Non-destitute hostel travel?
April 3, 2007 1:24 PM   Subscribe

The typical solo backpacker (hostel variety) has plenty of time and limited money. Assuming you like that kind of travel, what would you do differently if you had plenty of money but limited time?
posted by smackfu to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
travel fast to remote locations, spend all your time in one spot
posted by edgeways at 1:37 PM on April 3, 2007

What do you mean by "that kind."? With money, you decide not to stay in hostels. You're describing me (little time, lots of money) but I'm not sure what your question actually is.
posted by vacapinta at 1:45 PM on April 3, 2007

I'd go backpacking with really good equipment.
posted by LionIndex at 1:46 PM on April 3, 2007

If you stay in a hostel, you tend to stay out of the hostel, if you know what I mean. If you kick down $400 for a kick ass hotel in Bombay, you're not going to want to leave the hotel very much. So spending more money on the hotel will fundamentally change the "kind of travel."

I'm with World Famous. Get somewhere remote and if you have any money left, spend it on booze and food. Spend it on booze and food for the backpackers and locals you meet, they will appreciate it and by hanging out with them, you'll get a taste of "that kind of travel."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:53 PM on April 3, 2007

Oh yeah, don't be too flashy with the money, or your appearance for that matter.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:55 PM on April 3, 2007

Best answer: What you might want to do is stay in hostels a few times and hotels a few times. There's nothing quite like a nice long American-style hot shower after a few days "roughing it."
posted by birdherder at 2:03 PM on April 3, 2007

Go on a bicycle tour with nothing but a credit card, a spare tube and a toothbrush. You can do this in a lot of places in Europe: see beautiful countryside, eat at a different fantastic restaurant every meal, sleep in a nice hotel, and move on the next day.
posted by hindmost at 2:43 PM on April 3, 2007

While packing around we seemed to spend a lot of time on night buses. These were usually at least 10 hr. stretches that were hell. And never the time saver they were sold to be. If I didn't have to do it on the cheap I would fly from location to location. Spend the time seeing the sites and be well rested. As for hostels I would probably continue to stay in them. Most also offer private rooms some with their own bathroom. If you enjoy hostels, hotels can seem a bit impersonal. and detache. I felt hostels had more information on the area and would offer more advice on local eats/nightlife/and services.
posted by arruns at 2:51 PM on April 3, 2007

- Fly first class instead of coach to final destination (I can't believe I'm the first to post that one...)
- stay in small, interesting, locally-owned places instead of the hostel or the American-style business hotel
- buy things I wanted to try, even if I wasn't sure I'd like them or even knew what they were (especially true for food)
- check in at home more often by phone or internet
- stop griping about the exchange rate (USD to JPY, EUR, even BRL, at the moment)

In-country I don't think I'd change transportation too much. Taking subways and city buses and canal boats is a big part of the experience... But yeah, the overnight buses not so much in this future!
posted by whatzit at 2:57 PM on April 3, 2007

Time is precious. The unlimited time is what makes low-budget hostel travel so great. No amount of money, amenities or distance will make up for that.
posted by letitrain at 3:06 PM on April 3, 2007

I think that I would arrange the travel beforehand moreso. Things like transfers and car hire with tour guide will both make the transition less stressful and ensure that you are able to see the best or most important things without having to devote so much time to timetable reading, negotiating, having tropical meltdown arguments or other intrusive (often serendipitiously so, if you have the time) peripheral decisions.

I would also ensure that Vacapinta was my friend and then convince him that he should live his dream travel life vicariously through me.
posted by peacay at 3:07 PM on April 3, 2007

I don't yet have enough money for this to be an issue for me, but the pretty clear answer -- based on what a subset of wealthy travelers are actually doing -- is "adventure travel," "eco-travel," and some kinds of cultural tours. You know, going night diving with sharks, or guided treks in the Himalayas, or a five-star resort where all the rooms are in treehouses and the flooring is ecological. (Sometimes people pay lots of money to go places and have access to, or be guided by, famous writers and scientists, but I think you are asking about the younger and more active set.)

Additionally, you hire drivers or rent a car instead of taking the night bus; you eat at expensive restaurants that are reexploring traditional cuisine rather than in a corner bar, and so on, but those are really marginal costs compared to the difference between the hostel and the five-star treehouse.

The New York Times travel section routinely features articles about this sort of travel, both within the US and internationally. Their recent Africa special section is a great example, especially this article about upscale travel in Senegal. Or try this one about Zambia:

GO on a safari in Kenya or South Africa and you’ll likely encounter rows of tourist buses armed with shiny zoom lenses all aiming at the same sleeping lion. It’s a different world in Zambia, and not only because its game reserves are as yet unspoiled by mass tourism. This is the home of Africa’s best walking safaris, and instead of driving for hours in search of the big five, you explore the bush on foot.

And those feet are as likely to be in Gucci shoes as Teva sandals.

