MYTH: It's Too Expensive To Travel!
Updated: Aug 16, 2018
Everyone loves to travel. I do. You do. Even your weird neighbor loves to travel.
But we always tell ourselves, or others, the same excuse. It's too expensive.
However, it's really not. I know that 'expensive' is a relative term. It's going to mean different things to different people. But with these mock-cations, you'll agree that these trips are pulled off for less than you thought - whether you are a millionaire or have a few bucks to your name.
I'm going to share a few travel tips of my own, along with some tips from other savvy travelers. And I'm going to do a couple mock-cations to show you an exact dollar amount.
I'll be doing this mock-cation for a single traveler. But I'll add a number for a couple traveling as well, as that's usually the case. I just want to highlight a single traveler for simplicity.
We'll start with a South Bend to Seattle trip. In this case, we'll use South Bend because it doesn't have a massive airport nearby and hey, it's where I live.
In a future post, we'll do a Denver to Miami trip. That will be for those of you that are near a massive airport.
South Bend, IN - Seattle, WA
My wife and I recently made this trip. Obviously, Seattle is a top travel destination but it gets a reputation for being expensive to travel to. Let's break that (myth) down.
I always book my AirBnB's (more on that later) as early as possible and try to book plane tickets two months or so in advance. You can check back and forth between whenever you decide and 45-ish days before you leave. But at that 45 day mark, you probably want to think about buying sooner rather than later.
First up, we need to get to Chicago. Sorry to all the wonderful people at the South Bend Airport but a lot of the time, it's going to make sense flying out of Chicago. Especially when the train will drop you off directly at O'Hare.
It's going to be $14 to take the South Shore to Millennium Station. From there, you'll need to spend another $4 to get to O'Hare.
We're at O'Hare for $18. Let's double this to get back home, $36.
As of this second, I've found a roundtrip ticket from Chicago to Seattle and back for $169. That's a non-stop flight and it's not a weird, small airline. You're flying Delta. Using the two month rule, we're flying out on October 6th and returning on October 13th. With fees, we'll be up closer to $180.
We're now in Seattle and have a flight secured back home, we've spent a little over $200.
Next up, we need somewhere to stay. Use AirBnB. Hotels are expensive and honestly at this point, I would still want to stay at an AirBnB all things being equal. And remember, you're a solo traveler, get a room instead of an entire house! Our favorite part of staying at AirBnB's is the feeling of being a part of the neighborhood you're staying in. You feel a bit like an actual local.
When Tina and I travel, we get a private room virtually every single time. We love it. Hitting every corner of the country, my only real complaint was a home owner being a little too loud a little too late. One time. That's it.
When you book with AirBnB, prices are largely going to correlate to where in the city you are staying and how convenient it is. When we went to Seattle, we stayed at a room on Alki Beach (can't recommend enough) that overlooked the Seattle skyline. It's a whopping (eye roll) $47 a night for this week. We had run of the basement with a walk out patio overlooking the water, washer/dryer, fridge, massive TV with leather furniture and more. At $47 per night. The view from the patio of that exact room is below.
But we're looking to be as inexpensive as possible while still being comfortable, so we're booking a room in Central Seattle. We're staying with a Superhost in an original 1905 home, complete with WiFi, a private bathroom and kitchen use. We'll be at $302 for the entire week we're in Seattle.
We are now in Seattle, have our flight home already booked and have a place to stay the entire week. That is the essentials. We've spent a little over $500.
From here, it becomes a point of personal preference. What you want to do, what you want to eat, how you want to get around, all of that. I'll add in some boilerplate things to do while you're in town, estimate food costs (more on that later) and transportation costs.
Here are a few things to do. You can obviously spend money at all of these places but below are the costs associated with the actual destination.
Alki Beach - $6 (Water Taxi)
Pioneer Square - FREE
Pike Place Market - FREE (You'll want to go here a few times.)
First Starbucks - FREE
Starbucks Reserve Roastery - FREE
Ride The Great Wheel - $14
Amazon HQ - FREE
Space Needle - $27
Woodland Park Zoo - $20
University Of Washington - FREE
Seattle Japanese Garden - $8
That should keep you plenty busy during the week, not mentioning the dozens of other free places to go see. We're at a total of $75 for the above things. And that's not including just buying a City Pass that includes much of it, which will save you money.
Our total sits at $593.
You can certainly use public transportation to get around. And depending on your willingness, much of that is walkable for hitting multiple spots at a time. We usually spend a little extra to use Uber for convenience sake. In Seattle, the Streetcar is fantastic. You'll be at $4.50 per day. Assuming you don't need it the day you arrive or depart (we'll round up to $5, incase you do) - you'll be at $30. The $4.50 Day Pass gives you unlimited rides. Let's figure another $40 for short Uber trips you may need to take.
We're at $663 all in.
This brings us to our last expense, food. And this one will vary wildly from person to person or couple to couple. We generally like to keep it simple (more on that in Tips at the end of this post) but others like to go to fancy joints. Below are some pretty safe approximations, similar to ours. We ate often, and well, I won't lie. And we still didn't hit these numbers.
Here is some of the thought process put into these numbers when I'm visiting a city. These are actual items that most of us would order at some of the top-rated Seattle restaurants on Yelp.
