Wednesday, August 11, 2010

From Rags to Riches

I have spent two and a half months staying in hostels with stinky French and snoring Chinese, constantly tempting the gods of diarrhea with cheap street food and walking hours a day just to not pay a $0.12 bus fare.

And now I’m in Hong Kong with the G-ster for some duck confit at Alain Ducasse, a pedicure at the spa of the Intercontinental and drinks at Felix. Talk about polar opposites.

I have the extreme fortune of being able to experience both sides of traveling and, of course, the question is which one I prefer. The answer is much tougher than you’d think.

Budget travelling has its challenges – a few skipped meals to pay for a ballet or sleepless nights to be able to get a guide for the Terracotta Warriors. But it is a challenge and such a fun challenge at that. Going on a budget makes you do your research and prioritize, it makes you think about what you want to see and why and whether it is worth it.

Then again, the bathrooms look like this.

Then you have the luxury side where doors are opened for you, air con is everywhere and if there is even a hint of a stain on your sheets you get fresh ones. No bed bugs here. It is easy and mindless and incredibly fascinating. And the views from hotel rooms look like this.

But it isn’t challenging and it isn’t adventurous.

When you travel on $30/day (or less) you are always in for an adventure – getting off at the wrong bus stop and wandering through alleyways with people making handmade noodles. Ordering either chicken or dog (it’s a toss up) at a street stall while a fancy restaurant with an English menu is across the street.

With money – you can see so much more. Travel times are halved by taking taxis, explanations are clear when you have a guide who actually speaks English and internal flights means you can see more sights in a short amount of time. You don’t get sick, you don’t get tired and if anything stressful happens – you just pay to make it go away.

I have lived my life with the philosophy that the journey is more interesting than the destination and there is no journey more incredible than trying to do it as cheaply as possible. There is no other way to learn the culture and understand the people than to live like they do and the only way to do that is to have their budget.

So, I think I’ll be a budget traveler for much longer than maybe my age suggests – getting down and dirty on public buses, doing the point-and-pray at restaurants and learning the best strategies for avoiding warts in showers.

Then again – the passionfruit soufflĂ© at Spoon looks unbelievable.

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