10 best times to break your travel budget

While it’s smart to plan a budget and make wise spending decisions, there are times while traveling when a splurge is in order. Don’t think of these instances as wasting money, but as investments into your personal happiness and enhancements to your travel experience.

If there’s a site you really want to visit

Whether it’s a museum that covers a topic you’re passionate about, a trek that will take you through unexplored territory or ancient ruins, or a historical site with a unique story to tell, you should let yourself experience it. No matter how much information a guidebook or website gives you, it can never compare to actually seeing the site for yourself. And if you think about it, isn’t the point of traveling to a city to experience things for yourself? When I was in Sydney, Australia, I had heard about a place called the Blue Mountains, and although I was a broke student at the time, the vivid photos and natural landmarks I kept reading about online made me realize that if I didn’t go visit this area I would regret it later on. I splurged on a coach bus and a cabin in the mountains, which allowed me to have an unforgettable long weekend hiking diverse terrain, getting aerial views of valleys and mountains, photographing unusual rock formations like The Three Sisters and Orphan Rock, and seeing firsthand why they call it the Blue Mountains (the oil mist from the eucalyptus trees creates a blue haze over the area).On a taxi after a long flight or when you’re pressed for time

I love to explore a city on a foot, as I feel it makes it easy to discover places and meet people you normally wouldn’t. Moreover, I firmly believe that regularly using taxis over subways and buses is a big waste of money. That being said, there are certain instances when the convenience of a cab is worth the extra cash. After a long flight, the hassle of attempting to navigate the city’s unfamiliar public transport system while lugging around a heavy bag just isn’t worth it. Furthermore, when I’m in New York city I often find myself rushing to catch the train back to Long Island, having a small heart attack as the subway’s digital clock seems to change minutes to seconds. I’ve realized that splurging on a cab when I’m really pressed for time is worth it, especially if it means I won’t have to sit around for an extra hour waiting for the next train.

To gain a new perspective

One of the best things about traveling is it allows you to visit a unique culture or city and experience life from a different point of view. However, if you spend your entire trip pinching pennies and worrying about transportation and entrance fees you’re going to miss out. Splurging on things like a boat ride to a cultural village in Fiji, a tro-tro to the slave castles in Cape Coast, Ghana, entrance to a monastary in Thailand, or a ticket to a Dong Minority Cultural Show in China (pictured) allows you to have a unique cultural experience.

On a hotel if you’re feeling travel fatigue

While budget travelers often opt for hostels, couchsurfing, and homestays, it’s important to clear your mind and get some alone time when travel fatigue sets in. The thing about travel fatigue is when it sets in, if you don’t cure it it’s very likely that it will ruin your entire trip, which would be more of a waste of money than splurging on a night or two in a comfortable hotel room.

For a ticket to an unusual or unique festival

Festivals allow for unique opportunities to experience events that do not happen on a regular basis. While the Winter Music Conference in Miami, Florida, allows you experience the world’s top techno DJ’s and non-stop parties, Burning Man is a radical celebration of extreme art and expression. The Carnival and Mardi Gras festivals around the world give people the chance to celebrate by dancing in the streets and dressing up in outrageous costumes, while the annual Stampede in Calgary, Canada, gives a rowdy glimpse into western heritage and rodeo culture. If you’re in a city during a time when a festival is happening I would recommend forgoing a tight budget and allowing yourself the rare opportunity you’ve been given. Another option is to base your travels around festivals and visit cities during times when you know you can attend one.

For the chance to get a great view

A visit to a new city is never complete without getting the chance to experience it from a great view point. While sometimes you can simply hike somewhere to get a bird’s eye view, there are often towers, incline hills, restaurants, and museums that offer these views for a small price tag. Sometimes, however, an amazing view can leave a bit of a dent in your wallet. When I was in Interlaken, Switzerland, I had heard the view of the Alps from the Jungfrau was unbelievable. Unfortunately, my Eurail Pass didn’t work in the country and local trains were expensive. I weighed my options, pay $215 and immerse myself in a place considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world, or save my money and buy a postcard. In the end, I paid the money and it was absolutely worth every penny to get a first-hand experience of this rare and serene landscape, not only because it was beautiful, but because it invoked a peaceful feeling of being in nature that I couldn’t possibly get from seeing a photograph.

When you’re really craving comfort food

While trying new foods is a fun and important part of learning about a culture, it’s not unusual for your body to begin feigning for the comforts of home. Many times, dining in a Western-style restaurant can be pricey, and depending where you are, you may have to travel quite a ways to find one. Depending on how bad your cravings are, it can be worth it to give your body what it wants so you can feel better and enjoy your trip. When I was volunteering in Ghana, Africa, in the rural village of Achiase, protein wasn’t very accessible. I was literally going to bed fantasizing about steak and ribs, and would have gladly paid $100 for a hot dog. Because this wasn’t even an option, I instead took a bus ride that was about 5-hours round trip to the capital of Accra where the mall was and bought myself an overpriced cheeseburger and a slice of pizza. It was the best money I’ve ever spent.

When safety is an issue

While this should be a given, it still bares repeating. If you ever feel uncomfortable in a certain situation, whether it be on a tour, in a hotel, in a city or district, or with the people you’re with, forget social graces and your budget and get out of there. Whether you have to lose your money and rebook accommodation somewhere else or hop in an overpriced taxi to get yourself away immediately you should never let money keep you in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.

