For the 4th of July, I traveled to San Diego with a close friend from college. While the trip was a lot of fun, it also wound up costing a lot more than I anticipated.
My friend comes from a higher income bracket than I do. Her expectations of what the trip would be — nice restaurants with ocean views, cocktails at every meal, Ubers to and from the sights — was significantly different than the budget trip I had in mind — walking 30-45 minutes if needed to get to a location, eating at cheap food trucks, only buying drinks during happy hour (or, ideally, picking up a few ciders or bottles of wine from the grocery store).
For the first half of our trip, I felt embarrassed to speak to her about my discomfort with our spending.
The boozy brunches, the nice restaurants, and the Ubers…I liked them. I really liked them. But I also, realistically, could not afford them. And the anxiety I had every time I swiped my credit card began to exceed to excitement and joy of “living it up” on vacation.
Finally, halfway through our trip, I was forced to just tell her that I wasn’t comfortable with how much we’d been spending. It was a conversation I should have had prior to our trip, but our spending habits had been so similar in college that I hadn’t anticipated how much they would change post-college. And I especially hadn’t considered what our spending differences might be while on “vacation mode.” She was surprised and upset I hadn’t told her earlier, but ultimately more than happy to make compromises. Moreover, if I was prepared to walk for 30-45 minutes to get to a restaurant or beach and she wasn’t (I genuinely love to walk a lot and I think it’s a great way to see a new city), she was more than happy to cover the cost of our ride, instead, to suit her own convenience.
It definitely wasn’t an easy subject to broach. But if the person if truly your friend, they will understand and support your budget-friendly spending habits. I think it’s also important to be willing to compromise. At that point in our trip, I had already gone along with so much of what she wanted that she was willing to go along with more of the hacks I rely on when I travel. Everything from buying groceries to cook breakfast at home and bring bottles of wine or cider to the beach instead of buying cocktails at a seaside restaurant to walking or taking an Uber Pool if it got too late at night.
Here is a breakdown of the exact costs I managed to avoid, in the second half of our trip, because of this conversation:
Brunch: ~$20-25 each morning.
After our honest conversation, I managed to avoid spending money on brunch for three mornings since I bought breakfast from the grocery store, instead (bread, jam, and eggs since our Airbnb already had pots, pans, butter, salt, pepper, oil, and a toaster). This comes to saving ~$60-75 over the second half of my trip.
Ubers: ~$5-15 per day.
The price depended on whether we were just grabbing a ride to go downtown or going to a beach (like La Jolla, which was nearly a half-hour drive away from our Airbnb). We had no choice but to take an Uber on our two beach days, during the second half of our trip, but I did save money by choosing an UberPool. That shaved off almost $10 each way on both days and then on the third day of the second half of our trip, I insisted we walk to and from the downtown area we frequented often. So overall, I would say cutting down on Ubers saved me close to $50.
Cocktails with every meal.
We were on vacation, so we tended to order a drink with every meal, and even drinks to enjoy while at the beach. We cut out 1-2 cocktails a day, and buying alcohol in the grocery store for the both of us for three days cost about the same as one cocktail for one person for one meal would have cost. Since I insisted on buying smaller bottles of wine or cider for the second half of our trip, instead of purchasing cocktails at the beach or during non-happy-hour times, we managed to save close to $100 over the course of our three days.
We did still visit a few restaurants during the second half of our trip, but since San Diego is known for its exemplary Mexican food, I knew that we could find excellent food for cheap. I asked locals and scoured the city for deals, and we managed to enjoy a series of delicious tacos for under $10 a meal. I’d say that the joint combination of avoiding restaurants where an expensive tip was mandatory, not to mention the added cost of eating at a rooftop or at a seaside location, saved us at least $50 on food over the next three days.
So, I saved close to $250-300 on the second half of my trip.
Which is a LOT of money! I definitely could have saved even more had I spoken to my friend earlier, and I encourage everyone to have these conversations even before booking an Airbnb. In retrospect, I feel as if we could have gotten a cheaper place with just-as-ideal of a location, but I’m happy that I managed to save as much as I did, regardless.
I’ve certainly learned a lot from this experience, especially from the sunken costs I lost by being too embarrassed of my financial situation when, in reality, I have nothing to be ashamed of. My situation is what it is, and that’s okay. In owning my finances, and what I could and could not afford, I wound up enjoying the rest of our trip even more than I initially enjoyed the thrill of splurging. Not having that little voice in the back of my head run around in circles of anxiety over the money I was spending allowed me to finally unwind and enjoy the vacation I deserved.
What are the ways in which you save money while traveling? Any money-related travel regrets? Did you ever have to have a tough money-related discussion with your friends? Did it go as you hoped?
Keertana Anandraj is a recent college grad living in San Francisco. When she isn’t conducting international macroeconomic research at her day job, you can find her in the spin room or planning her next adventure.
Image via Unsplash