From Budget to Luxury: Learning to Splurge on Lavish Accommodations

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The more I travel and the older I get, the more I realize why lodging matters; the place you stay can make or break a trip. When I first started traveling, I was still getting used to how far my money could go, so I did a lot of budget travel and camping. Now that I have more experience planning trips and better understand how much things cost, I especially enjoy splurging more on lodging. Here is the story of my journey from budget to luxury and how I decide when to treat myself. 


Before I begin, I do realize how privileged I am to even be able to write a post like this. Many people can’t afford to travel at all or can only travel on a stricter budget. I will be the first to say that you can still have a memorable vacation staying at cheaper accommodations; I have personally experienced this at a hostel in Shanghai, on all my camping trips, and on my budget tour in Morocco, to name a few. There is no shame in budget travel, and it is better than not going at all! 

The purpose of this post is to encourage people with a bit of extra money to be bold and treat themselves; spending your hard-earned cash on upgraded lodging can lead to an even more memorable experience.

Cheap Lodging Regrets

One of the first big trips I planned on my own was a two-week road trip through the Southwest of the US. At the tail end of this trip, after many nights sleeping in tents, driving between National Parks, hiking all day, and going to bed smelling like campfire, we finally arrived in Moab, our last stop.

I had struggled to locate a good campground here, as tourists packed the town and I was booking close to our departure date. I settled on a spot tucked under large trees near a babbling brook, despite the warnings from the website stating that we would have to cart our belongings into the site from the parking lot, as this was not a drive-up campground.

It also noted that no campfires were allowed. Despite the restrictions, I booked it anyways, since it was much cheaper than most of the Airbnb’s and hotels in the area.

We were more than ready to put our feet up and have a cold drink upon arrival, but first, we had to set up camp before sundown. We pushed our things into the campground only to discover that we did not have a picnic table at our site and that there were mosquitoes EVERYWHERE.

Turns out a babbling brook is peaceful and picturesque but is also home to swarms of pesky water-dwelling insects. Hastily we slapped them off ourselves while chucking our belongings inside the tent. “Let’s get out of here.”

Wishing we had a better campground

Thank God for Margaritas

It became clear we would not be enjoying our last leisurely evenings of the road trip resting under the canopy of the trees at our site. In fact, we decided to minimize our time at the campground since we couldn’t have a fire, had no place to sit and eat, and were surrounded by mosquitoes!

We loaded back into the car and took shelter at the local Mexican restaurant.Ladies and gentlemen, margaritas can fix anything. Throw in an air-conditioned restaurant with bottomless chips and salsa, excellent service, and hot, flavorful enchiladas with rice and beans, and we easily shook off our annoyance with the campsite.

Upon returning full and content, we sprinted into the tent to hide from the mosquitoes for the rest of the evening. 

Had it not been for the redemption of the margaritas, our camping experience would have been much worse. We stayed two nights at this campground, and while the showers were hot and we had a sink to wash our dishes in, I have no particularly pleasant memories there.

The Epiphany

Staying at this site is a funny memory I share with my sister-in-law. However, in hindsight, I wish I had splurged and gotten a cute Airbnb with a TV or a comfy hotel room. How much better might it have been if we had ended our long, hot days curled up on fluffy clean beds while watching a movie after a bug-free shower?

This was the first time the seed was planted in my head; at the end of a long camping trip, go out with a bang and get a nice room. Be willing to change your plans and rebook something that night. Especially if the only other option is a mosquito-infested budget campground. You won’t regret it.

My First Expensive Hotel

A few years later, in the spring of 2021, I was planning a week-long getaway to Miami and the Florida Keys. While scouring the internet for lodging in Key West only a month before our spring break trip, I kept coming up empty. There were very few hotel or Airbnb options in my usual price range.

I realized I would have to book outside my typical range or not go. I was terrified; booking an expensive hotel felt like a waste of my money, too extravagant. But, it was either splurge on lodging or don’t stay in Key West, so with trepidation, I booked it. 

Leading up to the trip, I felt nervous, like I was wasting my money, and worried that I had made a huge mistake; I was going to feel this financially for a while. But quite the opposite was true. We had a very comfortable stay in our condo at the Coconut Mallory Resort and Marina in Key West and my budget fully recovered.

Wait, Everything is Fine

For the first time, I had spent a sizable portion of my budget on lodging, and everything had been fine! Even better than fine! I had not gone bankrupt, and I had tons of meaningful memories from our time there.  

This Florida vacation is one of my favorite travel experiences to this day, even though planning it was a little scary because it stretched me financially. That is when I learned this lesson: once the trip ends, you aren’t sitting there wishing you hadn’t spent the money.

At no point did I think Wow, I really wish we didn’t do that sunset cruise. Or I wish we had stayed in a less-nice hotel. In fact, my only regret is that I didn’t get a more inviting hotel for the night near the Everglades National Park. I had been afraid to spend the money, yet it worked out great. 


Marcus and I have been fortunate to stay at some beautiful hotels since our trip to Florida. Marcus took me to El Monte Sagrado in Taos, now one of my favorite properties and one we visit regularly. We also have stayed at the Seabird Resort in Oceanside and its sister property, the Mission Pacific, as well as at Inn at the Market in Seattle, La Quinta in Palm Springs, and El Dorado in Santa Fe.

Each hotel creates a unique and memorable experience through exquisite decor, delicious dining, lavish accommodations, and comfortable rooms. 

Lesson Learned

Planning a trip entirely around where I am staying is something I get now: the whole point of the trip is spending time in the hotel. Usually, the destination is the point for me; if I go somewhere, I want to explore the city or the town, not stay in my room. But that’s because I wasn’t staying in the right rooms.

I have successfully crossed over. I’m not in my 20s, and I’m not struggling to see what my finances look like post-divorce. I have a career, a partner with a career, and some wiggle room in spending, and I have decided that staying in fancy places is fun. It’s been a journey to arrive at this point, and a fun one at that. 

If you are lucky enough to have time off from work, and the money to travel, I highly recommend saving a little more and getting a room with a view or upgrading your room. It is not something I have ever regretted.


This was a great article about knowing when to splurge, for anyone interested.

This article makes another great case for splurging on your lodging, especially for the sake of location.

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