Last March, when I took a road trip to Seattle with two of my best friends from college, we had one simple motto that was our official trip slogan: “Save money, live better.” (I claim no originality for this…we did knowingly borrow said slogan from Walmart)
In many ways, I would say we were successful. We booked a hostel dorm room instead of paying for a more expensive hotel room (and, as a result, met some awesome new friends). Other than a few overly expensive dinners (one of those was an accident due to a misunderstanding between us and our waitress about a nightly special), we kept our food expenditure pretty low. We relied on our feet to walk around the city instead of using up gas. We also took in as many free sites in Seattle as possible–Pike Place Market, the gorgeous waterfront, and the architecturally fabulous Seattle Public Library to name a few.
That said, I left Seattle with an unfinished feeling that I can only now describe–after allowing for time and space and clarity–as lack of satisfaction with my time there. Really, I find myself wondering if we did indeed, live better by saving money the way we did. It’s not that I didn’t have a great time, because I did and I will always cherish the memories with my two college friends there. More so, there was the fundamental feeling that I had missed out on so much of the city because generally speaking, if it cost money, we didn’t do it. In our poor college student minds, this was logical to us. We were still seeing and experiencing a new place, so what was the loss of a few places just to save a few dollars?
Looking back on that experience now, I would say we missed a lot.
Aside from a day trip to Mount Rainier National Park and a stop at the Seattle Underground Walking Tour, we spent absolutely nothing on experiences. We walked past the Seattle Art Museum DAILY while venturing around the city, but never actually went inside–because there was an admission fee. We skipped out on the Chihuly Garden and Glass and a handful of other museums near the Space Needle, again, because they cost money. We generally didn’t venture farther than the five mile or so radius around our hostel because it would have been too far to walk (luckily, our hostel was about a five minute walk from the city center). Looking back on these conscious decisions that we made, there are so many things in Seattle that we didn’t do because we were afraid to spend our money.
What I failed to realize during our trip is that experiences are the fundamental reason why people travel. Why go to a place if you don’t want to fully immerse yourself in it? Sure, I loved walking around on the streets of Seattle and seeing the sights and sounds and smells, but because I didn’t want to pay for anything, I firmly believe that I missed out on all that city has to offer.
I regret not going to the Seattle Art Museum. I regret not looking into admission at Chihuly Garden and Glass or venturing to other parts of the city to see what there was to see there.
As I become more of a travel-minded person, I want to ensure that I get the most out of every place I go. I want to do more thorough research on the places I go and budget for those experiences that do cost money. I want to allow myself to pay for experiences if I have the means and I truly want to do them. When I think about how I spend my time in Seattle, I question–was there really an issue with the experiences we avoided being too much money…or were we, instead, just being stingy with what we had? Looking back, I’m inclined to say the latter.
Money doesn’t grown on trees but, in the words of my dear friend Mo, it can always be earned back. When you become a conscious traveler, you begin to realize more and more that the affordability of things is, in part, about mindset. It’s where you put your money and how you value your time.
I read this great article the other day about budget traveling–this piece from the end of the article really stuck with me:
“You aren’t a better traveler because you went to France and decided not to spend any money. That doesn’t make you a budget traveler. I think that just makes you cheap. I think the conversation needs to shift from “cheapness” to “frugality.” A traveler who spends his money wisely, no matter how much he spends, is a budget traveler.”
Do I regret not experiencing more in Seattle? Absolutely. But I also learned from that experience–that is, that traveling is what you make of it. My friends and I went to Seattle on a whim without budgeting or planning much in advance. We went there with the intention of spending no more than we absolutely had to and I believe that hurt us in the end. The fact that we found free places to go isn’t the issue–free experiences are amazing and I try to take advantage of them wherever I go! No, the issue I have with my Seattle trip is that we were so closed minded about the prospect of spending money on anything that I feel we ultimately got the short end of the stick. We lost out on allowing ourselves to experience more for an all around more enriching trip.
As I look forward to my two month break from school in March and April–which means plenty of time to do some traveling–I’m working to change my mindset about traveling. I don’t have very much money, but I do want to go places–and with the appropriate planning and budgeting, I hope to get the most out of my traveling experiences. I was talking to one of my friends the other day about this while I was debating whether I should book a flight to Europe to visit a friend who lives there in March; she encouraged me to go ahead with it–to think of this as an investment in myself. What I’ve recently come to learn is that spending money on experiences isn’t a bad thing if you are going to benefit from them in some way. Spending money on experiences isn’t a bad thing if you pay attention to where your money is going and spend wisely. I wish I would have recognized this in Seattle–but their is no time like the present to start recognizing and living it now.
P.S. I did book that flight to Europe. Stay tuned!