5 reasons why you may be happier booking a budget hotel

May 30, 2022

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Staying at a luxury hotel is often a top priority for travelers on vacation who have the funds. After all, it’s where you’ll get the best food, sheets and service, right? But what if we told you that staying in a budget hotel could make your trip more enjoyable?

Yes, there is scientific and psychological proof that not dropping all that cash on a luxe crash pad (even if you can afford it) may increase your happiness levels. In fact, there are plenty of travelers who seek out a budget option even if their bank accounts allow for a more lavish stay. But why?

We asked a board-certified behavior analyst and some thrifty globe-trotters to explain.

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In This Post

Expectations are managed

You expect perfection when booking a $2,000-a-night stay at a Ritz-Carlton Reserve. However, it’s easier to be pleasantly surprised with the accommodations when you book a cheap stay. That’s because it boils down to managed expectations.

“Results from the study of peoples’ happiness in relation to expectations have shown lower expectations correlate to experiencing happiness,” board-certified behavior analyst Jessica Stephens told TPG. “This seems logical because novel but pleasant and unexpected surprises are quite likely to make us happy.”

But why would modern luxuries and the myriad of customizable products at our fingertips make people in wealthy countries unhappy? It’s because humans will habituate to ever-increasing standards of living (aka ever-increasing expectations), according to Stephens.

“After a time, we become bored with what we have and want more,” Stephens said.

There seems to be somewhat of a formula when it comes to achieving optimal happiness. “The sweet zone is when we aspire for a little better, have moderate expectations based on past experiences and cap the intensity of our happiness (i.e., you won’t be a billionaire overnight),” Stephens said. “Too little or too much of anything (expectations, money, etc.) causes subjects to perform suboptimally.”

So, when you book a budget hotel, you’re not expecting the best of everything and therefore are happier with your choice.

Related: Bargain hotel rates unlikely this summer at typically affordable Choice Hotel brands

Vacations can be extended

There’s no question hybrid and remote work are becoming much more of the norm, meaning getaways are not limited to just weekends and holidays. Now, workers are using flexible work arrangements to travel more. But just because they’re traveling more doesn’t mean they have more cash to spend. So if traveling is the main priority, staying in a budget hotel may be what’s required to hit the road more often and for longer — and to be happier overall.

With the ability to work remotely, your trip can be extended easily. (Photo by Maskot/Getty Images)

“I’ve been traveling and working remotely in different countries for several weeks at a time since the pandemic,” said public relations expert Adrianna Lauricella. “Now that I can work remotely, I seek out hotels or hostels where I can stay long term and easily work (with solid Wi-Fi) in a central location. But I also stick within a budget since I still pay rent for my NYC apartment.”

“I’m not traveling to spend the days in a hotel room or at the hotel property,” Lauricella added. “I’m there to work remotely during the week and explore and take in what the country/city offers on the weeknights and weekends. Budget hotels make more sense for longer stays because they allow me to explore more, which makes me happier.”

Excess stuff can be distracting from the experience

We’ve all seen those luxury properties that tout they provide everything under the sun, from daily goat yoga to 17 pool options with water-misting butlers. But having too many choices can actually detract from enjoying the experience.

“Studies have revealed a happiness formula, which is influenced by expectations and the ability to compare choices,” Stephens said. “We are happiest when we have choices, but not too many, and have some comparisons, but not too many.”

Plus, all the options can be distracting, which takes away from the experience and, ultimately, your happiness.

“It’s never about how much you spend on a hotel when traveling,” Lauricella said. “While it’s always nice to splurge and treat myself to a luxury hotel stay, I prefer to save that money and spend it on activities and experiences within the different places I travel.”

Fellow traveler and United Kingdom native Oliver Coleman agreed, noting that the lack of stuff relieves stress and reminds him of how simplicity can equal happiness.

“I’m not a monk, and I don’t know any monks, but I’ll take a guess at why they famously don’t have any stuff,” Coleman said. “They probably think that not having stuff means that you are free from stuff, free from wanting stuff. So it’s an appealing idea.”

This notion is especially true when you travel without children, who inherently come with a lot of stuff.

“When I travel without my family, I love cheap hotels,” Coleman said. “I love how much stuff they don’t have. Where I see no pool, I see no hours trying to prevent [my child from] drowning or head injuries. When I see no restaurant, I see no — well, no eating with children. So I love the rare joy of reveling in how much stuff I don’t need.”

“To me, the happiest way of traveling is to arrive at a hotel room for which I paid $35 with a single duffle bag containing clothes, a quart of bourbon and a book,” Coleman added.

Related: Quirky hotel amenities: TPG staff, readers share their favorites

Socializing is better

While there’s no hard evidence to prove budget hotels are more fun, some travelers argue it’s one of the reasons why they book them. And with more remote workers on the same mission, you face greater odds of finding kindred spirits at more affordable properties.

You may find some kindred spirits on your travels if you go a cheaper route. (Photo by Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images)

“I find I have more fun in budget hotels, particularly hostels,” Lauricella said. “The people staying at the hotels tend to be much more friendly and down-to-earth. As a solo traveler who works remotely, surrounding myself with people in the same mindset and who want to socialize is extremely important to me. Even staying in an Airbnb isn’t nearly as fun.”

“Hostel chains like Selina provide community events and co-working spaces so that you can get to know everyone at the property,” she added. “Plus, you can still book private rooms at an affordable price.”

You’re saving money

This may seem like a given, but it has to be said. When you’re saving money, your happiness increases.

In fact, people who save money report having an overall better state of well-being and dealing with less psychological distress, according to a study from the University of Arizona. Plus, when participants consumed less, it positively affected their mental health. Bedding down in a budget hotel has a similar effect.

“[Staying in a budget hotel] is perhaps the only opportunity I have in life to convert my experience into financial reward,” Coleman said. For him, even if the hotel is truly subpar, with dirty sheets, “I’ll sleep on towels and be lulled into a deep, peaceful sleep by the sound of nobody freaking out about the dirty sheets. And, like that, experience is converted directly into a couple of hundred dollars in cold hard bank account figures that I didn’t spend somewhere nice.”

Bottom line

While the savings are certainly a major draw to staying in a budget hotel, there are clearly several other benefits, too. In addition to having the ability to travel more and socialize with other like-minded travelers, you can better enjoy your stay without sweating the small stuff or focusing too much on all that’s available to you.

To maximize your savings, consider paying for your stay with points. Depending on the accommodation you choose, you may also be eligible for complimentary extras if you have elite status in an affiliated hotel loyalty program. Take the savings a step further by using credit card points or miles to cover other aspects of your trip, such as flights and rental cars.

Related: TPG beginner’s guide: Everything you need to know about points, miles, airlines and credit cards

Featured photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images.

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