I have always enjoyed roughing it, whether I was in a tent in a National Park or some remote location half a world away where my sleeping accommodations consisted of a floating bamboo shelter with no running water or electricity. I enjoy this kind of traveling on a budget because my spiritual condition is renewed when I get close to nature. I feel close to ‘all that is’ and I am at peace. After exposure to such great beauty, the world could be falling down around my feet and I would walk peacefully through the rubble.
Especially with round the world travel, I prefer traveling on a budget because it allows me to get close to the people and culture of the country I am visiting. Pricey, upscale hotels try their best to provide all the amenities the traveler would normally have at home. The result is often a sanitized, if well-intentioned, experience of the country and its people. On the few occasions when I stayed at all-inclusive resorts or five-star hotels, the hotel staff strongly encouraged me not to venture off the grounds because they “could not ensure my safety” in the event that I did so. This happened to me in Jamaica last year, and I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. I suspected the real issue was a desire to keep guests on the grounds so they spend all their money on site. Even off-site tours that are arranged are highly sanitized experiences. In my opinion, there is nothing like getting out into the neighborhoods, discovering hole-in-the-wall restaurants where the locals eat, snooping through back alleys, and talking to people on the street.
When traveling on a budget I also come away with a strong sense of gratitude for everything that we have in the United States. We take for granted that electricity flows when we plug in an appliance and water comes out of the tap when we turn on the faucet. As I discovered just this week, sometimes it doesn’t even take international travel to put me in the gratitude mode. For the last three days I have been staying at a hotel in Clearwater Beach, Florida. This was a national chain, albeit a budget operation. I asked to see the room and found it clean enough – not sparkling, but acceptable. It was a suite with a living room, kitchenette, bathroom, and separate bedroom. It had a giant whirlpool tub in the bathroom, which lured me with visions of a long soak in a hot bubble bath, and at $69 per night the price was right, so I snapped it up.
By the time I had carried my luggage up the stairs, settled in, and answered all my emails, it was after 11 p.m. Still, that big tub beckoned. I sat on the lip and turned the round spigot to the right and then to the left. Nothing. I tried pushing it up, down, right, and left. Nope. It didn’t move in any of those directions. I tried pulling it out – Aha! – that worked. But only a slow drizzle of water came from the faucet. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the water to turn on fully. It was getting late and I was tired, so I decided to take a shower instead, but when I pushed the spigot back in, the small drizzle of water kept flowing from the faucet. No matter what I did, i could not get the water to turn off. Even worse, the pipes began to clank incessantly. Since the bathroom backed up to the bedroom, I spent the rest of the night listening to the water run in the tub – da drum, da drum, da drum – and the pipes creak and groan.
In the morning I reported the problem to the owner and by the time I returned that evening he told me it had been fixed. Anticipating the long, hot soak that I could now enjoy, I headed straight for the bathroom. Sure enough, when I pulled the spigot out, a full stream of water flowed from the faucet, along with gravel, dirt, and other debris. Although I ran the water for quite some time, junk just kept flowing out. And about that time I realized that there was no lever to close the drain, nor was there a rubber drain plug anywhere to be found, so it would have been impossible to fill the tub up in any case. Once again I settled for a shower.
The tub wasn’t the only problem in this hotel. The mini refrigerator in the kitchen had been set on the highest temperature, so everything I had put in it the night before was frozen solid. Although there was a cook top, there wasn’t a pot or pan to be found, nor was there any silverware, dishes, coffee pot, or even an alarm clock in the unit. The only phone was in the living room, so wake-up calls were out of the question. On my final morning I rose early, hoping to get on the road by 8 a.m. I stepped into the shower and tuned on the spigot. No water. Nada. Zilch. Not a drop. There was water in the tub, but it was still spitting gravel, so I took a birdbath in the sink.
And that brings me to the final benefit of traveling on a budget. “Roughing it” has taught me how to roll with the punches. I take these situations with a gain of salt, realizing that even the worst situation in the U.S. is far better than what might be considered normal in third world countries. After all, what are my choices? I can get angry, which is a total waste of energy. I can be judgmental, which is an indication that I see myself as better than others. I can be arrogant in the face of incompetence, which means that my ego is out of control. If things had gotten bad enough, I would simply have changed hotels. Instead, I chose to be amused by the whole thing. And once again I was immensely grateful.
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested to learn how I fled corporate life to travel around the world and write about my experiences.