TRAVEL EXPENSE BREAKDOWN
One thing I don’t talk about very much is the actual cost of traveling. There are endless resources online to help budget and estimate the costs of certain destinations, and I don’t feel that I can bring a lot of new information to the table. Even so, I do keep track of my spending on each trip (some better than others) and I thought it would be worthwhile to share a breakdown of my typical expenses when I'm on the road. I'm sure people are curious (I would be), and also to show how attainable travel can be.
I don’t give myself an actual budget for each trip. I budget and save when I’m not traveling, so that I don’t have to worry or limit myself when I’m gone. I do however try my hardest to keep my big expenses down, mainly airfare and lodging. I do a lot of research and spend time and energy figuring out ways to keep these initial costs low. It’s actually fun for me, and I treat it like a game or challenge. I don’t always succeed, but at least I know I tried.
Let’s take my recent trip to Washington, D.C. for example. It was a short trip so I can easily go through my expenses without boring you with too much info and numbers. I flew into the city early on a Saturday and left late Tuesday leaving me almost four full days in the city. Below is a breakdown of every penny that I spent, including tips. For an overview of what I did while there, check out this post.
FLIGHT- Citi Thank You Points 8,088 (equivalent to $102)
I flew from New Orleans (MSY) into Reagan (DCA) on a non-stop flight. It was a quick and painless experience, albeit a little early in the morning. I found a really affordable one-way flight through Citibank’s travel portal, and booked it using my Citi Thank You Points. Therefore, it cost me nothing.
From Washington, D.C. (IAD) I flew into Lisbon (LIS), so the transportation cost isn’t quite the same as someone with a round-trip ticket to and from the city. You can always double my initial flight cost to get a rough estimate. My actual flight out was a one-stop one-way flight to Lisbon using 30K United award miles and $5.60 in taxes. I then upgraded to Economy Plus for $119. In my opinion, money well spent.
I could have saved money by using some other form of transportation to and from the airport to my lodging, but you just can’t beat the convenience of Uber. I’m not a fan of navigating a new city’s public transport systems with my luggage in tow. I rather spend a little more money, and arrive in a good mood.
My host gave me a SmarTrip card to use on the metro during my stay. I just loaded it with money at the station, and I was good to go. It also worked on buses, but I stuck to the subway system and my own two feet.
AirBNB- CapitalOne Points 23,000, $365
I stayed in an AirBNB outside of the main tourist area of the city in Mt. Pleasant. If you want to be super close to all of the big attractions then it will cost you much more. The house was in walking distance to a metro station (Columbia Heights) and the National Zoo. I used the metro everyday. The home where I stayed functioned as a typical BNB with every room being rented, and a small breakfast included in the rate. I stayed in a large corner room with a shared bathroom. If I can help it, I prefer to stay in a place that offers breakfast. In addition to the savings in food costs, it adds a few hours onto my day. I won’t miss a free breakfast, so it usually forces me to get up, shower, and be down for breakfast before 8:30am.
The total cost for my lodging was $365 for three nights, but I used the CapitalOne Purchase Eraser (CapitalOne Venture credit card) feature and points to credit the charge.
Since I was traveling solo, I was able to keep my food costs down without much effort. This is not always the case, and my food expenses vary a lot between destinations. For this trip though, breakfast was included in my room rate, and I didn’t go out to nice restaurants or drinking which helped to keep my expenses down. I feel more comfortable eating in small cafes when I’m solo, and they tend to be cheaper by comparison.
MUSEUM DONATIONS $6
One of the great things about visiting Washington, D.C. is that all of the national museums are admission free, in addition to all of the memorials, parks, and gardens. This makes it a really affordable vacation, especially if you have a few kids in tow. My only expenses incurred were suggested donations at the Textile Museum and the National Zoo.
Years ago I started picking up a book in each city/country I visit, and D.C. was no different. Here I bought a book detailing the history of the Library of Congress for my collection. Since my trip was continuing on to Europe and I would have to carry everything I bought, any other shopping was off the table.
For a whopping $201.90 I was able to spend an extended weekend in a popular U.S. city (not including the extra $124.60 for my flight to Lisbon). Someone check my math, because my skills are sub-par at best. This comes out to $50 + change a day, which is typical for me. Also note that I spent 40 bucks on a book. There are some people that travel for much less, but for the level of comfort that I prefer this is my norm. Of course it goes without saying that a family of four would cost a bit more, but with some effort it’s still an attainable vacation. I can also tell you that my trip to Portugal was not this cheap. Once alcohol and long dinners come into the mix, my expenses naturally go up. I'll open the floor for questions now...