Pay more, get a better product. That’s how money works, right? Front-row seats behind the dugout are better than obstructed view bleachers. A pint of fresh farmers-market blueberries tastes better than a cheap bag of frozen supermarket blueberries. A fancy sports car goes way faster (and looks way cooler) than a subcompact hatchback.
But travel is different. When I landed the Frugal Traveler column for the New York Times in 2010, I believed my job was to help people save on travel without giving up too much or being too uncomfortable. But it was not long before I realized that the great experiences I was having on the road — a night out with the Brazilian women’s boxing team in Barbados, conversations with the small-town Mexican cheesemaker who had rented me a room, a friendship made waiting in line for rush tickets at the Comédie Française in Paris — were not despite my low budget, but because of it.
That doesn't mean I'd turn down an upgrade to business class. But shaving down your budget will make your journey better in countless ways. Here are some.
You’ll be less isolated. Have you ever stayed at the Plaza in New York City, right across from Central Park? Did you notice the neighborhood feel when you emerged onto the street? Of course not, because you were surrounded by tourists and hot-dog vendors and a line at the Apple Store across Fifth Avenue. Locals don’t come near the place if they can avoid it. Compare that to the $45-a-night apartment I rented from a filmmaker in São Paulo, Brazil. The house was
a single-story home in an old-fashioned villa, a cluster of houses off the street in one of the city’s safest (and hippest) neighborhoods. There were tons of locals around, but my favorite turned out to be Bonifácio, the filmmaker's white-streaked black cat who pounced into bed in the middle of the night and actually stole all the covers. I loved it.