Budget travel: How do you decide what attractions are worth it?

budget travel when to spend and when to splurge on attractionsUnless you’re a megazillionaire, it’s probably safe to assume that both time and money are, to some degree, factors in your travel plans. As much as you’d love to explore every nook and cranny of this grand ole planet, some tough choices are going to have to be made.

One of the last couples we hosted through Couchsurfing spent just a day in Auckland before moving on south. As they bluntly put it, you don’t come here for the cities – you come for the outdoors. I accompanied them up to Matakana and Tawharanui, took them out for Thai food in Kingsland, and walked them around our newly invigorated waterfront. And while they originally wanted to drive west to Piha as well, they made the call to skip it after discussing it with us. Any local knows the two beaches are worlds apart … Tawharanui’s untouched, shining shores and Piha’s rugged coast … but in all honesty, the subtleties are probably wasted on time-pressed tourists.

I had every intention of visiting both the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre while in Italy. We have the time, and location wise, they both slotted easily into our itinerary. But here’s the thing. We have short attention spans.

Having recently experienced the tightly packed townships perched along the Amalfi Coast, I am just not sure we would really, truly appreciate the villages of the Cinque Terre. It’s an area that seems to cater more for hikers (and there’s a fee to walk through the national parks) which isn’t really our thing.

Equally important: T is feeling travel weary, and I’m loath to subject him to any more lengthy train rides than absolutely necessary.

No doubt Cinque Terre has countless charms of its own, and its brightly coloured tipsy topsy houses were right up there on my bucket list (Amalfi’s were very similar, though in pastel tones) but in this case, it might just be our Piha. Close, but no cigar.

amalfi township amalfi coast from the sea

Figuring out where to direct your days and dollars is an ongoing challenge as a traveller. How do you decide what attractions to shell out for? What sights are worth going out of your way to visit?

The one thing we almost unhesitatingly paid for was a ride on the London Eye – and it turned out to be a bit of a bust. We spent basically an entire day’s budget on tickets, something I definitely wouldn’t do again. Sure, the views were good, but not exactly life changing, and the queue to get on is one I’d rather not repeat.

view from london eye

Since then, I’ve become a bit of an obsessive Googler about any paid attractions that we’re considering. It’s a hard call, though. One person’s Louvre might be another’s Geordie Shore. You’ve just got to know your own inclinations and look at any reviews through that lens.

For example, people tend to be pretty divided over whether the Colosseum is worth entering or not. We decided not to, based on the general consensus that there isn’t enough inside to occupy you for more than half an hour or so. And given that a lot of the Roman Forum is visible from outside as you walk around the city centre, we felt validated by our choice pretty quickly. Of course, YMMV…

On the other hand, the Acropolis was worth every euro to us. The views alone from the top of the rock were astounding. Plus I’m more familiar with Greek classics than I am with Roman history; that sort of thing makes a difference. Hiring a BMW (or similar) in Germany is almost a requirement if you’re visiting…

hire bmw in munich form bmw welt IMG_1041


…as is a gondola ride in Venice.

gondola ride in venice

Splurging on a canyoning trip for T in Switzerland was also money well spent, as he came back absolutely thrumming with spirit and declaring it the single best experience of his life. That, my friends, is what money is for.

Sadly, there are many things we didn’t quite get to this time around. Places we’ve skipped include:

Scottish Highlands
Unfortunately, the tour company I wanted to book with was sold out, and we were only in Edinburgh for a couple of days. For about a minute, I thought we might be able to hook up with fellow Couchsurfers and share a car, but that didn’t pan out. Renting a car on our own would have been eye-wateringly expensive.

Neuschwanstein Castle
I know, guys. I KNOW. The ‘Disney’ castle! But our host didn’t have the time to drive us there, and we knew the bus tours would be absolutely chocka in July. We aren’t big on organised tours anyway, and for the price, it sounded like it just might end up being more of an ordeal than a highlight. Win some, lose some.

St Petersburg
Everything about getting to Russia sounded like a horrendous hassle. The visas. The flights (or a cruise). The money that would have been involved just didn’t add up, even excluding the logistical headache.

There were a couple of spaces in our itinerary that could have accommodated a whirlwind visit to Spain, but alas, these didn’t align with cheap flights.

How do you decide when to save and when to splurge on sightseeing?

13 thoughts on “Budget travel: How do you decide what attractions are worth it?

  • Reply krantcents August 16, 2013 at 11:50

    I think there are several elements to traveling which is time and money. Time and money are always limited, but you can use taxi drivers in big cities to help you see the sights as well as free or almost free tours. There are walking tours where volunteers and all you have to do is tip them.

