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Money versus time: what’s the value?

Money versus time: what’s the value?

Time is money, or so they say. However, often when you’re traveling long-term, you seem to have a whole lot of time and not a lot of money. You’re willing to spend all day on a cheap local bus packed with people in Vietnam. You don’t mind working on your tan on a ferry to Corsica, or Railay, or Phi-Phi. You’ll take the cheapest flight available, even if the route makes no sense and the layovers are multiple.

Christine Amorose on the Corsica Ferry on the Mediterranean

However, I’ve started to realize that my time, my energy, my good mood is worth something too. It might be harder to place a dollar value on, but it’s certainly just as important.

Flying over Hanoi, Vietnam

When I flew home from Nice in 2010, I had the cheapest flight I could find: layovers in Frankfurt and Chicago meant I had to go  through customs three times, go through security three times, step foot in four different airports in one long, miserable travel day. When it came to book my flight home from Southeast Asia, the memory of that day came flooding back as my finger hovered above the “buy” button: did I really want to have to get to Bangkok from Vietnam, have a layover in China, spend the night with a friend in Los Angeles all before I snuggled into the futon in my dad’s office (affectionately known as home)? Not really.  So I ponied up the extra $300 and bought a direct flight from Bangkok to Los Angeles–and might I say, Bangkok is the BEST airport for long layovers. Think foot massages and green curry.

It came up again as Renee and I planned our cross-country USA road trip. Should we try Greyhound or Amtrak instead of renting a car? Perhaps camping to save money? Or give up a bit of autonomy and do an all-inclusive trip with Contiki? It didn’t necessarily need to be the new A class or something uber luxurious, but we did want to be comfortable.

When it came down to it, it was realizing what we valued: sure, we were on a budget. But we were only doing this trip once: we wanted the freedom to craft our own itinerary, the luxury of space to throw our stuff, the true “American road trip experience” of pulling off the road whenever we felt like it.

Christine Amorose and Renee Eggers at Spago in Las Vegas, Nevada

We made friends with other travelers along the way: ones who had a cheap van without air-conditioning, ones who were bitten multiple times by ants while camping. We traded travel horror stories, except that our horrors were minimal–mostly because we were willing to put out a little extra cash.

This isn’t to say that I’m trading in hostels for five stars: I’m still very much a budget traveler. I still maintain that all I need in accommodation is somewhere clean to sleep and keep my things–I don’t need killer views, maid service or 186 TV channels. Sometimes it’s nice to splurge–and sometimes it’s just enough to know that money can solve a few problems.

Have you ever had an experience where you realized your time was worth something too? 

  • Phumi

    during my trip to vietnam 3 weeks ago we thought we could train+bus down south from hanoi making stops in hoi an to ho chi min. when they booked our sleeper train ticket wrong (a day later than we wanted) we looked into flying and realized for a little extra we could spend one more night in hanoi and then fly instead – let me tell you worth every penny, we decided to do the same from hoi an to ho chi min. that bought us an extra day in each city 🙂 and with less fatigue. money well spent….(plus your post about bussing in vietnam kind of scared me out of it, time was not on our side…LOL)

  • Funnily enough, I realised the value of my time when I was travelling on a Contiki tour… because it was TOO fast, and there was no freedom. This time around I’m all about the slow travel with the freedom to go and to spend time where I choose.

    As for the quintessential American road trip – you have to do that properly! (For ourselves of course, everyone has a different idea of ‘properly’) A friend and I are planning an American road trip for 2014, and whilst we’ll camp, we know we’ll totally splurge on taking our own car and hitting up places like Vegas like it’s Christmas. It’s definitely a matter of preference, but knowing where you need to take your comforts can make or break a trip!!

  • Mmmhmm — I totally agree on this. The first example I can think of is the Halong Bay cruise (which I know you enjoyed as well!). $70 for two days as opposed to $35 for three, but it was SUCH AN AWESOME CRUISE. And it was where Dave and I first chatted, too! 🙂

  • Janice MacLeod

    I’m with you on this one. I’m willing to pack one little carryon bag for a week in order to not pay for checked bags on a plane. This means I can also avoid taxis to the hotel. I can hoof it with my world on my back just like the locals. Bring it. Save the cash for a glass of wine at the end of the day.

