No Penance Required (or, Spending Money on Travel without Guilt or Games)


Have you heard about the hottest game in travel?

It’s that game where you spend hours and hours searching dozens of websites for the absolutely, positively cheapest price for your trip.

Everyone’s playing it, from friends planning their next vacation to esteemed travel publications that dedicate countless column inches to “how to find the best fare” and “how to save $10 on your next hotel reservation.” For lack of a better name, I call it the “Cheapskate Travel Game.”

In case you can’t tell by my tone: I do not play this game.

Let me say this: If you truly have limited resources for travel and are nevertheless determined to make your travel dreams a reality, then kudos to you, and let’s talk about those discount fares. But from what I see, the seriousness with which people play the Cheapskate Travel Game is often vastly disproportionate to their actual ability to pay for travel. So, for example, someone with a very comfortable upper-middle-class income and no kids or college debt picks a flight with a 7 hour layover in Newark because it’s $50 cheaper than the nonstop route. That’s the kind of travel madness that the Cheapskate Travel Game creates.

What accounts for the popularity of this game? Certainly, travel is expensive. And for 99% of us, our resources are finite. But the Cheapskate Travel Game takes people far past the line of fiscal responsibility. Is it the fact that it is, in fact, a game – one that confers bragging rights on the One Who Found the Cheapest Fare? I don’t think so.

Underlying the Cheapskate Travel Game is the belief (perhaps unconscious) that spending money on travel is the equivalent of a Mortal Sin.

I don’t know how this absurd belief first gained traction (if I could track down the “Traveler Zero” who started it, I’d shove him into a middle seat next to the bathroom on a 20 hour flight). But it’s reinforced every time you tell your coworkers that you’re going on vacation, and someone responds (there’s always someone), “I’m so jealous!” or “Gee, must be nice.” And then you feel compelled to say, “Oh, but I got a great price on the tickets,” as if that makes it okay.

Travel is not a meaningless extravagance that necessitates a beeline to the confessional. Travel is one of the best possible uses of discretionary income. For starters, everyone needs a vacation from time to time, to recharge and refresh – unless you’re gunning for an early heart attack. More importantly, travel expands your worldview, revives your joie de vivre, builds empathy and a sense of connection to the world, taps into your inner child’s curiosity and wonder, and of course, when done well, it just makes the world all around a better place. Now explain to me again why you feel so bad about it?

Travel is a choice. You can choose to spend your money on other things and take a stay-cation instead. But if you value travel and want it to be a part of your life, you have to give yourself permission to spend money on it. No guilt. No apologies. And definitely no games.


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