We’ve been talking for a couple of years about doing a big crazy road trip to California, and we finally decided to go for it this year! Thanks to a combination of events, we ended up both being jobless at the same time, which meant we had plenty of time to spend traveling. Of course, a lack of employment also meant that we weren’t exactly rolling in cash, either. Luckily, we saved our tax return for travel this year, and we were able to keep the cost of our entire 5-week trip to just about $2500 dollars (full budget breakdown at the bottom of this post).
I figured those numbers were crazy enough that I’d better share with you just how we accomplished it.
Let me preface this post with a few notes:
Note 1: We do not like camping, hostels, or crappy hotels. I see value in nice hotels, so we stayed accordingly.
Note 2: Some of these techniques may or may not be useful to you. I totally get that the stars aligned for this trip, but I encourage you to see this blog post as a way to open your eyes to the myriad ways that luxe travel might be possible for you, some of which you might be missing.
Ready? Let’s jump in.
We Stayed with Friends & Family
This might seem like a bit of a “duh!,” but I think it bears repeating. Staying with loved ones makes travel so cheap and so fun—after all, what’s better than seeing a city through local eyes?
When we were first considering this trip, we looked at going to many more cities, and only spending nights here and there with family and friends. When we started doing the math, though, we quickly realized that version of the trip wasn’t going to work with our budget.
So, we reworked the trip, keeping in mind where we had friends and family, and being sure to ask them very politely if they wouldn’t mind hosting us for a week or two. We are so grateful to our loved ones who hosted us and our dog.
Start asking yourself who you know, and where. If you feel uncomfortable asking friends and family if you can stay, just remember that most people love having guests and playing tour guide.
We Used Credit Card Points
Because I had some and we were looking to save money, I used my Chase Ultimate Rewards points to get us a couple of free nights on this trip. According to The Points Guy, the 34,836 points I used were worth $731.
That valuation feels high to me, but it is undeniable that this option, of course, saved us money. I did check on multiple sites, and these hotels “cost” more in dollar value through the ultimate rewards portal than they did on other websites. That said, free nights are free nights, but I’d say this was more realistically about $450 saved due to points used.
Keep track of your points and be sure to choose a points card that works for you and put all of your purchases on it each month (just be sure to pay it off!). I love my Chase Sapphire Reserve card and my Platinum Delta Skymiles Credit Card.
If you’re looking to sign up for a new travel credit card, use my link for 70,000 bonus miles! Thank you for all you do to keep me traveling so I can keep creating content like this for you.
We Got Free Nights
Last year, around Labor Day, my mom, Dustin and I went on a weekend trip to San Diego, where we stayed at a luxury hotel. It was a beautiful property and we had a lovely time—mostly.
Unfortunately, the hotel was in the process of switching to a new reservation system so not only did they lose our reservations, but they also mixed up many other guest’s reservations, resulting in too many precious pool hours spent waiting in line at reception to try to figure everything out.
While it did get figured out eventually and we had rooms (thank goodness!), we did complain to management. I would say that in a nicer way, but frankly… we complained.
The managers at this property are such professionals, though, that they offered us a voucher for 2 free nights to make up for it. We were so grateful to be able to experience the majestic hotel again, so we took advantage on this trip. (We did still have to pay the pet fee.)
The lesson? Sometimes, especially when you have high expectations, letting the management know that they missed the mark can pay off big time. In this case, the hotel’s mistake saved us hundreds!
We Went in the “Off” Season
We got married at the most beautiful resort in the whole world (totally biased opinion), in the absolute best season to be there.
In March, when the weather is beautiful and spring training brings tons of people to town, a night at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess would’ve set us back at least $600. (For our wedding, we were very thankful for our discounted room block pricing and extremely generous parents!)
On this trip, in the middle of August, which is usually an absolutely terrible time to be in Scottsdale thanks to the triple digit temps, that same room was only about $150.
The thing is, we don’t mind the heat that much because the property has so many fabulous pools to be enjoyed, and air conditioning is well-loved and heavily used in Arizona. Plus, it ended up being pretty reasonable weather while we were there (not even 100 degrees!), so we absolutely lucked out.
We saved hundreds of dollars and were able to enjoy one of our favorite places in the world at the same time. (Plus, we got a free suite upgrade for being Fairmont Rewards members!)
We Compared Costs With and Without Pet Fees
If you’ve ever traveled with a dog, you know how frustrating pet fees can be. On this trip, it cost us about $300 to bring our dog along. (Much less than boarding would have been, but a lot more than leaving her with my in-laws.)
That said, you may also want to run the numbers on nearby accommodation options that do have a pet fee. Sometimes, hotels that have no pet fee end up costing more, presumably because that pet fee is worked into the rate. (Or possibly because of location, brand, etc.)
If you’re looking to save some money, be sure to do your research on the hotel pet fees you can expect. In some cases, it ended up cheaper to pay a pet fee than to stay at a pet-friendly hotel that didn’t charge that fee. The lesson: don’t assume that “no pet fee” means you’re saving money.
Even if you’re not bringing a pet, the same idea applies to hotels that have no parking fee, no breakfast fee, etc. Compare the real costs, and it might be worthwhile to pay a fee.
Full Costs Breakdown
Obviously, we spent money on groceries, eating out, park entrance fees, and a few souvenirs, too.
These costs were pretty low, since we were lucky that friends and family bought us some meals, and we hardly bought any souvenirs. Plus, we had access to kitchens, which meant we saved money by buying groceries instead of eating out every meal.
We didn’t track any of this spending super closely since it wasn’t that different from our spending if we had stayed at home.
Here is the breakdown of our spending on accommodation:
Nights Spent with Friends/Family (free!): 26
Chase Ultimate Rewards Points Used: 34,836
Hotel Costs: $1365.97 for 10 nights, an average of about $137 per night
Pet Fees: $300
Parking Fees (at hotels): $173
The other major cost we faced on this trip was gas. We saved some money by driving a hybrid, but it was still a major expense that is significantly more than we would have spent if we had been at home. We ended up driving about 5000 miles over 5 weeks, and got an average of about 31 mpg—we love our Toyota Rav 4 Hybrid!
Total Cost for 5 Weeks on the Road: $2,438.97
I hope this budget breakdown post was helpful for some of you luxe for less travelers out there! Let me know in the comments if any of these techniques inspired you, or other ways you save money when traveling.