BURIED under a make-shift home of coats and luggage, my partner and I occupy the smallest portion of Gatwick airport. A mere twelve hours into transit and we are still far from home. I ask whether to pack the remaining half of a Sainsbury’s sandwich for the trip – she doesn’t reply.
We sit for a moment, exhausted and in silence until finally she asks me if I think it is worth it. I don’t know the answer, but remind her that we may be hungry on the bus ride back to Edinburgh. This is what I say but I know we aren’t talking about the sandwich anymore.
“No” she replies. “I’m talking about sleeping on the floor of an airport, waiting six hours at Victoria Street station, or lying awake in a hostel room with twenty snoring strangers. I’m talking about budget travelling. Do you really think it is worth it?”
We sit for a moment in silence. A mere twelve hours into transit and I don’t know the answer.
The one thing you should know when dealing with low cost airlines, coach companies and youth hostels — the key components to any budget travel experience — is that they all function according to one simple rule of logic.
How little you spend directly reflects the amount of discomfort you are willing to endure.
This means that while you may be thrilled to have found those eight pound tickets from London to Barcelona, the reality is that London refers to an airport two hours outside the British capital; and your destination is not Barcelona, the vibrant Spanish tourist city that you imagined it to be, but rather a small Irish fishing village bearing a similar name.
Ok, while this may be a slight exaggeration, the focus here are those additional expenses that often get overlooked by the bargain hunting traveller. This is not to say that budget companies are notorious for misleading consumers (for the most part); after all, it is this savvy money saving spirit that has made parts of the world accessible to those of us who previously couldn’t afford to see it.
No, the point is merely to highlight the fact that buying a ticket with low cost companies almost certainly indicates that more time and effort will be involved in the transit process than expected. While this extended travel time may seem a reasonable compromise to some (myself included), a longer journey does have that costly disadvantage of exposing your bank card to longer periods of spending, more so than if the journey were direct.
A veteran budgeter will tell you that despite the length of any trip, most expenses can be minimised, and others altogether avoided so long as you are willing to sacrifice comfort in all its forms. While this may be true for extravagant luxuries such as shelter, security and personal hygiene, there are some costs that are more difficult to ignore.
Things like transport to and from aforementioned suburban airports, meals in transit, a hostel room for the night before or after your budget flight leaving at the unholiest of hours, all combine to create a grand total that makes the initial price of those cheap flights suddenly believable. As the costs in transit accumulate, the price gap between a cheaper longer journey and the more expensive direct one can lessen to an extent that may have you asking the question; is the effort always worth the savings?
The answer of course depends on how restricted you are by budget, but it is also determined by your use of words like cost, worth and effort. Financially, budget travelling stays true to its ‘budget’ title despite the extra expenses. However, when you are measuring your holiday on more than just economics, spending twenty four sleepless hours in transit is never a good way to start or end a trip.
When two out of a five day vacation are spent travelling in the seated and upright position, cost is no longer just a matter of money but can be measured in time and energy as well, both of which could be put to better use on the holiday itself.
Remember, we are not simply talking about adding a couple of hours travel time here and there, with the overall outcome of saving you a fortune. The point is to remind you that picking flights, accommodation or other transport solely based on your first impression of price alone is not always as financially rewarding as one might think. Saving money is fine, as long as that money is actually saved and not simply redistributed.