  • Reply Lindsey @ Sense & Sensibility August 16, 2013 at 19:27

    Time and money! Forcing us to prioritize since forever. I haven’t had the opportunity to travel a lot but I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences when I took a chance on something I wasn’t sure about. As usual, your pics are amazing! Thanks for the tips!

  • Reply Linda August 17, 2013 at 01:44

    Yes, it’s not not just money but time constraints that can impact travel decisions, too. Or maybe it’s all the same since most of us with time limitations have them because we will miss out on compensation if we take too much time and bust our budgets that way!

    When I was in Germany many, many years ago, my friends and I decided that day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle was a must. We didn’t get an early enough start, though, so by the time we actually got to the castle itself the tours of the inside were done for the day. Doh! So, we got to see the outside and walk around to take external photos. Eh, it was OK. Honestly, I don’t think you missed much, so don’t sweat it.

    While I had a wonderful time in Spain in 2011, whenever I talk to people about it they are shocked (shocked!!) that I didn’t go to Barcelona. Well, sure, I’d love to go to Barcelona one day, but it’s kind of far from Madrid, and that’s where I scored my cheap flight to/from Chicago ($650 US for a RT was an amazing deal!). With the number of days I had for vacation, I would have had to miss something else or just run myself completely ragged trying to fit in a night or two in Barcelona. I decided that it was more important for me to go to Granada and visit the Alhambra instead. I don’t regret that decision one bit. Barcelona can be a stop on a Mediterranean trip I’ll do someday. Barcelona, Marseille, Nice, maybe even Mallorca…I think that would work out to be another fun trip.

    • Reply eemusings August 17, 2013 at 09:38

      I hear Madrid > Barcelona anyway 🙂

  • Reply Funny about Money August 17, 2013 at 13:11

    Gee, that’s disappointing about the London Eye…it’s one attraction I’d have definitely wanted to go on!

    Well…now you have a new list of things to do on the NEXT round-the-world trip you take.

  • Reply Marissa @ Finance Triggers August 18, 2013 at 01:59

    Whoa! What a gorgeous, breathtaking view of London!

  • Reply The Asian Pear August 18, 2013 at 17:54

    I think for me it’s a few factors: time and money for sure. But also level of interest and how different will it be from what I’ve already/will see. When I went to Hawaii earlier this month, I contemplated taking a day trip tour to another island but at the cost of $400 USD, I finally decided against it. It was too costly. It might have been nice but honestly, I’m not a big fan of Hawaii and another view of it might have been nice but it’s not a must visit for me.

  • Reply Pauline @ Make Money Your Way August 19, 2013 at 18:52

    I spent 6 months in Europe last year and you get an overdose of museums and churches pretty easily. Yet staying outside seems a bit ridiculous since you have come that far to look at a museum’s entrance.
    I checked out tons of discounts to make the impact less (you get 2 for 1 on the London Eye if you get there by train for example) but after it was just because we were not feeling like yet another museum.

  • Reply anthony a. @ financial freedom ideas August 22, 2013 at 00:05

    Great pictures! I think it would be great to splurge when travelling our dream vacation. Not to the point of wasting money but going to places which you prefer without the hindrance of money. For me, I like to travel however I need to prioritize first in building multiple income streams to sustain my desired lifestyle and travelling is one of it.

  • Reply Manda August 22, 2013 at 01:39

    Time and money are definitely factors, but so is interest. Plus, so does the state of the sight in question. Like, I went to one zoo in China and I do not plan on going to any ever again. But if it’s one of those once in a lifetime attractions that everyone always raves about, or one I know I’d regret not seeing even if I’m not super interested, I’ll still go. It all depends!

  • Reply London on a budget: A few ways to save | NZ Muse January 12, 2014 at 14:28

    […] The one attraction we paid for (and regretted) was the London Eye. Aside from that, simply strolling around taking in the architecture, exploring the south bank, wandering past Buckingham Palace and through all the huge parks, and nipping into some of the many free museums in London, was enough to keep us occupied. […]

  • Reply RTW budget: What it costs to travel in the UK/Western Europe | NZ Muse January 12, 2014 at 16:46

    […] to make more money than subsist on crackers and bananas (particularly in Italy! Oh, the food!) or miss out on certain experiences. And while trains aren’t always the cheapest way to get around if you’re willing to […]

  • Reply Updates: August 11 – 17 | The Outlier Model January 18, 2014 at 08:15

    […] Muse discusses how to decide what attractions to visit on a limited time and money […]

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