Balling on a budget: When a cheap vacation is also a luxury vacation
I’m a teacher, so I don’t have so much disposable income that I can afford 5-star hotels whenever I travel. I usually settle for 3-star with good guest reviews (with very mixed results). But in some places, a modest income can stretch a long way. When we booked our trip to Cambodia, where you can find a place to sleep on Hotels.com for $2, we decided to treat ourselves to a truly cheap luxury vacation.Even being as extravagant as we wanted to be, we only spent around $50-60 a night on hotels, less than $300 per person for the whole trip. That’s for the kind of hotels that offer welcome drinks, free made-to-order breakfasts, monogrammed bathrobes with luxurious roomy baths that most people would want to spend a honeymoon using. When I arrived at the Queen Grand Boutique Hotel in Phnom Penh, after two days of carrying my stuff from airport to airport and all over Hong Kong, the first thing I did was a get a 60-minute back massage that cost $20 including tip. And honestly, that was a rip off, because massage places all over Cambodia offer the same for $5-10.Our second place in Siem Reap, Mane Village Suites, was even more over-the-top. These guys catered to our every need. They even had brand new crutches waiting for us after hearing that my friend had sprained her ankle and offered us free massages upon our arrival. The property is a beautiful oasis with a gorgeous refreshing pool surrounded by cabanas and reclining chairs, next to an outdoor bar/restaurant. From your bed, you have a view of the pool and even a little dining table on your terrace where you can order dinner or have afternoon tea. Everyone who’s ever said that the hotel doesn’t matter because you never spend any time in it anyway has never stayed at a hotel this good.As a standard service, they provided a free tuk tuk to anywhere in the city and could arrange any tour or experience even at the last minute. We didn’t go anywhere in the hotel without everyone in the staff recognizing us by name and asking how my friend was doing. Honestly it took me at least two days to even feel deserving of that kind of treatment.After airfare and hotels, everything else was exponentially more affordable. Over 10 days, I spent a little over $500 on food, drinks, shopping, museums, two tours, and transportation all over the place, including transport from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, which was a whopping $9. That’s less than it costs to get from the airport to city center in a lot of countries.Experiences like this always remind me of people that have always condescendingly asked me how I can possibly afford to travel as much as I do. (For the record, no one in the Czech Republic says shit like that; they think my 10-day vacations are sad and short.) And then I think about the lifestyle people lead sometimes. How you can take a $15 Uber to Happy Hour where you’ll spend $45 on dinner and drinks. Before going to another place where it’s no longer Happy Hour and you might spend another $35 on 3 cocktails before taking another Uber home when there’s surge pricing for $20.To those people I have to say, if you had three or four consecutive Friday nights at home, you’d be able to afford 10-days in Cambodia – super luxurious days at that. No expense spared. You could have that same evening in Siem Reap for $20, including dinner and a tuk tuk to and from your hotel. If you want to have an even cheaper night, you could have 10 beers for $5.The eggs benedicts I ordered as my free breakfast in Cambodia every day would cost me enough in Miami or New York to be able to pay for an entire week of these hotels. So if you think you can’t afford to travel, maybe you’re just traveling to the wrong places. I highly recommend the places where your vacation can be cheap and also luxurious.