Writing our Gold Coast on a Budget post got me thinking about when it’s okay to blow your travel budget. While you might be intent to stretch your funds to stay on the road for as long as possible, sometimes that splurge can result in one of your most memorable travel experiences.
When It’s Okay to Blow Your Travel Budget
Writing our Gold Coast on a Budget post reminded me of when we were young travellers on a budget, mapping out our daily expenses, which we would stick to religiously.
Often spending two months on the road, covering a country or two – from Mexico and the USA to Italy and Spain – we became experts on stretching our dollars without making too many sacrifices.
Even so, many of our best times on the road have come about when we’ve gone off-script and over budget. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow when an opportunity presents itself and worry about the financial consequences later.
Below, an example from our two-week stay in Tokyo six years ago, of when it’s okay to blow your travel budget…
On our first night in Tokyo for many years, we didn’t want to stray too far from the cosy apartment we had just settled into. We were immensely jet lagged and all we wanted was a bowl of noodles, a couple of drinks, and a really, really long sleep.
On our way to the main dining district of the area we staying were in, we came across an izakaya bar that was packed to the rafters. On closer inspection we saw that it was full with workers from the local office towers.
Despite Tokyo’s reputation as being one of the most expensive cities in the world, this place had to be good value for workers to still be here at 9.30pm. We translated the prices on the board for the specials (amusingly, they were also handwritten on paper signs stapled to the staff t-shirts) and realised that it was reasonably priced — by Tokyo standards.
The friendly staff, who spoke a little English, settled us in, and soon had us ordering the specials. There was a lot of seafood priced by the weight, and it’s important in these cases to double-check the prices.
We weren’t interested in having a whole lobster heading to our table and wiping out our daily expenses with one dish, so we ordered bits and pieces — sashimi, oysters and tempura for starters — things with which we were very familiar. But soon we were salivating over dishes that we didn’t recognise going out to other tables.
The locals at neighbouring tables would give us the thumbs-up for the plates that we watched go past our tiny table that they thought we should order. And we did. Over and over and over again. And we also ordered sake, cold and then warm, to go with those dishes. Again and again and again. And then we ordered the local whiskey our neighbouring diners were drinking…
We ended stumbling out of there alongside the large groups of workers heading for the last train home and we stumbled down the hill and found our little building and our compact apartment and we slept like babies.
Of course we had blown our budget for the day, by a long margin. But it was nowhere even remotely close to the expense of a Michelin-starred kaiseki-ryōri menu — and it was probably a whole lot more fun.
Over the next couple of days we slurped some inexpensive bowls of ramen at local eateries to make up for it and quickly got back on track again.
Foraging for food when you’re jet lagged, exhausted and disoriented in a city you’ve only visited briefly once before is a fools game, but sometimes things work out — even if you do blow your travel budget. Years later, it’s still one of my most favourite eating memories.