Travel Tradeoff: Time or Money?

Travel Tradeoff: Time or Money?

It’s not original to me by any means, but I have a working life theory that most daily decisions you make come down to what you’re willing to spend more of: your time or your money? It comes into play in a big way when making travel plans: Do you get a cheap flight and travel for 24 hours? Or do you spent twice as much and get there in half the time? Do you spend less on rooms and walk farther/sit on the metro longer? Or sleep on a sofa bed in the living room to save money? When do you go to museums? Do you cram them all in on a 48 hour pass?

I don’t think there’s usually a right or wrong answer; the resources you have available and your circumstances may even change from trip to trip. I read somewhere that people are usually more reluctant to spend money because it’s more quantifiable and seems more finite. But we can’t buy time! So I’ve found it helpful to be aware of the choice I’m making: what am I spending here, time or money? It’s helped me be deliberate about where I choose to spend my time and sanity! This topic has been fresh on my mind as I’ve been planning my current trip.

I chose to drive 12 hours round trip to save at least $2000 on tickets. I don’t mind driving, and the return on my time investment will be well worth the money I saved! (As an hourly rate that’s about $166 – if you find someone willing to pay me that to drive on a regular basis, send them my way!) If I was traveling alone I would have made a different decision – the significant drop in ticket volume no longer makes the savings worth it.

On the flip side, I chose to spend more on rooms in order to make travel with my children easier and more comfortable.


I will choose the slower train ride that is 40 minutes longer to save 80€ on our tickets. Sitting on a train is easy – and might even be a welcome break!

But I might turn around and spend that 80€ on metros and taxis in order to not drive my children to the point of exhaustion.

On our upcoming trip I will probably make our lunch sandwiches in our rooms so I can spend that 5€ saved on an extra pastry run every day. Which doesn’t exactly work out to either time or money saved, I suppose, but! More pastries! I’d much rather have the pastries I can’t make than the sandwiches I can, and I’m pretty darn sure that picking out French pastries will be a memory for my children. I didn’t bother to make sandwiches when it was just my husband and I traveling together. Different trip, different return on time investment.

Is it worth buying a public transport pass so you can have unlimited access, just for the ease of it? (Usually: yes.)

How much enjoyment will spending this money bring? Personally, most days a bakery picnic in the park truly brings me as much joy as sitting down in a restaurant. I choose my restaurant joys wisely and sparingly. On the flip side, how much headache will spending this money save me? Just buy the good baby equipment already and save your back/arms/pinched fingers!

Again, there’s no blanket “You should do _____” formula, because different things are valuable to different people – and different things are valuable differently to the same person as circumstances shift, kids get older, trip lengths vary – you get the point. How much money/how much time/how much joy/how much pain?. . . Try to think of where your pain points are/will be, and spend wisely there to alleviate them. On a happier note, think of what brings you great joy, and spend your money wisely there!

Travel time or money: the view is free

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