Jeremiah Rogers

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When $70 of food, books and movies is worth it.

I just spent 29 hours on airplanes or in airports flying from New York to Delhi to Mumbai to Bangkok. It really wasn’t bad: I got a full 9 hours of sleep, watched two movies, and finished two mediocre Michael Crichton books.

My budget travel strategy is to buy the cheapest flight I can, even if it has a horrible route, and stock up on movies, books, and ear plugs to enjoy the trip.

Psychologically I wanted to save as much money as possible by taking a cheaper flight and scrimping on every possible expense. I’d like to take a cheap flight, eat grocery store food, and read free books. But I knew that during 14 extra hours of transit I’d really feel every minute of boredem. So instead I gave myself permission to spend some of that savings making it feel like I wasn’t flying at all: I stocked up my Kindle and MacBook full of highly entertaining junk movies and books and I bought good snacks, meals, and coffee at the airport.

What are the economics? In this case my flight saved me $600 and took an extra 14 hours of time in transit (not counting the accidental layover). Earning $40 per hour (tax free1) for sitting on planes and in airports is a good deal in my mind, so I splurged some of that income renting movies from iTunes, buying books for my Kindle, and eating decent food in the airport to make the trip less miserable. It got expensive: I spent $18 on water and pretzels in JFK airport, rented $18 worth of movies, and spent around $30 on food in Mumbai and Dehli. But in the end I still “earned” over $500 for taking the flight instead of a direct route ($36 per hour). In my mind that’s worth it.

So if you’re wandering with little income you may consider how much money you could save by taking a slower trip and allocate some of that savings to make the journey more enjoyable. You might still come out ahead even after treating yourself to some things you rarely get to enjoy.

  1. If you spend $1 you need to earn more than $1 to replace it because you have to pay taxes on the income. So saving $40 per hour is the same as earning $40 without taxes – more like earning $57 at standard US tax rates. [return]