To try something adventurous

Everyone should experience what it’s like to have a heart-pounding, shriek inducing adventure, or something that allows you to prove to yourself that you’re capable of more than you thought. Whether it’s mountain climbing, trekking, scuba diving, or sky diving, think of something you’ve always wanted to try but have been too scared try and do it. I’ve been terrified of heights my entire life and still am, however, that has not stopped me from Bungee Jumping in the Swiss Alps, skydiving in New Zealand, cliff diving in Italy, or doing a Go Ape! high-wire obstacle course in Scotland. By trying these things, I’ve actually learned that fear will never stop me from trying new things, and I find being terrified oddly invigorating.

When you fall in love

I know some people may debate this one, but I’m a firm believer in taking chances and exploring possibilities so that you never have to wonder “what if?”. Throughout my travels, I’ve met many backpacking couples who had met on the road and have witnessed travelers making connections that seemed to be promising. When I was in Amsterdam, I met another backpacker in my hostel who I immediately hit it off with. After spending a long weekend together, we decided that it was worth exploring where the relationship could go and I booked a flight to visit him in Vancouver, Canada. It was an amazing trip, and we spent the next 6 months traveling together and trying to make it work. While we’re not together anymore, I have fond memories of the time we spent together and am comforted by the fact that we gave it a genuine shot. Sometimes it’s worth the price tag to allow yourself these spontaneous and passionate experiences, as you never know what can happen.

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: (Not so) sexy time

Hugh Hefner wouldn’t make a very good Foreign Service Officer (FSO). FSO’s serving overseas need to disclose information about their lovers to the embassy’s Regional Security Officer (RSO), who in turn conduct investigations on foreign-born romantic partners to ensure that they aren’t likely to blackmail or manipulate them. There are no secrets and playboys tend to crash and burn before their careers can take off.

Managing relationships in the Foreign Service can be a travail, even for the monogamous. I was (and still am) happily married during my tenure in the service, but I have second-hand experience with this topic, vis-à-vis single and divorced former colleagues.

The expatriate experience tends to test marriages in a way that everyday life in the U.S. might not, and weak relationships don’t last long. My wife and I arrived at our first post as newlyweds and found that we needed to rely on each other more so than at home. When you arrive in a new country with no friends or relatives to fall back on, you spend an inordinate amount of time with your spouse and don’t have the same support network you would at home. In our case, and for many other couples, the experience brought us close together, cementing our bond. But that is not always the case.

I’ve heard people say that divorce rates in the Foreign Service are high, but I’m not sure they’re any higher than they are in the general population. But in the fishbowl world of the Foreign Service, where the line between one’s personal and work life is often blurred, divorce can take a toll on careers.

A former colleague told me that after he separated from his wife and arrived at a new post single, everyone seemed to already know his story. He said he was “the object of huge curiosity and scrutiny.”But it’s probably even harder for single women trying to pursue relationships in the service. Of the single men I know who joined the service, many found spouses while serving overseas, but most of the single women I know who joined in the last 5-10 years are still single, not all of them by choice. FSO’s typically move every 2-3 years, and many women find it difficult to find men in developing countries who are interested in a career woman whom they’d have to follow around the world. And even if they do find someone of interest, a moment of truth arrives at the end of the tour. When you live in Uganda and are off to Honduras next, what to do?

A single female I know told me that everyone knew who she was sleeping with at most of the overseas posts she’s served at. “You think the walk of shame is bad?” she wrote to me, in response to a question about the difficulty of dating in the Foreign Service. “Try having to call your Sudanese driver in the morning to pick you up in an armored Suburban. Talk about humiliating.” She said the “logistics” of Foreign Service life made it impossible for her to settle down.

At some posts, FSO’s live on a gated compound adjacent to the mission, and if one wants to bring home a lover to spend the time, they have to present an I.D. to an armed guard and pass through metal detectors and submit to being frisked on the way in. Not much of an aphrodisiac to say the least.

Some FSO’s, most commonly men, who might be considered slightly less-than-marketable products on the dating scene at home, do manage to trade up for attractive spouses they find in developing countries. Everyone has a story about a dorky guy with a lovely wife but, in reality, people marry for all kinds of reasons, including for money or status, even in the U.S., so odd relationships certainly aren’t the sole provenance of the expatriate or FSO.

Many a potentially good career in the Foreign Service has been ruined by philandering. Some lose their security clearances for serial cheating, which is thought to make one vulnerable to blackmail; others simply destroy their corridor reputations. The lack of privacy can be daunting, but, in reality, it probably encourages FSO’s to be faithful to their spouses, which is obviously a good thing.

The State Department has made strides of late in helping gay and straight FSO’s who live with unmarried partners, but trying to live overseas with what are called MOH’s (members of household) is also a huge challenge. FSO spouses, considered EFM’s (eligible family members) in the government’s acronym happy parlance, typically enjoy full diplomatic status overseas and can travel to posts at government expense. But MOH’s do not.

All this said, experiencing a new culture with a spouse or a new lover can be an awful lot more exciting than a stay-at-home marriage or trying one’s luck on eHarmony. But if you’re thinking of joining to the Foreign Service because you want to live like Heff, think again.

Read more from A Traveler in the Foreign Service here.

Image via Horrible Giant Jungle Flea on Flickr.