How to Travel with Friends on a Budget when You’re Frugal and They’re Not

How to Travel with Friends on a Budget When They Want to Spend Big Bucks

Traveling with friends is a hugely enriching experience, unless it doesn’t go well and then it’s a living hell. I think friendships can be made and broken in as little as one-week of traveling so managing expectations is really important before you commit to a trip with a friend. Without that, it can be hard to travel with friends on a budget.

Because I’m so frugal, most of my friends want to stay in nicer hotels, do expensive activities and overall don’t want to be on a budget on vacations. For them, a vacation happens once or twice a year so money isn’t an option. For me, it’s not as much about whether or not I have the money but I always consider if something is worth the money? From many years and many trips of traveling with friends, I know my  “value” barometer is different than other people.

Setting Expectations to Travel with Friends on a Budget

One of my first trips to Europe was with an old friend from college. Actually, I was living in Prague at the time and she was coming over to stay with me and then we were going to go to Italy for a week. At that time in my life, I didn’t have much money and she was doing quite well and had only traveled to Europe with her family staying at luxury hotels. Before we committed to a trip, I told her I could only spend $30 per night on accommodations, which meant a pension or bed & breakfast with a shared toilet. I also told her my daily budget was $60 per day total, including the accommodations, which is probably about $100 in today’s dollars. My friend said she would go along with my budget and we went on the trip and had a great time. We still talk about that trip today!

Separate Hotels and Itineraries

Bob and I like to travel with a couple we are very good friends with but they travel very high end. First off, we pick a location to travel to that is not outrageously expensive. No matter where we go, they don’t want to lower themselves to our standard of hotel so we just stay in different hotels and meet up during the day for various activities and for dinners (and sometimes lunches). We take turns picking restaurants so they pick one night and we pick the next. We get separate checks so they can order lobster and as many drinks as they want while we can get the pre fixe special to stay within our budget. It seems to work as they continue to travel with us. In fact, we just decided on a short trip together in November.

Letting Friends Pay

It’s o.k. to let friends pay for you. I don’t mean you should be a mooch but if they suggest it and the gesture is genuine, plus they have the financial means to do it, then you should allow them that pleasure. A good friend of mine and I went to Las Vegas for a girl’s-only trip. She had points for a free room so she picked a luxury hotel with two queen-sized beds in the room to share. She also loves Cirque du Soleil and I had never been so she treated me to a show. In return, I treated her to a moderate dinner. The rest of the trip we went dutch.

Sticking to Your Budget Under Pressure

Sometimes it takes discipline to travel with friends on a budget, to say no to a friend and to not feel pressured to pull out the credit cards to pay for it months later. (You should use use credit cards to get points but only within your budget and not maintaining a balance.) Good friends will consider your financial situation and/or your “value barometer” and still want to work something out so you can enjoy an adventure together.


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