In recent years, Zambia has transformed itself from one of the world’s poorest countries into Africa’s newest luxury destination. There are private “safari houses” with designer décors and individual guides, luxury-filled islands at the edge of Victoria Falls and riverfront chalets where you can watch hippos from the comfort of your own sunken tub.

Add to that the recent land-rights disputes in neighboring Zimbabwe, which has chased away tourists, and it’s no wonder that Zambia is emerging as Africa’s top destination for safari connoisseurs.

posted by Forktine at 3:08 PM on April 3, 2007

Best answer: I kind of went through trying to figure this exact thing out for myself last year, actually. I backpacked all over the place in my 20s and last year I decided to take a big trip of a lifetime after being grounded for 8 years. I really didn't know quite what to do with myself at first.

What I found was that as my lifestyle has changed, my travel focus has changed too. When I was young put up with all sorts of crazy travel inconveniences because I was broke, and now there are times where I'd rather just pay to avoid them. And while I used to be on a mission to collect more passport stamps, I've found that I don't really WANT to go somewhere every few days when I travel anymore. I really want to learn and soak up the culture & get comfortable there. Years ago, lot of the fun of travel was just meeting & bonding with people my age in hostels, but now I spend a lot more time getting to know local people & observing the place I'm visiting. Getting drunk with young Aussies isn't as thrilling it was when I was 22.

On my last holiday I spent time in 5 countries over 7 weeks. In retrospect, I would've been happier REALLY seeing one country in 2 weeks or a month. I decided to splurge on a customized tour for my time in Egypt that I could've never afforded before, which ended up being perfect, although it had drawbacks that I definitely learned from. It was a great decision because I got to see a lot in a short time (Almost too much, actually. There was not enough downtime.), people took INCREDIBLE care of me, and I met a lot of local people because I took a private tour. If you are an independent traveler at heart, whatever you do don't cave in and take some big generic group tour where you're crammed into a bus with 30 people to see a million things in a week... but having a reputable company arrange a PRIVATE tour that's customized to your interests can be really really cool. Mine was great... I loved that I got to do whatever I wanted (or didn't want to do) when I wanted to because I was the only client. They had a schedule set up for me so I didn't have to worry about things, but I got to see everything at my own pace and walk right past the giant lines of tourgroups. No stress at all, and no time to be bored.

On the bad side, those tours are geared for people who want the comforts of home. But I don't want to stay in a Hilton when I'm in Egypt because when I wake up I want to feel like I'm in Egypt. A Hilton in Cairo is the same as a Hilton in Orange County. That aside though, they also listened to my requests and booked me into some cool & unique places too. So I got to do a lot of dream stuff I could've never afforded before... I stayed at the Old Winter Palace in Luxor, and in an Ecolodge in the Siwa Oasis 2 weeks after Prince Charles & Camilla were there. The Ecolodge was a highpoint of my trip! (Although admittedly the other lodgers were a little snootier than I am so I ended up sneaking out at night to drink bad Egyptian wine with my tourguide & driver & their friends... which was also a highpoint of my trip. And another thing that doesn't happen if you're on a group tour.)

Anyhow, when I left Egypt, I tried returning my old budget travel habits... and that was when I realized that I don't have patience for some of the old inconveniences anymore. Rather than wandering through a new town looking at hotels, I booked rooms in advance online. Some of them were budget but some of them were fancy. Once in a while I decided to treat myself. Sometimes I'd eat at a falafel stand, but sometimes I'd eat at the fanciest place I could find. The thing is, when you have more money you are free to do whatever you want depending on your mood which is great.

I learned a lot from my trip last year about how I want to use my money to independent travel in the future. I'm going back to Egypt for 2 weeks in December with a friend who's never been. This second trip will be different because thanks to the tour I took, now I know people in the country who can hook us up, and I'm a lot more aware of the culture, language, and how things work there. We're going to splurge on the kinds of things that an independent adventure traveler would splurge on but the average tourist would never consider -- taking a bedouin horse safari or jeep surfing in the Saharan Sand Seas & stuff. Stuff we've dreamed about but never thought we would do.

Moral of the looooong story (there is one). I have found the best answer is to find a happy medium. You can do cool & exciting things that you couldn't have afforded before. You can focus on one culture at a time & really absorb it. You can have a little bit of comfort and luxury and safety but still step out of it all at your discretion. And if you want to go get drunk with Aussies in a youth hostel, nobody's stopping you. You've got freedom now. It's a good thing. Just figure out what you've always wanted to do and where you've always wanted to go, and go there.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:23 PM on April 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'll second whatzit about flying first class. I'm all for roughing it and staying in hostels and weird, strange, borderline-uncomfortable local dives for the culture, but flying in coach doesn't get you any "culture." (Unless you mean possibly of the bacterial variety.) At the very least I'd fly coach on the way home, when all I want to do is sleep.

