Reeb Says:

    This picture says it all when it comes to frugality. I just got back from a trip to Barcelona where a friend and I stayed in the cheapest place downtown. It was a “double” room in Bari Gotic, which meant an indistinguishably larger single bed with a longer-than-average pillow for two heads. We didn’t care. It was cheap, clean, and made the sites accessible via foot. After traveling in Indonesia and sleeping next to open-air toilets with chickens as hotels, this was luxury. I love your statement: “Travel, no matter if you are a writer or not, takes work.” AMEN. Thanks for writing this!

  4. Paul Karl Lukacs Says:

    Kugel makes a good point regarding age disparity in the reactions to his job. Young people want to know how they can travel long and on the cheap. Older people are wary of giving up their comforts and status.