A Dangerous Habit

August 5, 2013


Just as I’m about to hand over my Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX to the sultry blonde manning the registration counter, securing my room for the evening, a frumpy woman with a sour expression stomps in and says she’s calling the police. I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s fair to say I shouldn’t have to put up with this for $150/night.

Yes, you read that right. I, Turner Wright, budget traveler advocate and conservative spender – by American standards, anyway – forked over that much. At a Travelodge, no less. Just so I could escape the harsh rumbling of the inevitable 6 AM United aircraft descent into San Diego International, as overheard from my bottom bunk at Hosteling International Point Loma.

$150. For one room. For one night. They fact that such options exist doesn’t bother me in the slightest. What really gets under my skin was just how easily I, someone on a modest income by any definition, readily accepted paying so much for a hotel. I could have Couchsurfed. Stayed at a hostel and put up with the noise (side note: if you know you snore, you relinquish your right to stay in a hostel dorm). Slept in the company vehicle. Stayed up all night. Camped on the beach or in the park. But no… I chose to spend an absurd amount to have a roof over my head, wifi, a shower, a bed, and overall, privacy.

It’s a dangerous habit. Not only spending, but having the means to do so, to dig myself into a financial hole so deep not even death would offer an escape. As an American with a decent credit rating, I’m sure I qualify for tens of thousands of dollars in credit cards alone. Mortgages? Car loans? I’ve no idea, but it wouldn’t surprise me. And yet, by virtue of not growing up with a lot of money and learning to live with less, I’ve largely escaped this economic trap. I don’t have a car. Or a house. Or even a lease on an apartment. My biggest financial burden is my smart phone, and even that will be up for renewal in December (I’m amazed I made it two years). I’ve discovered how to live as a traveler and still eat and live well. I may not be a millionaire anytime soon, but that’s ok. And if my recent behavior is any indication, it might be dangerous for me to become so.

Because I’ve lacked steady income for the majority of my adult life, I haven’t been a consistent spender. I would often go months, even over a year, before replacing clothes. It never occurred to me to use hotels when I traveled when there were options like hostels and Couchsurfing. However, now that I am required to be accessible to some areas lacking either, I’ve become aware of just how outrageous it is to be a domestic tourist.

$150 a night. And that’s on the cheap side. If we’re paying $50-80/night, we have come to expect the rooms to be covered in mold, cockroaches to be abundant, and the staff as unhelpful as possible. That’s just sick. One can stay at a large number of ryokan and business hotels in Japan that are infinitely higher quality than that of a Motel 6 for under $100. Anyone can get a private room in SE Asia for $10 or less. Hostels are so plentiful in Europe when compared with the US, it’s ridiculous. As a nation of tourists, it’s no wonder we’ve come to see travel as a luxury, rather than a lifestyle. After all, if you’re booking a midrange hotel in a touristy area for a week, you could be paying over $2000! For one room! And that’s not including the $100 roundtrip cab fare from the airport.

I’m ranting, I know. I’m just angry at myself for supporting this system, when there are other options like Airbnb and Craigslist temporary housing out there. And when I let myself become complacent to these types of purchases, to forget how grossly overpriced to the point of criminal they truly are, it starts to affect me in other aspects of spending. I start to forget $80 is a downright stupid price to pay for a pair of brand-name shorts when a similar pair exists for $20. Cheap wine at a restaurant isn’t necessary when you can use that money for a real bottle, drunk in the comfort of your home. As for gambling, the house always wins in the end.

We all need to remember this. Rich and poor. Those with a regular paycheck and those who need to wait for a deposit to clear. It’s one thing to live within your means, but it’s quite another to needlessly spend on overpriced services simply because you can. Doing so with perpetuate the idea that it’s right, it’s a necessary evil. It’s no different than allowing yourself to be overcharged by a taxi driver in India, or get scammed in Vietnam: if just one person goes along with the system, it sets a precedent, and the rest of us who wish to pay a fair price suffer. So I suppose endeavors like Airbnb, even in their “illegal” actions of avoiding hotel taxes. Until Holiday Inn, Ramada, Marriott, Hilton, Best Western, and La Quinta stop pulling the cab over to renegotiate the price en route, we’re all going to be settling for unreasonable rates.

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