Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What we Spent in California

Sharing one last post from our recent trip to California and this one is my favorite. I have loved using this blog to relive our experiences there, but the best part about spending a week in California is how little we paid for it. 
When Husband and I sat down last winter, we decided that we could save $1500 for a big summer vacation. Basically, we would set aside $125/month for our trip. This was manageable for us. But, in the travel world, $1500 doesn't go very far once you pay for a decent hotel and meals. As a result, we were looking at local destinations only. When I suggested California as an option, Husband said it was impossible to do within our budget. Oh ye of little faith. After pulling off this trip, I don't think that he will ever doubt me again. Here's what we spent for 7 days and 6 nights in California! 

Transportation: $87
Flying across the country is not cheap, so it should come as no surprise that the big ticket item of our budget WAS getting there. But we took care of that with a bit of travel hacking and ended up shaving just over $2k off our budget. Here's the breakdown…

Flights: $1700 $0 
I met Tom in Boston before we flew to California together. My round trip flight to/from Boston was covered by frequent flyer miles. Our flights to/from California were one of my biggest travel hacking accomplishments yet! We booked early to save on non-stop flights. Then we applied rewards points from a sign-up bonus for a travel credit card to our purchase. Bottom line…our flights were completely FREE.

Rental Car: $300 $0
Our week-long itinerary took us all over California from NAPAèSACRAMENTOèLAKE TAHOEèYOSEMITEèSAN FRANCISCO so we definitely needed a car. Again, we applied rewards points here and ended up with a free rental car.
Gas & Parking: $87
Our rental car was a Prius and the gas savings were unbelievable.
 Plus, we managed to find mostly free parking whenever we were in the city.

Accommodations: $0
Most of our days were spent outdoors hiking so it made sense to camp. Because camping is so inexpensive, it didn't take much time at all to accumulate enough points on our travel credit cards to cover the cost.

Holiday Inn Express Napa X 1 night: $154 $0
Lake Tahoe Camping X 2 nights: $66 $0
Yosemite Camping X 3 nights: $78 $0

Having spent less then $100 out of pocket to fly across the country, rent a car for 7 days, and stay for 6 nights…we had plenty of space left in our budget for the good stuff….food and adventures!

Food & Drinks: $508
When we arrived in California, the first thing we did was purchase an inexpensive cooler and make a trip to the grocery store. From all of our traveling, we have learned just how quickly eating out every meal adds up. We decided to minimize this by purchasing a few groceries. Plus, the fact that we were hiking/camping most days pretty much required that we have lots of trail-food on hand…fresh fruit, granola bars, beef jerky, plus plenty of beer & marshmallows for nights spent by the campfire.

Most mornings involved fancy coffees and inexpensive breakfast sandwiches from local cafes. 
Lunchtime almost always found us in the middle of a hike with packed sandwiches and fruit from our grocery store trip. Dinners meant eating a hearty meal out.
Food and drinks is the one category of our budget that I'm always fighting with the most. But on average, we each spent about $35 a day on meals, snacks, and drinks. We made smart choices while still really enjoying ourselves and I'm happy with our bottom line here. 

Adventures: $304
After saving so much $$$ in other areas of our budget, we had the financial freedom to pretty much do anything that we wanted while in California. Even still, one experience that we were really looking forward to was a bit pricey. 

Napa Air Ballon Ride: $430 $130
I've always wanted to take an air balloon ride and Napa is one of the best places in the world to do so. But wow! The price tag associated with it was a big pill to swallow. Knowing that we were going to California shortly after my birthday, I decided to contribute $300 of gift money to our travel fund. I had originally planned on purchasing a handbag, but I realized that the memories you make are much more important than any of the things you own. I would make the same decision a million times over. No regrets.

Golden Gate Sunset Cruise: $110
This was our very last adventure in California and it was the perfect way to say goodbye. 

Park Fees & Hiking Permits: $64
Almost all state and national parks have an entrance fee associated with it. It's crazy to think about how minimal these fees were considering the amount of beauty we were able to witness. This covers the entrance fees for Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, along with our permit for hiking the Half Dome. 

Other: $452
I'm not going to lie, this category of our budget definitely got away from me, especially compared to our Canada Budget. Some of the expenses in this category were expected, but many were not. Thankfully, we always plan for extra here. 

Camping Supplies: $43
Whenever tent camping, you have to pay a separate fee to access the showers. Also, we purchased lots of firewood to allow for marshmallow roasting every night.

Hiking Supplies: $240
At the last minute, we decided to pick up hiking poles to help us along our 18 mile hike in Yosemite. Not sure if we could have completed that hike without them so that was a good decision. Not so good was the fact that we had to buy Husband a new pair of hiking shoes. Somehow, we left his at home and they were absolutely necessary to safely climb the cables of the Half Dome. Poor planning always cost extra. Next time, we will definitely check and recheck our bags. Lesson learned.

Massage: $125
This last minute expense was absolutely necessary.
You hike 18 miles with strep throat and a fever and tell me that you wouldn't indulge a little. 

Souvenirs: $44
Husband and I each picked out a coffee mug during our trip. Also, it's becoming tradition for us to get a Christmas ornament from each place we go.

Total: $1351

Our total trip expenditures added up to $4k, meaning that travel hacking saved us thousands of dollars. Strategically accumulating and using rewards points from our travel credit cards made this trip feasible for us and we were actually under budget. But while we used travel cards to contribute to this trip, please know that we didn't accumulate any credit card debt in the process. In fact, we've never had any credit card debt. We simply used our resources wisely in order to make this trip possible. I really hope that sharing our budget here helps and motivates others to see that travel is more attainable then you may think. And just in case you missed any of our California posts, check out the links below 


  1. Girl you are IMPRESSIVE. What travel credit cards do you have? I want the rewards points from the sign-up bonus!

    1. Ha! We have quite a few that function for different things. I'm working on two different posts right now for next month. One of them will be on how to use the cards and the other will be on some cards that we specifically recommend so hang tight