How Much Do You ‘Live It Up’ With Spending on Vacations?

beachAs a follow up on my post last week about spending while vacationing in Spain, I wanted to reflect a bit more on how I spend money on vacations, especially big trips to places like Europe.

The quote that I’ve heard before and always think about when I’m on a trip is “You’re on vacation, so it’s okay to splurge.”  To some extent I would agree.  Yes, I am on vacation in an exotic location.  There are lots of special things to do and they cost money and can’t be done anywhere else.  If you have a full-time job, your vacation time, no matter where it’s spent, is limited, too.  Still, I think there’s a lot to be said for what you can get out of a trip without spending a lot.  Here’s what I will and won’t spend money on.

What I will spend on:

Trying new foods I can’t back home.  Obviously, paella was at the top of my list for Spain, and I was excited to try it.  I also enjoyed eating tortilla, bread with tomato, and other seafood.  The wine was great, too.

Museums and historic sites.  Some things you just can’t see elsewhere, like Velazquez’s Las Meninas or Gaudi’s Sagrada Famila.  These are truly extraordinary sites to check out, and I wouldn’t miss them.  Admission is usually affordable, so there’s really not much to debate here.

Transportation that’s convenient.  In Spain, we flew from Barcelona to Madrid and then took the high-speed train from Madrid to Sevilla.  These were probably not the cheapest ways to get around, but they were fast. We simply didn’t have a lot of time in Spain, so it wasn’t worth it to try to save a few bucks but lose a lot of time to sight-see.

Just about anything that a local would do.  I’m always really curious what people do for fun in the places that I visit.  If it’s something that is off the beaten path of tourists, that definitely gets me interested.

What’s not worth my money:

Expensive hotels. To me, if you’ve planned your trip right, you’ll be at your hotel (or hostel) as little as possible.  More than likely, you’ve already spent hundreds or thousands on airfare.  Why tack on hundreds more simply for a fancy bed to sleep on?

Lame, tourist-trap attractions.  No, I’m not gonna cruise around on a boat or ride the hop-on, hop-off bus.

Mediocre food. It’s one thing to seek out good places to eat for a nice dinner.  But when you’re hungry, it’s easy to pick any restaurant that’s around.  This usually results in less-than-stellar quality food, and it might not be a bargain either.

Most souvenirs.  I’m happy to send postcards or buy something else small to remember the trip by (my girlfriend bought a scarf for less than $10).  But Barcelona t-shirts are totally out.  There’s a lot of knick-knacks that are cheaply made that I don’t know what to do with once I get home.  If I want to remember a trip, photos are by far the best way to do this.

Anything else that’s marked up in price for tourists.  This can encompass a lot of things.  But, generally, if you’re hanging out in touristy areas (i.e. Times Square), prices will be higher while quality may actually be lower.  I try to avoid these areas, but often there are things worth seeing nearby.

Doing anything that I could back home.  Please don’t try to take me to an Chinese restaurant in Spain. There’s plenty of those in New Haven (and I don’t like them here, either).

Overall, I’d much rather extend the length of my trip, if at all possible, rather than pay for anything on the “not worth it” list.

What’s your vacationing style? Do you try to get the most for your money? Or do you prefer to live it up, no matter what your vacation destination?

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photo by: (Xip)


  1. I totally agree. I had similar thoughts about traveling from my recent trip to Austin over spring break. It’s definitely worth the extra 15 minutes it takes to find a good local restaurant on yelp than to wander into some unknown place.

    • Anonymous says

      Agreed, Matthew (and, perhaps, a good argument for the iPhone, too).

      P.S. – I’d love to hear about SXSW next time your back in MA!

  2. Jack Melch says

    Here’s a toughie: getting drunk. Awesome in a foreign country, but maybe dangerous and you can do at home.

    BTW, a quote for you, “My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants.”
    –Joseph Brotherton, British politician and minister

    • Anonymous says

      Good point. Definitely wouldn’t get drunk in another country unless I’m with people I know and definitely wouldn’t spend $12 per drink to do it.

      Thanks for keeping it real with the quote, too.

  3. AdaptuJenna says

    I definitely tend to enjoy my time while on vacation and avoid spending money at chain restaurants. When traveling internationally some people try and play it safe and eat at Americanize food places. I try to see what else is around.

    • Anonymous says

      I’ve definitely noticed that, too, Jenna. I’ve never really understood that one, and it makes me wonder why they’re traveling in the first place. Food is definitely one of the attractions for me.

  4. Captaindoreen says

    I tend to use the “splurge” excuse when I start out, but definetely prefer an incredible, special dinner over grabbing anything for food all day from street vendors and fast food cafes.

  5. Im a finance guy by blog and trade! And yet, I still live it up when on vacation. I wont necessarily stay in a $1,000/night bungalow at a resort…but I wont limit myself in food, drink, and entertainment so much. You only live once, and vacations tend to be few, so this is an area I feel you need to treat yourself at times, especially when working frugally towards it all year.

    • Great points, Justin! I think it is important to make sure you have fun after working towards a vacation all year. I totally agree: spend on the things you enjoy.

  6. Wow, great to have these this type of concept, Everything has been told here, i can say there are all things which are cover up, i am planning to a trip and believe me now the dream is coming closer to the reality.

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