Do you think backpacking the world is all about ultra cheap hostel bunks and eating cheap budget food? Think again!
Backpacking around the world on a budget is an amazing thing, you get to see and do things that most people will only ever see on the TV or dream about enviously as they sit at their desk counting down the seconds until their shift ends.
You get to island hop tropical paradises, visit and learn about new cultures, see ancient and modern wonders of the world and experience the world in all its infinite variety!
For most of us this means sticking to a tight budget. Eating at street stalls and staying in budget accommodation and cheap hostels becomes the norm, choosing the less comfortable but cheaper transport option or passing up that extra beer means that you can extend your travels and experience more awesome stuff! Good times! I mean those long arduous bus journeys, the cold showers and the sense of adventure that comes with budgeting your way around the world is all part of the appeal, right?
Don’t get me wrong, budget travel really is fantastic. It is how most of us without nice trust funds from mummy and daddy or a good lottery win can afford to travel, and besides that hostels can be fantastic places to stay and street stalls are often the best places to eat, but sometimes -especially on longer trips – you just get a little bit of backpacker burnout from time to time. Occasionally you just crave a little comfort or a little bit of luxury as the packed dorms, cold showers and back breaking 12 hour night buses take their toll.
When that happens, sometimes you need a holiday from your travels, sometimes you just have to indulge your inner flashpacker and spoil yourself a little bit too. The important thing is to remember that this is absolutely normal.
When you get that backpacker burnout, then indulging your inner flashpacker and upping the comfort factor can restore and rejuvenate you faster than any luxury spa. This can mean anything from treating yourself to a nice private room once in a while, feeling the cool touch of air con on your skin as you fall asleep or the invigorating touch of a power shower, getting a cheap budget flight instead of a gruelling sleeper bus or even going wild on the menu at a slap up restaurant for a delicacy or two that you just can’t get at a street stall or food court. Whatever it may be, that little bit of luxury from time to time can mean the world of difference to your trip. It can help keep you sane on the road and stops you from becoming burned out, and it can keep your enthusiasm and drive for travel alive!
But what about the cost I hear you ask? Well that is an important and fair question. After all you have saved up hard for this backpacking trip or gap year and you have to make sure your funds last right? The good news is, flashpacking is a lot more accessible in large parts of the world than most people think it is.
Of course if you are backpacking through Europe, Australia, Singapore or any wealthy, developed nation then flashpacking becomes much more difficult and budgeting does become more of an absolute necessity unless you have really deep pockets, but many popular backpacker destinations such as South East Asia, the Indian subcontinent and parts of Africa and South and Central America for example are extremely accessible for most budgets. In fact in these places your money often goes a very long way indeed, and you will get a lot more value for money than you would in many more wealthy countries. Quite often the difference between ultra basic accommodation and a little bit of comfort in a private room or a flight instead of a twelve hour night bus may only be a few pounds, which makes flashpacking easily affordable in moderation.
You can easily offset the extra expenditure of a few nights luxury or an extra activity by budgeting well for the majority of your trip. Staying in a beach hut for an extra week and simply relaxing with a good book doesn’t burn up much money and you will often (if you budgeted well) be under your daily budget if you stick to hostels and street food for a month or so, so that means with those extra savings every now and then you can splurge. It really isn’t that difficult.
Value for money should also be considered. Quite often the level of comfort you can get in South East Asia or parts of South America or India for example would simply be out of reach of most backpackers budgets back home. A luxury hotel room in the Philippines may cost much less than a basic bed and breakfast in London. A slap up gourmet meal in a posh restaurant in Vietnam may set you back the same amount as an average pub lunch back home. It is hard to generalise of course as there are so many options available to you, but the point is spoiling yourself from time to time on the road is not out of the reach of most budgets.
Yes you may be shelling out a little more than normal every now and then, yes you may be paying what your backpacker instinct is telling you is a lot of money for a nice meal or a really nice hotel, but think of the value for money you are getting in certain parts of the world. Would you be able to get the same experience or the same room at home for anywhere near what you are paying in South America or India? Would you get the same room for the same money in London that you got in Thailand? No! Sometimes the difference between a cheap room and a very comfortable one may only be the equivalent of a few pounds or so per night.
