Traveling Logistics: How To Get The Best Value For Your Trip
By Darin Rickert, GA Writer
We all like to travel - whether local or abroad. There is this inherent sense of experiencing something new, yet familiar, wired into all of us. For some, this is going to the next town over and trying a new restaurant. For others this is a trip across across a continent or even an ocean. In a globalizing world, we find it increasingly easier to go farther and farther away - even for a weekend.
Unfortunately, just because there are more opportunities to travel, doesn’t mean that the logistics are easy to coordinate. There is a rather ambiguous relationship between the traveler’s budget and time. This uneasy relationship can turn planning even a seemingly simple trip into a daunting task. These are two things that even the most experienced traveler has to harmoniously synchronize in order to obtain the greatest value from the trip. Whether we are eating at a restaurant in the next town over or hiking a mountain in South Africa, what we are really after is value from the experience - justification for taking the risk.
I created a traveling budget at the start of 2017 to monitor costs and compare how much I spent for different trips. I live and travel with my girlfriend with whom I shared the expenses. This budget included lodging (hostel or Airbnb) and transportation (flights, buses, trains and car rentals). Through the month of July, my travel budget consisted of 9 different trips to 18 cities and 11 countries. Some were for just a couple days, others a long weekend and two of the trips were about 2 weeks long each.
Creating a budget - even a simple spreadsheet - is an easy, yet effective way of showing you how much you spend on each trip and how much you have spent in total. With this kind of knowledge you can more easily put into perspective what you value. This is indispensable information for planning future trips because you know what you usually spend per trip and how much you are willing to spend for trips that you enjoy the most.
Another important point about budget is affordability. You have to know your margins, and you have to know what you are willing to spend for what you are getting in return. If your budget is relatively low, you will have to make more tradeoffs and sacrifices. When my girlfriend and I went to London, we left late on a Friday night and spent the night in the airport. We were in a hostel Saturday night, but then we spent Sunday night in the airport as well before our early-morning Monday flight. We spent less on our London trip than some families spend on a meal there, but we paid for it in lack of comfort, sleep and time. Everyone has a different minimum threshold for these things. You have to experiment and find yours. Everyone values different things. Creating a budget and tracking your expenses helps reveal what you value.
When I speak about time, in this context, I am mostly referring to how long it takes you to arrive at your destination. This includes time to the airport or bus/train station. Since I live in a European capital with great public transportation, I can easily get to the airport for any flight outside of my work schedule. Needless to say, location plays an important role in saving time. For my first two years living abroad and traveling I had to include an 8 hour roundtrip bus ride to the airport into my time budget. It wasn’t always easy, but I made it work for the trips that I felt had enough value to endure the inconvenience.
The next step is to determine your mode of transportation. Which type of transportation will get you to your destination quickly, but will also conflate with the money you are willing to spend? Flying is almost always the answer for transcontinental trips. Prices for budget airlines are kept low by competition. The price you pay will depend on how full the plane is. If it is relatively empty, you will snag a great deal. If it is filling up, you will undoubtedly pay a higher price. For high frequency travel locations you will usually have to plan months in advance to get a good price. For more obscure locations, however, you can travel last minute for cheap. Just remember to pack light to avoid additional costs. Less is more.
For trips that have a smaller radius, a battle sparks between taking the train, bus or in some cases - ride sharing. This usually takes some research on your location. Sometimes the buses have more comfortability, are cheaper and have a similar estimated time of arrival. In other cases, trains offer an unparalleled experience in the aforementioned categories. It helps to read the local transportation websites and blogs of those who have been to your projected destination to gain a clearer insight into which is the best option.
How to Plan
Since the travel industry, both for research and bookings, has become almost exclusively an online affair, I recommend getting a VPN (Virtual Private Network). While using a VPN, your online identity is hidden, and you can’t be easily tracked by companies who do the very things that I suggested you do for yourself in this article - know your budget and what you value. Airlines, lodging services and middlemen companies like Kayak or Booking.com can track what you spend your money on and show you prices that match the highest price you are willing to pay based on what they think you value. I am not saying that you should refrain from using these services, but you have to be aware of the industry’s tactics. I think using a VPN levels the playing field a bit more.
There is no magic formula or even scientific formula (that I know of) for planning the perfect trip. In fact, if there were one, it would be different for every individual. There are just too many variables. Your plan and budget change depending on whether you are traveling alone, with family, with friends or even the type of friends. At the end of the day you have to know yourself. You have to know your budget - what you can afford and what you usually spend, your threshold for being uncomfortable and ultimately what you value in a travel experience. Happy planning and happy travels!