  • Emily Wenzel

    If a direct flight is (a) possible and (b) not too much more than the one with layovers, I’ll book it. Especially if the flight is a red eye, I can get more sleep 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    Love this post! I think a lot of long-term travelers automatically think cheapest is always best, but some things in life really are worth paying a bit more for! When I traveled to Puerto Rico a few years ago, I was dead set on taking a ferry to a side island because it only cost $3 dollars round trip… It was SUCH a nightmare trying to get tickets, that in the end I wound up taking a little propeller plane, which only cost me $90 round trip. Yes, that was far more than the ferry tickets, but not really so much money in the end, for a much shorter trip (only 15 minutes to get to the island instead of 90 minutes, meaning I could keep my car and hotel reservations!) that was also much cooler and memorable. I never regretted spending the extra money once!

  • Yes time is definitely a valuable commodity. Actually a few months ago I was debating whether or not I should take the bus from where a live (Edmonton) down to New Orleans. After seeing how long it would be (multiple days straight) I promptly came to my senses and paid a little extra for a flight.

  • I had the same thought while in Turkey last year. A flight from Istanbul to Kayseri was more expensive than a bus, but so much less painful, and really, NOT all that much more money! After doing an overnight bus from Pamukkale to Selcuk, I knew the money I spent on my flights were worth every extra penny

  • LostInCheeseland

    ALL THE TIME. I avoid connecting flights at all costs for two reasons: loss of time and my back! I can’t take the chance of having to pick up my luggage, drag it around – potentially across a terminal – and recheck. Flying is hard enough on my body so I try to protect myself as much as possible.

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  • Lise Griffiths

    This is so familiar. I always struggle to pin down whether I am a mid-range or budget traveller or even high end sometimes, depending on the location (I just don’t feel right slumming it in St Tropez for example!) But badly connected flights are always painful – time is worth more than that – especially if you have limited travel time.

  • Pretraveller

    If your time is limited then i definitely am prepared to pay more for the most time efficient option, which also causes the least stress. I think where it can come unstuck is as you say when you commit to a long, convoluted and torturous route which doesn’t value add to your overall trip. If plan B is still within budget and gets you there faster and less stressed then it is worth it. You also need to factor in the extra costs for crappy food, toilets, other extra costs when you compare a longer option to a shorter one.

  • I think it’s a concept than can be applied to anything in life. Dinners at restaurants, nights out with friends, furniture and decor, and of course travel. Sometimes, being on a budget can benefit your wallet, yes, but if you DO have a tiny little bit of extra to play with and it’s a super important thing to you, then please spend a little more.

    For some it’s a fancy hotel room. For others, it’s a MacBook air. But it’s important to make sure you keep the experience positive, and not just about money!

  • camorose

    Haha can totally relate. I considered doing the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok–which would have been a cool experience–but I could fly in an hour for pretty cheap! So much less stressful, especially when I had super limited time in Bangkok. Definitely can relate!

  • camorose

    Can totally relate! I did a Contiki as part of my very first trip, and it definitely made me realize what was important to me in traveling. The convenience was awesome–not having to worry about booking rooms or what time the bus left or whatever–but I definitely felt like I could have gotten better value for my money booking it myself. I don’t mind staying in hostels if it means I can have great meals out–all about figuring out what suits you best.

  • camorose

    Great example! Totally worth the extra money paid for such an incredible experience 🙂

  • camorose

    Haha definitely all about saving the cash on taxis for a glass of wine instead! Girl after my own heart 🙂

  • camorose

    Yes! We’re the lucky ones who can sleep on flights–I love red-eyes!

  • camorose

    Love that example! It’s all about what will give you the better experience–most of the time, I’d rather be a littttttle bit more comfortable, especially if it’s on transit.

  • camorose

    That’s how we were when we were planning our trip! I was Google-mapping distances and it was totally fine–but then it was twice or three or four times as long on a train or bus. No thank you!

  • camorose

    If you’re going to spend the money, might as well make it worth it, right?!

  • camorose

    Your health is FAR more important than a bit of extra money!

  • camorose

    I definitely think it depends on the situation. Sometimes I penny pinch on every little thing, other times I think–what the heck, and splurge on an amazing meal. You’ve got to do what makes you happy, even if that differs from day to day and trip to trip.

  • camorose

    Those extra costs are a great point–I always end up spending cash on layovers, even if it’s just on some food and magazines. Extra stressful if you have to pick up bags, go through customs, and recheck bags.

  • camorose

    I think it all comes down to what you value most. I’d much rather spend more money on a nice pair of designer jeans that I know is going to last for a while–and I’d rather just have that one pair rather than lots of crappy pairs. But I know plenty of people (my mother included!) who would NEVER be able to understand why I spend that much money on jeans. We all have our priorities 🙂

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