I don't know about the whole hostels vs hotels thing. I guess that would depend on the place. There are some cities (Amsterdam, Budapest, Munich, to name a few) that have just always struck me as "hostel towns." It may be very connected to my own experience, but I think you would be missing out on something if you didn't stay in a hostel there, regardless of your budget. (However, I'd stay in a private room though, not a bunk room; I always found that the camraderie was built in the bar or common room, not in the sleeping quarters. YMMV.)

However there are other places I've been, maybe a little further from where you get a lot of backpackers/student-travelers, where I don't think that hosteling would get you much over staying in a locally-owned/run hotel. In some cases, I've stayed in hotels (really, what in the 'States would be B&Bs) and definitely had nice cultural experiences.

But overall, I think if I had a lot of cash to burn, I'd travel in style, or at least comfortably, getting there and getting home, and then basically stay the way I always have when I'm there.

Another thing: I'd also probably think about bringing a friend along. I know quite a few people who don't have the means to do much international travel, that I'd really like to go on a trip with. If I could do it without being awkward or rude, I can't think of a better way to spend money than to bring someone else along. Some of the best travel experiences of my life have involved bringing friends back to places that I'd found on earlier trips.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:52 PM on April 3, 2007

Durh ... I mean I'd fly first class on the way home, when all I wanted to do is sleep.

(I even used Preview and everything...)
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:53 PM on April 3, 2007

travel fast to remote locations

Exactly. Eg, I would've gone to the Galapagos. As it was, the flight from the mainland to the island still cost "American money," but bus trips around the Ecuadorian mainland cost only a dollar (back then). I'd probably also do some guided tours, too.
posted by salvia at 6:02 PM on April 3, 2007

The best guidebooks before hand.
It may sound silly, but I always regret I don't have better quality maps of the place I am visiting. I always cheap out, but should make the investment.

More time in one place is something I always wish for.

A crappy room, in a great location, with a private shower and bathroom. You get out of the room more, but are clean and if turista comes for a visit, the thing you need.

I'd buy/rent a bike to get more exposure to the city I'm visiting.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:10 PM on April 3, 2007

if you stay in hostels, a private room can be nice sometimes! then, tons of activities: good food and drink, museums and sights, tours, clubs, renting sports equipment, shopping for local stuff or whatever you're into. and flying, rather than taking the night bus, as so many have mentioned.
posted by lgyre at 7:25 PM on April 3, 2007

Hire excellent tour guides in places with lots of history.
posted by charlesv at 8:20 PM on April 3, 2007

second hindmost with his bicycle tour idea. I've done bike tours in different parts of europe but always on the (relative) cheap (hence carrying tents etc).

There are some really great bike friendly places you could go and (with the benefit of a thick credit card) carry very little with you. Just for starters think Salzburg-Vienna down the Danube .... or ... Switzerland to the north and east of Geneva ... or ... southern France west and south of Nimes ... or ...... hey it's a great idea !
posted by southof40 at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2007

Like I said, whatever you dream of, you can do it! If you really want to splurge on a treat for yourself (for a holiday that's not about soaking up the local culture as much as the experience of where you're staying), how about Belize or Africa?
posted by miss lynnster at 9:44 PM on April 3, 2007

Stay in superfancy eco-lodges, or hire guides for trips to remote areas you couldn't reach alone
posted by conch soup at 7:11 AM on April 4, 2007

If I had a lot of money to spend on travel I would go on a safari!
posted by lampoil at 10:14 AM on April 4, 2007

I think as I've made the "switch" from backpacker to single strike vacations I try to focus on the essence of a vacation - the things that I dreamt of doing. Perhaps, having had a "quantity" of new places, I now try for "quality of experience". For example:

- horseback riding in Romania and seeing the country through backroads where everyone seems to travel by horse or horse drawn wagon

- attending a very traditional japanese wedding

- living at a zen monastery for a week

- traveling through vietnam with Thich Nhat Hahn as part of the lay delegation

- travel only by bus throughout costa rica to see what it felt like to be dependent on public transit there

- lived in the bush in senegal for a few weeks

Other things I'd like to do:

- ride into the mountain (on horseback) with nomads in kyrgyrstan

- go overland from dien bien phu to luang prabang by bus or by horse back

- stay in a friends lodge in south africa, and get guided safaris

- stay with relatives in germany or france (did that last week, but can always do more)

- couch surf on with friends in foreign countries

- horse back ride through the mountains in portugal.

As I have gotten older and been to a fair number of countries, most cities seem like cities I have been in before. Increasingly, I hope to authentic connections with the people I visit. Also, I love experiencing different ways of living, from the inside, not the outside.
posted by zia at 10:20 PM on April 4, 2007

Also, the more I travel and the older I get, the less I want to duplicate the experiences I have at home. When I travel for business I can eat in nice restaurants and stay in nice hotels. When I vacation I either stay in REALLY nice hotels or I get a cabin or bungalow somewhere. When I'm in Vietnam or Laos for example, I prefer to eat at a street vendor. Its much much more interesting, and frankly, tastier.
posted by zia at 10:23 PM on April 4, 2007

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