Photo by David Ohmer.

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about various ways to save money – both saving ahead of a big trip as well as cutting costs once you’re already on the road. However, it’s not too often I talk about spending money – after all, that’s the part that most of us do all too easily!

Nevertheless, it is worth stopping to think about the act of spending, and asking ourselves if we’re maximizing the usefulness of our funds. Or, put another way: are you getting the most bang for your buck? One way to evaluate this is to apply what’s known as the comfort principle, which is the idea that the more time you spend doing something, the more money you should spend on products and tools to make that activity comfortable.

Here’s an excerpt from an article discussing the issue on Lifehacker:

I work at home, and thus average at least 10 hours a day in one chair in front of the computer. Subtract 8 hours from the day for sleeping means I’m spending 10 out of 16 hours, or 62% of my waking day, in this chair. That’s a pretty large percentage of my time… Now I apply the comfort principle. Would I rather spend 62% of my time either “making do” with a mediocre chair and powering through in relative misery, or would I rather spend it in comfort? … Say the typical mediocre Office Depot chair costs $100, and a really good chair – a spine-conforming, back-supporting, muscle-relaxing specimen – costs $800. If you spread your $700 over the course of 2600 hours, that comes out to about 25 cents an hour. Would you pay a quarter an hour to be comfortable? My guess is yes.

If we apply the same concept to travel, it makes sense that we should spend more of our travel budget on the things that we’ll spend the most time doing during our vacation. What might that include? Here are a few of the most common travel activities/expenses and how you might consider applying the comfort principle:

Accommodation

If you’re heading to a destination where there’s lots to see – in other words, you’re going to be out sightseeing all day – don’t splurge on a fancy hotel. You’re better off spending your money on tours, entrance fees or anything else that will enhance your sightseeing than on a hotel with lots of amenities you’ll never get around to using. On the other hand, if the point of your vacation is to de-stress and simply do nothing, it makes sense to book the accommodation with the beautiful views, private balcony, fancy spa etc., where you’ll be happy lounging about.

Airfare

Airfare is a significant travel expense and it doesn’t make sense to book a first or business class ticket when you’re traveling on a very short flight. There often isn’t a dramatic difference between classes (since you’re usually on smaller, less “pimped out” planes) and the flight will be over before you can really enjoy it. By contrast, if you’re taking a long haul flight – particularly an overnight one where sleeping is involved – it could be worth splurging for the upgrade to business class where you’ll get to make the most of the flat bed, better entertainment system, fancier meals and so on.

Meals

Not every meal during your vacation has to be a culinary masterpiece accompanied by a bill to suit. If you’re in a hurry to eat because you have a tour or activity scheduled, don’t go to an upscale restaurant where the service tends to move at a slower pace and you’ll be too busy scoffing down your food to really savor it. Similarly, it doesn’t make sense to splash out on the fancy buffet breakfast when all you’re really going to touch is the coffee and cereal. On the other hand, enjoying a relaxing afternoon by splurging on high tea in London or macarons in Paris can make total sense. Likewise, if the point of your vacation is to savor the wines of Tuscany or eat your way around Spain, spend more of your budget doing so.

Luggage

Applying the comfort principle to the idea of luggage leads us to the simple notion that the more time you spend carrying your luggage, the nicer it should be. If you’ll just be handling your bag between airports and hotels, a basic but sturdy suitcase should do the job. Pick a suitcase with inline skate-style wheels for easy maneuvering, but don’t worry about purchasing fancy designer luggage – it just puts you at greater risk of baggage theft anyway. Conversely, if you’ll be carrying your bags a lot (on hiking trips for example) then it’s absolutely worth it to spend money on a great backpack that will hold up and be kind to your back.

What do you think? Have you tried to apply the comfort principle to your vacation budget? Are there any other travel activities or expenses you think can be “maximized” in this way? 

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