You don’t have to limit yourself to just one way of travel.
To give you an example, in Indonesia I really went to town and spoiled myself for a few nights in a luxury heritage spa hotel, it cost me a little less than £100 GBP for a few nights, total. Around the same price for a basic chain hotel room per night in say London for example. If I had stayed in an equivalent room in an equivalent hotel back home in the UK, you are talking thousands of pounds per night! Seriously! It was at THAT level! That is not an experience I am likely to get anywhere else again, so I took the opportunity to live the highlife for a short while for what is comparatively very little money.
But getting a little bit of luxury doesn’t need to be at this extreme. You can get a nice private room with an en suite for as little as £10 GBP – or even cheaper – in many countries. I had a nice private room in Alexandria, Egypt, with a balcony that overlooked the Corniche and the Mediterranean sea for the equivalent of less than £5 GBP a night. Even short stays in luxury boutique hotels in more expensive countries like Singapore can be amazing value, and the cost of a few days offset by longer stays in cheaper countries such as Indonesia.
The difference between a basic beach hut with a cold shower and a beach hut with air con and a warm shower was the equivalent of about £2 -£3 GBP a night on Palau Tioman in Malaysia. Comfort and privacy really are not all that expensive when you are backpacking, and paying a little bit extra from time to time is not going to break many budgets.
The increasing growth of budget airlines around the world has really helped the backpacker to flashpacker transition too. Travelling overland has always been the traditional backpacker way, it is usually the best way to see a country and is often dirt cheap, but every now and then when you just can’t handle another 12 hour bus ride or you think you would rather be at your destination in one hour instead of twelve and spend your time much more wisely sipping mango juice on a beach somewhere, then there is always the option of taking an internal flight. Traditionally with major carriers this was an expense many backpackers just couldn’t justify, but now you can fly from Bangkok to Koh Samui or Mumbai to Delhi for less than an average lunch back home, the occasional splurge looks pretty damn attractive! Again, you don’t have to do this all the time, there is still a lot to be said for the experience of a sleeper train or coach, but now you have the option.
Does this go against my backpacker roots? Does this insult some strange, ingrained notion that because I am a backpacker and travel on a budget most of the time that I have to travel that way all of the time?
Long term travel is about finding a balance, a way of travelling that allows you to stick to the all important budget and stay true to your backpacker ways if that is what you want, but also allow a little bit of comfort in from time to time. There is nothing wrong with that. Yes you may be a backpacker, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with allowing yourself to be a flashpacker from time to time too. Who says you have to stick to just one label? Who says you can’t travel in any way you choose? You don’t have to limit yourself to just one way of travel. You can always move back to your budget conscious backpacker ways later down the line.
More often than not my inner flashpacker is assuaged by a few nights in a comfortable air con room with a comfy bed, big TV and en suite bathroom with a power shower once in a while, and quite often I really do pay just a few pounds more a night for the privilege than a good dorm room or hostel bed. These rooms become even more of a bargain if your haggling skills are good!
Backpacking isn’t about denying yourself things, it is about experiencing as much as you can in your limited time on this Earth, so don’t limit yourself to just one type of travel. Don’t think that because you are backpacking or you have to stick to a budget that you always have to stay in the cheapest accommodation or miss out on some activities or nice restaurants, you don’t!
What is the point in travelling the world if you are going to miss out on some of the amazing experiences travel has to offer you because you were too tight to splash out from time to time? What is the point of sticking to such a tight budget and denying yourself some of the wonderful and amazing opportunities that will present themselves to you on the road? You will only regret it later if you do!
So budget well and experience as much as you can on your travels!
By all means stick to a tight budget some or most of the time, enjoy the backpacker lifestyle in the hostels and dorm rooms, take in the ultra cheap delicacies of street stalls and food courts and run the comfort gauntlet on overnight sleeper buses, but budget well and indulge your inner flashpacker from time to time, you will thank me for it later!
What about you? Do you travel on a backpacker or a flashpacker budget or a mix of both? Do you enjoy taking in a little comfort from time to time or is it basic accommodation and cold showers all the way? I’d really love to hear all your thoughts so let me know in the comments section below.