Why Does Travel Cost So Much?

I always ask myself this when I return from a trip. So I decided to take the process apart and share it with you. I don't know if any of us will actually learn from this exercise and spend more wisely, but we should have a better understanding of why we feel so sheepish when we do overdo it.

I always ask myself this when I return from a trip. So I decided to take the process apart and share it with you. I don’t know if any of us will actually learn from this exercise and spend more wisely, but we should have a better understanding of why we feel so sheepish when we do overdo it.

Most of us start with some kind of budget for our travel, even if it is mental and approximate. “We went with no budget and ended up way over budget” comes to mind. If we have taken the time to do our homework and plan carefully, as in all things, our results will be better. But, alas, that is not always possible, or, shall we just say, likely.

And vacation travel, perhaps in contrast to business travel, has a sizable emotional component. We are “getting away,” relaxing, and casting off the shackles of responsibility. So if things cost more than predicted, “I deserve it,” or “We’ll worry about it/make it up later.” Especially if alcohol is involved, which many of us tend to consume more of on vacation.

And spending more eases our way when we are particularly keen on avoiding hassles; taking a cab from the airport instead of the bus, for example.

And as vacationers/tourists, most of us tend to go to predictable places where the sharks are circling. Everything costs more where there are more tourists, when there are more tourists in season and where there will be little chance of recourse after you go home. This includes highly taxed (for transients) hotels and rental cars, purchases that are regretted or damaged, and “accidentally” over-charged credit card bills. I’ve made a big deal in the past about how just looking at your credit card slip before you sign, at home or away, can save thousands of dollars over time.

The next budget killer for foreign travel is the escalating costs of changing money. It used to be that credit card companies charged you nothing for the service, but with a few notable exceptions, they now charge you about 3%. Going to the change/cambio/wechseln kiosks, even hotels and banks, can cost you dearly. You really do have to plan for this expense now, for on a major international trip, changing money can cost you into the thousands if you are not careful.

One potential money saver, for a change, is that international trade has become so extensive that it is harder to find things to buy that are unique to the locale you are visiting. The same stores with the same stuff are now everywhere. Still, you have to be careful. For instance, that wonderful Chinese chair that looked so appealing in Hong Kong, may stick out like a sore thumb when you expensively get it home. The curious can find many such misfits that have ended up at thrift shops.

Another saver is that we no longer have to spend to develop and print a zillion rolls of film when we get home. Also, I have saved betimes on the high cost of dry cleaning upon returning home by having learned to travel only with wash and wear, perhaps old, clothes and tossing them as needed. The old saw that you should “Take half the clothes and twice the money” is really, really true.

The bottom line is that it is still possible to travel in a dollar-wise way. It just takes much more time and effort. When you are young, you do not usually have a choice and traveling on a skimpy budget can be an adventure.

But once “you’ve been to Paree” it is difficult to “stay on the farm.” First class flying, hotel suites, private guides and 3-star Michelin restaurants are mighty easy to get used to. But you do pay the equivalent of a lot of sore throats/refractions/pap smears etc. for those privileges.

I am reminded of a CEO friend who once cynically remarked, “Life is like a **** sandwich; the more dough you have, the less **** you eat.” And it’s especially true in travel. Happy holidays.