When you’re traveling to a new destination, or even a favorite that you’re visiting again, it can be tempting to see and do and eat and drink all of the wonderful things that are unique to this part of the world.
For most of us, though, there are finances to consider.
How, then do you ensure that you return home satisfied that you had the best possible experience without blowing your solo travel budget?
It’s all about balance.
Splurge On the Memorable Meals, Economize On the Others
If you love food like I love food, it’s important to make it a priority to have at least one spectacular meal that you will remember. On my recent trip to London, this meant dinner at one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurants. I am a huge fan of his vegetable-forward style and unique flavor combinations. I took my time and savored every bite (which is a lot easier to do when you’re dining alone). That pleasure comes at a price, especially when you factor in the currency exchange rate, but I’m still talking about that meal two months later.
This doesn’t mean that the cheaper meals will be boring or disappointing – quite the contrary. Some of the most interesting eats in the world can be found in food trucks or other mobile or temporary venues, such as food festivals or cultural celebrations. It can also be fascinating to wander around grocery stores in other countries, and very economical to put together a picnic or a meal to enjoy at your accommodation. Shopping with the locals can provide insight into a culture, and you may find some great deals.
In October, I was traveling with Monograms Travel in London, where I splurged at Ottolenghi Spitalfields, and Amsterdam, where two of my meals were composed of treats I had picked up at a nearby grocer. Economizing on the latter allowed me to savor the former.
Seek Out Events that Are Not Marketed to Visitors
In London this fall, I attended a production of Wicked, the large-scale, Broadway musical at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. It was fabulous – and fabulously expensive. I don’t generally go to this type of play more than once a year, but when I do, I enjoy the heck out of it! I admire the sets, the costumes, the choreography, and even the people-watching during intermission. Because this is a well-known play with a massive marketing budget, you will see both locals and visitors in the audience.
By contrast, in Belfast last year, I attended a production of Diablo, a play about human trafficking in Northern Ireland, presented in a community center. As far as I could tell, I was the only non-resident in attendance. I learned so much about the city, the issues, and that specific community that night. It sticks with me still, and cost peanuts compared to Wicked. They were both wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.
Balance Your Solo Travel Budget with Paid Attractions and Free Admissions
There are some attractions, events, tours, or restaurants that will be expensive no matter what you do. And if you are passionate about them, or have always dreamed of seeing or doing them, it will be worth the splurge. There are others that will be surprisingly inexpensive or even free. To keep your solo travel budget in check, it’s important to have a balance of both in your itinerary.
One of the ways that I like to do this is by reading local papers or weekly entertainment publications such as NOW Magazine in Toronto, TimeOut in many large cities, or consulting local events websites like MeetUp.com or Eventbrite. All of these have listings for free local events such as art openings, festivals, seasonal or cultural events, etc. I took a copy of TimeOut with me when I had my splurge meal in London and perused the listings to find free events for the following days. You can read about that trip in Exploring London Solo with Ease.
I love a really great food tour, and I took one in Amsterdam. You can read more about it in Solo in Amsterdam: A City that Left Me Wanting More. It was 4 hours long, covered a lot of ground, and included many tastings. These tours are not cheap, but for me, they feed one of my passions, so it’s a place I will put my money. To balance out my solo travel budget, while on that same trip, in London, I visited the National Gallery, which was free, and an exhibit at Canada House, which was also free.
Pay for Some Events in Advance, Others On the Spot
With a travel company like Monograms, you can pay for some of your activities far in advance and others as you discover them along the way. By planning ahead, by the time you reach your destination, some of your events have already been paid for, so there is no additional outlay during your trip, or big credit card bills awaiting you at home. This allows you to set a separate budget for what you will spend while you’re there. When your accommodation and some items like day tours (the big-ticket items) are already taken care of before leaving home, you can spend your cash on meals and activities to supplement and round out your trip, without the burden of returning with debt.
How do you balance your solo travel budget without feeling like you're missing out? Please share your tips below.
This post was brought to you as a result of the Monograms trip, a project between Monograms and iambassador. As always, Solo Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.