The Gadling budget travel manifesto

Over the past two weeks we’ve upped our budget travel coverage here at Gadling. We’ve published stories on budget-friendly Caribbean destinations, budget-friendly European destinations, Thanksgiving hotel deals, hardcore budget travel suggestions, New York City budget travel tips, local budget travel secrets, cheap local fast food worldwide, great sites for planning budget-friendly European travel, and how to find affordable ski deals.

Our recent hyperactivity around budget travel is no accident. We want to improve Gadling’s standing as budget travel resource, as a go-to site for budget travel tips, information, and inspiration.

In order to give this new resolve some oomph, a Gadling budget travel manifesto is in order. The goal here is to intervene in a travel media landscape that sees luxury travel as the universal objective of all travelers by glorifying budget travel and budget travelers. Budget travel is exciting and sophisticated and it needs to be recognized as such.

The lure of aspirational travel

People love to read about expensive resorts and impossibly dear travel accessories because they’re exciting to contemplate. In this respect, they fulfill a function not a million miles from pornography. And like porn, they’re also a lot of fun. The problem is that just as pornography does not provide a good map for most human relations, aspirational travel does not offer a useable guide for most forms of travel. Worse yet, aspirational travel often comes to cloud impressions of travel and actually convince many, many people that travel is an endeavor that can only be engaged at unmanageably high price points.

The focus on aspirational travel in the travel media creates all sorts of strange situations. Reading through a typical American travel magazine or even the weekend travel section of big newspaper, one might believe that $500 per night is a reasonable mid-range rate for a night’s hotel accommodation. Honestly, this is outrageous. When push comes to shove, how many people can actually afford such rates?

Budget travel can mean many things. It can mean finding a deal on a hotel, cruise, or air journey. It can mean traveling with very little money and simply making do. It can mean organizing travel around friendship networks, or joining home exchange or couchsurfing membership programs. But however it might be defined, it doesn’t include hotel rooms that run $500 per night.

Budget travel is sophisticated travel

Here are three assertions about budget travel in general and in relation to luxury travel that might at first seem counterintuitive.

1. Budget travel enables better interaction with local culture than does luxury travel.

2. Budget travel is more sophisticated than luxury travel.

3. Budget travelers are more creative than luxury travelers.

I’ll anticipate a few knee-jerk criticisms and try to answer them here in advance. Obviously not all budget travelers are savvy. Many are in fact the opposite. But it is just as certain that many, many (most?) luxury travelers are not at all sophisticated–not truly and fully in the spirit of cultural engagement and courageous exploration.The first assertion here is probably the most self-evident. Budget travelers very often stay in modest accommodations run by locals or long-term expats in settings surrounded by locals. Unlike luxury travelers, who are typically cocooned in hermetically-sealed compounds radically separated from the surrounding locales and their residents, budget travelers have an easy time experiencing the richly local dimensions of their destinations.

Points two and three: Budget travelers work creatively to find interesting places to visit and build itineraries. Unlike many luxury travelers, they don’t particularly care about international brands, and don’t stop thinking about how to spend their time after they’ve booked a stay at a particular five-star chain hotel and exhausted the menu of in-house spa treatments. Budget travelers approach their travel with open minds about where they might stay and about which sorts of inexpensive accommodations might be on offer in particular locations.

Budget travel glamour

Budget travel is real travel. It’s often challenging and not always predictable, yet it’s also often far more glamorous than its reputation.

There is glamour in amassing tons of passport stamps on a dime, in accumulating personal top ten lists of the best dive bars in a particular city, and in getting your high culture quota in the standing-room only zone. There are joys in cheap apartment sublets, in couchsurfing, in volunteer tourism, in hitchhiking, in slow buses. There are pleasures in delicious and fresh local fast food.

But evidence of the glamour of budget travel is too often absent even within the tiny budget travel media, which often prioritizes an upwardly-mobile demographic and ignores countless very good budget accommodations in favor of stylish hotels with stratospheric nightly rates. This approach may be good for advertising revenue but it renders the very concept of budget travel unrecognizable. And in the process, the real glamour of budget travel is lost.

Gadling’s budget travel content

Moving forward here at Gadling, we are committed to providing better targeted budget travel advice in the form of hotel and restaurant tips, strategic booking suggestions, local secrets, and solid general information for getting the most for your money.

We want to hear from you. We want to know which budget travel questions you want answered and which types of budget-friendly advice you most need. How can Gadling best deliver the budget travel goods?

[Image: Flickr / cyclonebill]