The Balance between Frugality and Health when Abroad

Of the many challenges expats and travelers encounter, making good financial decisions can be one of the most difficult. Where can I find cheap and safe local cuisine? Should I explore unknown places on my own, or enlist the help of a guide?

Fundamentally, the costs of a trip are divided into the four facets of travel:

  1. Accommodation
  2. Dining & drink experiences
  3. Tourism & activities
  4. Transport including flights, car hire and public transport

It’s vital to remember that sacrificing any of these significantly beyond your comfort zone can come at a cost to your health (and increase your stress levels) if you’re not careful. On our recent trip to Germany, I enrolled into my first ever hostel experience (at age 28!). I soon confirmed that hostel accommodation, while very affordable, is usually a mix of noisy rooms and creaky beds. My sleeping patterns didn’t necessarily appreciate it, but I was prepared for that and still had a great experience meeting interesting new people. Naturally, I saved some money for some alpine mountaintop adventures too.

Kyle from a popular savings platform shares a recent story with his tips.

Travelling is a good way to find yourself. There is just this deep lure of visiting people of different cultures, courting with the natural landscapes. Sometimes we all want to just go away and hear the sound of silence. The best can be found in the deserts and the highest peaks where it is just wind and its melodies being played through moving sands and rustling leaves. But, to reach these places you have to pass through cities, which can be cumbersome obstacles or sprawling beauties, depending on your perspective. For myself, I have always been lured with the culture.

However, in all this and saving some money for the next leg of your trip, it can sometimes become difficult to reach a balance between health and expenses. In my travels in Asia and the Middle East, I have found that the best experiences can be had in small local eateries, which include tea stalls and roadside hotels. But, while the locals are attuned to the overall cuisine, the same cannot be said for us.

I can remember one particular incident, where eating a shwarma in Dubai had me bedridden for 2 days, making me miss out on some really cool landscape photography. Don’t get me wrong, the health department there does a wonderful job and even the small establishments are good. It is just that when you are not used to eating rich and spicy food, sometimes it can have an adverse effect on you. Now, the general cuisine in the Middle East isn’t really spicy, but what has to happen does happen.

Sometimes the best way to avoid any such situation and to save on additional expenses is to go for safer options from the start. If you have the resources, I have found that cooking a meal is very economical when compared to dining out. But, dining out or dining in with a host is essential to having a nice cultural experience. So, there is a balance which has to be achieved in having a safe and memorable trip.

This is even more true for travelling across Asia, where the Health Department is almost nonexistent and it is generally foolhardy to eat and sup at a roadside stall. But, if you have a local guide, then things are different, as they kind of have insider information about the safe places. Here especially, I would suggest using AirBnb services, as it sets you up with some cool hosts that can offer many local insights – which I have found to be very hospitable.

Whatever you choose, it is important to stay on the safe side and have an enjoyable trip. — Kyle

Of course, your personal travel style and level of comfort will have an effect on your decisions. I enjoy a mix of AirBnb and full-service hotels – AirBnb is cheaper with more interesting experiences, while hotels tend to offer more flexibility. Some culinary experiences in lesser developed countries carry a risk, while they also can also bestow the greatest reward.

Overall, the key is to prioritize your four facets of travel. If you wish to pay a little less for accommodation, ensure that your transport arrangements are comfortable. An uncomfortable overnight sleep followed by a long day of hiking usually isn’t going to work. A cramped 10 hour bus ride without quality food provisions is likely to make anyone grumpy. Spend a little more on your important travel facets, less on the others, and you’ll achieve a great balance. Don’t forget to negotiate with your travel partners, too!

You could also read about how to travel often by reducing everyday costs. What are your techniques for healthy, stress-free and affordable traveling?