I’ve had an assortment of finance-related conversations with my lady friends in the last few months. We’ve talked about how much money we’re making, how much debt we’re carrying, how much we’re spending on life essentials, like rent, food and random Sephora purchases. We’ve talked about how we do and don’t budget, if and how we’re saving for retirement and I’ve found it refreshing, this open conversation on money.
I’m also addicted to Refinery29’s Money Diaries, have recently developed an obsession with the candid comments found at the Billfold, and I will read anything you write about how you spend your money, from daily basic budgeting, to home renovation cost breakdowns to vacation spending reports.
“Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s share some money shit on the internet.”
My trip to California back in October was a two-part adventure.
Part one was spent in LA and Palm Springs with my girl tribe gallivanting around in bathing suits, feminist t-shirts and a cactus-printed cover-up while eating delicious snacks, baking bread and drinking buckets of wine in paradise.
Part two was spent on my own scampering in the desert wilds of southeastern California in both Death Valley National Park and Mojave National Preserve where I drank beers on top of mountains, apologized to the lizards I scared and sang pop songs to myself in deserted canyons.
This budget breakdown is about part two, my solo lizard-chasing adventure.
THE BIG STUFF
LODGING: There aren’t a ton of hotel options inside Death Valley National Park. I could have saved myself a bunch of money and camped, but the logistics of packing for that in addition to a weekend with my girlfriends just seemed like too much.
- 1 Night @ Panamint Springs Resort in a Queen Cabin Room: $122.08
- 2 Nights @ Stovepipe Wells Hotel: $161.28/night, or $322.56 for two nights
- Total Lodging Cost: $444.64
(A NOTE ABOUT LODGING IN DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK: I did a lot of research on where to stay in Death Valley, but, in retrospect, I wish I’d saved myself some money and stayed at Panamint Springs for the duration of my trip. What they lacked in internet connectivity or cell service, they made up for in comfort, kindness and atmosphere. It’s definitely the most rustic option inside the park and it’s not as central as the other options, but the room I stayed in was comfortable and the restaurant there had outdoor seating which proved to be the perfect place to watch the moon come up over the mountains.)
Car Rental: I picked up an SUV at LAX to help get myself, my girl squad and our stuff to Palm Springs. The total cost for the car was $250, but I counted $100 of that against my Palm Springs budget.
- Total Car Rental Cost: $150
Airfare: My flight from Richmond to LA was $181.80 and I used miles for my return flight out of Las Vegas, which cost me $5.60. Since this was the airfare for both parts of the trip, I’m only counting half of it against this budget.
- Total Airfare Total Cost: $93.70
Dog/House Sitting: I started using Rover to find dog sitters in the past year and a half or so and it’s saved me a significant amount of money and time. It’s still a large expense, but I can usually find a sitter to stay in my home with my three pets for less than it would cost to board them.
- Dog/House Sitting Total Cost: $180
Day 1 || MONDAY
- $5.18 – a cheap cooler & a bag of ice
- $29.81 – fuel
- $25.42 – assorted snacks, including a giant bag of beef jerky
- $13.22 – fuel top-off before entering the park
- $39.86 – dinner at Panamint Springs – chicken wings, a small salad, two beers + tip
- Total Day 1 Spending: $113.49
Day 2 || TUESDAY
- $8 – a bag of ice, coffee & eye drops
- $9.51 – fuel top-off before going into the deep desert
- $12.45 – a Death Valley National Park sticker + patch + a few snacks
- $7 – beer + tip at the saloon at Stovepipe Wells
- $38.89 – dinner at the restaurant at Stovepipe Wells – a bbq platter with chicken and ribs, one beer + tip
- Total Day 2 Spending: $75.85
Day 3 || WEDNESDAY
- $34.03 – fuel at Furnace Creek (the most expensive in the park, at $5.13/gallon which I regretfully forgot before leaving Stovepipe Wells that morning)
- $5 – coffee and a bag of ice
- $29.58 – a book and a card at the visitor center
- $34.34 – dinner at the saloon at Stovepipe Wells – a cheeseburger w/ fries and two beers + tip
- Total Day 3 Spending: $102.95
Day 4 || THURSDAY
- $5 – coffee and a bag of ice at Panamint Springs
- $28.09 – fuel at Stovepipe Wells before leaving Death Valley
- $26.18 – fuel before going into Mojave National Preserve
- $9 – banana chips + mixed nuts + coffee
- $4.15 – a park patch at the Mojave visitor center
- $15.18 – final fuel stop before returning the car
- $36.50 – dinner at the airport – a salad, one beer + tip
- Total Day 4 Spending: $124.10
+ $18.35 for my Lyft home from the airport.
- Not accounted for in this spending roll-up are the snacks I took with me after Palm Springs. We had a bunch of leftovers that we split between us and I probably had around $20 worth of food, including fruit, meats, cheese, some beers and a loaf of bread I baked.
TRIP TOTAL: $1,303.08
After doing the math, I was a little bit horrified – more than $1,300 for a few days in the desert seems like a lot, especially when I compare it to other trips, like the one I took to New Mexico last year. That trip cost me less than $1,000 for six days, but I also stayed at a super cute (and more affordable) Airbnb outside Sante Fe, I paid for my entire fight with miles and my rental car was smaller and more fuel efficient, so of course it cost less.
I also realized that almost 80% of my spending on this trip, or $1,042.35, was spent on travel logistics, like the rental car, the flights, the hotel and the daily fuel fills. My daily spending on stuff like food and the occasional souvenir accounts for $260.73, or a daily average of $65, which is a range I’m pretty comfortable with.
IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME
This trip was phenomenal. One of the best I’ve ever taken and even after being back home for a handful months, I’m still dreaming of the magic of the desert. I don’t regret what I spent, not one bit, but if I were to do it again, I’d probably camp, partly to save myself a pile of money and partly because when I was there, I really didn’t feel like being inside. I’d also avoid getting gas as Furnace Creek or even venturing into Furnace Creek because I found it to be akin to the depths of tourist-ridden hell.
What do you think about my spending?
How do you budget on vacation? Do you think it’s worth it to spend a little more for convenience? Is this a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a relatively short vacation or does it seem reasonable given the circumstances? And is it interesting to see what I’m spending on these sorts of adventures?