When I travel, one of the best ways that I remain frugal is by adapting to the local purchasing power.
In other words, as soon as I land, I'm no longer a US dollar spender but rather a spender of whatever currency is local.
An average to normal meal in India might cost $1, while a fancy meal might cost $5. In the US, an average meal may cost $6 while a fancy meal might be $20.
So when traveling in India, I don't say “Oh, it's so cheap to eat the fancy meal, I may as well,” but instead I choose to adapt to the local power of purchasing.
Let me begin with a little true story.
I was traveling around in Sri Lanka, a country where I was spending about $1 per meal, taking overnight buses for less than $5, and couchsurfing or getting rooms for $5 – $10 per night (shared with a friend).
Traveling around Sri Lanka I was spending around $10 per day, and while we were trying to save money and didn't have too much extra, we were actually pretty comfortable (in our opinions).
I had seen photos of Sigiriya, an ancient red rock mountain with a palace carved into it, and I knew I wanted to go. So we took a $5 overnight bus from Jaffna to the town and eagerly woke up the next morning to visit.
Walking from the street into the Sigiriya compound was similar to landing at an international airport in Africa before leaving the airport: it's neatly maintained, much cleaner than anywhere else, and quite a false depiction of the reality of its surroundings.
As giant buses filled with tour groups rolled in one by one, I started to feel like I wasn't really in Sri Lanka anymore.
We made our way over to the overly nice ticket booth counter, and that's when I had the shock of my life.
“How much is the ticket,” I asked. “3,300 Sri Lankan Rupees (which is about $30 US),” was her reply.
Now I know, it's probably worth it to visit for some people, and had the entrance fee been a little more affordable (according to my daily budget), I would have still entered.
But the price just wasn't worth it for me at that time.
Instead I walked outside of the gates, found a little street family restaurant, and proceeded to eat a bunch of outrageously delicious Sri Lankan hoppers while enjoying the friendly company of the family.
Food, and cultural experiences are my passion when I travel, and while it would have been great to enter one of Sri Lanka's most cherished historical sites, I was quite happy to eat local food and hang out with a local family in replacement.
This situation, and other similar occurrences throughout my travels, have taught me a few things about visiting attractions when we travel.
First of all, due to limited time and financial resources (most of us probably), it's impossible to do everything. We must pick and choose the things we really want to do that we can also afford.
Second, while I know some attractions are worth paying a lot of money for, where is the cut off?
Budget, desire, significance?
Those are all important factors that should contribute to a choice to visit any attraction in a country. At the same time, if keeping your budget is stronger than your desire, one should not visit the attraction, and one should not regret it either (after all, I was still in Sri Lanka).
But the real thing I want you to get out of this article is that we should all follow our passions instead of our guidebooks.
All attractions in any country are worth visiting to someone. But not all attractions are worth visiting for you personally.
Sometimes attractions are worth breaking your budget for, other times just being in a foreign country and experiencing daily life is the attraction.
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