Budget doesn’t need to mean cheap. It also means affordable and although that is subjective, I cringe every time I click a tweet about budget travel and am faced with a bunch of hostels. I don’t share! I am too old to share. My only backpack is Prada and you won’t find me hiking with it nor using it to slum around the world. So to all those tweeters out there, let’s call a spade a spade. When you say budget, what you mean to say is no amenities, no cappuccino in the morning, no turn down service. When I say budget, I mean all of the above and a Pinot Gris.
So how do you travel on a budget and not end up someplace that resembles summer camp from when you were 9? It’s actually not that hard once you get past the semantics. Last year I traveled 5 countries and yes, on a budget. After trying to coordinate the trip myself, when it started to become daunting, I pulled out my trusty American Express Card and called their travel service. I made an appointment to go into their Beverly Hills office although I must say budget and Beverly Hills in one sentence is a tich of a dichotomy. I sat down at the first desk and once I gave the woman my budget she began to sigh and twitch and sigh some more. Finally she informed me she doesn’t normally work within my budget but would, much like a Jewish mother, make the sacrifice to help me out. I silently got up from my chair and sat back down with another agent. Now to my dear American Express travel agent with an attitude I can only say, if hotels within my price range are in your inventory and on your website, I doth protest, and it is you I protest!
Properly situated with an agent ‘further down the line’, he and I began plotting my adventure. I had what I thought to be a reasonable budget and as I was to find out once I arrived in Europe, my budget was perfect for what I needed. My needs: close to the action and in walking distance to the city center, breakfast (and do buy that before you arrive with the cost of your room…it’s cheaper that way), nice, clean private rooms with private baths and of course, cappuccino and a glass of wine for purchase either in the bar or lobby. Simply, a boutique hotel.
Agent #2 did quite well. He found me hotels near the train station I would be arriving at and close to the city centers with all the amenities I asked for. That is, until I arrived in Vienna. Yes, even in American Express’ inventory there are hotels (and I use that word loosely) that resemble tenements from 1940s New York. It was around 9PM when I arrived at my not so stellar hotel which even with the windows closed rattled away under the din of the trolly line outside. I knew immediately this was a no go and went to pick up the room phone to call AMX only to find the phone didn’t work. I then called the AMX 24 hour travel line from my cell phone to get some help in making my move. That too turned out to be not as great a travel perk of owning the gold card either. As I also had no internet service (shocking), I used my data plan and did an online search. And there it was, the near perfect Hotel Mercure Secession Wien. Here’s where a late arrival can actually help. Hotels would rather negotiate a rate than to leave a room empty and in the end, I ended up in a much nicer hotel which was quite a bit higher then my initial budget for just a little bit above what I had planned.
When I got back stateside I did make the perfunctory call to AMX. One to have them pull that retched Viennese hotel from their inventory and two, to share a few choice words about their service. Bonus, a cost adjustment, a plethora of apologies and few miles tacked onto my account. So in the end remember these things. You can always move hotels, you can always complain (nicely) about substandard service and most importantly, if you have a budget with definitive criteria like mine, you can find what you’re looking for. And to those bloggers who call college dorms budget travel, maybe you could change your description to ‘Slumming It For Less’ so real budget travelers like myself don’t click on your links.
Dream, Travel, Explore