Breakfast: Pain Au Chocolat & Coffee ($4.75) LA PANIER FRENCH BAKERY
Breakfast: Maple Bar & Drip Coffee ($3.80) TOP POT DOUGHNUTS
Lunch: Beef & Cheddar Piroshky & Pepsi ($7.80) PIROSHKY, PIROSHKY
Lunch: Smoked Salmon Chowder & Pepsi ($7.60) PIKE PLACE CHOWDER
Dinner: Deluxe Burger, Fries & Chocolate Shake ($7.85) DICK'S DRIVE IN
Dinner: Burrito, 2 Tacos & Pepsi ($9.25) TACOS CHUKIS
As you can see, some wiggle room is built in. This allows for the occasional dessert, extra meal, whatever. I should also note that we don't really drink, which I know can spike a budget in a hurry. Keep that in mind.
Lunch - $8 (Airport)
Dinner - $12
Sunday - Friday
Breakfast - $5
Lunch - $8
Dinner - $12
Breakfast - $5
Lunch - $8 (Airport)
And we'll add in $50 because you'll no doubt want to eat at a more expensive place, maybe a couple times. And there will be random things that look good, especially at Pike Place.
This brings our food total to $233.
And that gives us a grand total of $896 for a week long trip to Seattle.
You can obviously go past this if you want to buy things like clothes, Starbucks swag or whatever else. But this is showing you that a week long trip to Seattle (I rarely go places for that long but I know most do) can be done for less than $900.
Let's add a second person. We'll be at another $180 for their flight. If they join you for all the attractions, that's another $75. They'll be at another $30 for the Streetcar. And they'll add another $240 in food.
To do this with someone else rather than being a solo traveler, you're looking at a total of $1,415 - or about $705 per person. That's assuming you are alright sharing a bed with them.
Let's get to some travel tips. These have helped me and countless others travel across the country without breaking the bank. You may like some of them, you may hate some of them.
Train Hop Cities
We do this every time the opportunity presents itself. In our trip to Seattle, we took the train to Portland ($25 per person) and flew back to Chicago from Portland. Doesn't really add to flight cost and you get to knock out two cities. The time before, we flew into Boston, took the train to Portland, Maine ($30 per person) and flew back from Portland.
Side note, I cannot recommend Portland, Maine enough. It may be my most favorite city visited.
Michael Yoder, of Truth Work Media, has traveled to 49 of the 50 states and over 15 countries. He knows what he's doing when it comes to travel.
"Learn to never check a bag. Ever. I’ve done several Europe vacations and didn’t check a bag. It’s very possible. Get a bag like this that lets you do that."
We never check bags either. I don't know if I've ever checked a bag.
This has nothing to do with calories. Go nuts on that end. This has to do with price. When you are researching places to eat, you'll no doubt run into the fancy, very expensive restaurants. I'm sure they are very good but I have no interest in eating there. A, you'll have to get dressed up and you'll likely be out and about, not that practical. 2, it's expensive. And D, the hole in the wall joints are often plain better.
We never stay in hotels. AirBnB's are going to be a great experience and you are going to save a ton of money.
Yoder also takes this approach. "We stay in AirBnB’s, and find some that are cheap. Don’t settle for for the first thing you find. Shop around a bit."
It doesn't have to be the perfect location, the perfect amenities, or whatever. But do make sure it's practical for your trip. You ideally won't be spending much time there anyway.
Pick The Right Days
The Seattle example was a week long. I want to make a couple points about that.
The first is to try and travel on off days. The Seattle example was a Saturday to Saturday, which is my far and away favorite for a week long. But like I said, we never really travel for a week at a time. 3-4 days is our sweet spot, stretching into 5 days if we are going to train hop. And we try to schedule flights that allow us time to explore the day of arrival and the day of departure.
Yoder agrees. "Travel long weekends. If you want to see different places, but don’t have a ton of time or money, just go for a couple of days."
That is fantastic advice. Imagine how inexpensive the above Seattle trip would be if it were cut down to 3 or 4 days. (You don't have to imagine, you can do the math right there. I've tapped out my limited mathematician skills for one blog.)
Fly On Their Dime
There are plenty of cards that offer miles or travel bonuses.
I personally have the Gold Delta SkyMiles card. I received 50,000 bonus miles (you can too) for signing up. I also moved my monthly business expenses to this card. They have to be paid in full each month anyway, so why not rack up miles in the meantime? This will lead to a lot of free flights. We also get seat upgrades, WiFi discounts and early boarding for being card members.
Yoder has a pretty slick system too. "You should really be getting travel points through airlines. There is a ton of credit card and travel hacks out there, I recommend doing one of them. We did the Southwest Companion Pass trick. Every ticket I bought, my wife got a free one, for two years."
A few final tips I'd mention are to avoid attractions in the city you are visiting that come attached with a massive price tag. Chances are, you'll have a better time roaming around the city and exploring anyway. But for the sports fans like me out there, there will be a few exceptions. We hit up Fenway when we went to Boston.
It's also helpful to have a plan of attack before you arrive. I try to coordinate between attractions and food stops so we can walk as much as possible. This includes working some things in around your AirBnB for early or late in the day.
And that's about it. I hope you enjoyed this and it encourages you to travel a bit more. I'll be doing more mock-cations from time to time.