Lonely Planet Writer

Travel debates: budget travel vs luxury

What kind of traveller are you? Do you like to keep the bottom line lean or are you a bit of a Good Time Charlie when it comes to hitting the road? Luxury vs budget - which is the way to go? Let's debate it.

Budget

In the budget corner, we have Mark, Lonely Planet's research librarian:

Of what value is staying at expensive hotels on your vacation when travellers spend 95% of their waking hours outside it experiencing a foreign culture? A clean bed, a window and bathroom are more than enough. Furthermore, if you do choose to spend 5% of your waking time at a cloned five-star international hotel chain or a trendy boutique hotel, it isn’t going to help you experience a destination. Instead, try a locally owned guesthouse where you’ll meet people who’ve lived in the neighbourhood all their lives and can recommend the best eating options and sights.

On eating options...expensive restaurants are not only painful to your wallet, they rarely have the best food. More than likely, most of the cost of the meal is in the decor or the clean table cloth, not the chef or the ingredients. Small, cheap eateries will frequently specialise in doing one thing extremely well. It could be a simple bowl of noodles or tandoori chicken. Whatever the meal, they do it all day, and customers flock to them because the food is great, not because their cutlery is solid silver and the waiter is obsequious. Also, while eating your tandoori, you’re more likely to be sitting next to a local, not another tourist looking for steak and chips in Mumbai.

On sightseeing...one of the most ridiculous excesses of travel is a cruise ship. You spend most of your time with other 'travellers', disembark for an afternoon of shopping for souvenirs every few days, and get fat on the all-you-can-eat buffet every four hours. This is not travel...it is an expensive screensaver.

We all like to spoil ourselves now and again. And we are more inclined to spoil ourselves when we are on vacation. However, spoiling ourselves too much can ruin the primary reason for travelling: experiencing the real texture of a place.

Luxury

And fighting the fight for luxury, we have Jane, Lonely Planet's digital copywriter:

I do not like pressing my nose up against the bakery window. I like to get in there and breathe in.

That’s what luxury travel means to me. It doesn’t mean lounging in ermine in the penthouse suite of the Plaza. It means hopping a cab to get straight into a city rather than waiting, waiting, waiting for a bone-rattling bus to get me to the train station to wait amidst the wafts of urine and boredom for a train to get me eight blocks from the freezing hostel I’ll be sleeping in with my valuables under my pillow.

Dutch painter Willem de Kooning once said 'The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time.' I hate eking out an existence. I’ve been there and it bored the hell out of me. So it’s the last thing I want to do when I’m diving into a new city. I just want to get stuck in.

It’s about quality over quantity – wouldn’t you rather have a week of kick-your-heels-up good times drinking martinis with local eccentrics and seeing amazing off-Broadway shows than two weeks of canned tuna and thinking 'if only'? Plus it’s about knowing what works for you. Drum circles in hostel courtyards send me homicidal. Hotel toiletries do not.

Some people think a luxury approach will give you a less authentic, less educational travel experience. Well I learnt more about the history of Los Angeles from the tour guide who drove me all over town in a ’66 open-topped cherry-red Cadillac, and I learnt more about the spirit of the place from the old-school waiters I met in restaurants.

Luxury doesn’t mean ivory tower travel – it just means travel with options. It takes the drag factor out of your journey – cos sucking it up gets pretty boring when you’re hungry, jetlagged and as fragrant as a wet sock.

Rebuttal:

Mark: A taxi drove me around all night in LA with three girls from my hostel who the cabbie was trying to hit on. He showed us Beverly Hills, including Sharon Tate’s house, 'Nakatomi Plaza' from Die Hard (Fox Plaza), and many other sights. Cost: zero. A lot of money doesn’t make a trip special.

Jane: Hey I'm not into cheesy cruises or pulling a Greta Garbo in a 5-star hotel. A bit of luxury means you can still experience the real texture of a place - it's just that after you've experienced it you can have a decent shower without some dodgy fire-twirler called BamBam stealing your towel from the communal bathroom.

So what do you think? Get in the ring and take a swing!