Adventures,  Life

What I Spent on a 4-Day Solo Trip to Death Valley National Park & Mojave National Preserve

What I Spent ||

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. 

As I gleefully read through the cost of taking a solo Southwest road trip on the Billfold and a $10,000 Hawaiian honeymoon on Refinery29, I was inspired. 

“Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s share some money shit on the internet.” 

What I Spent ||

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.

What I Spent ||


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. 

(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.)

What I Spent ||

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
What I Spent ||


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


  • $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


  • $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

What I Spent ||

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. 

What I Spent ||


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?


  • Anita

    I think it’s interesting! Most importantly, it’s interesting to hear what you would have done differently and what was and wasn’t worth it for people like me who want to take similar trips. I absolutely pay more for convenience – whether it’s a nicer place to sleep or saving time by taking a flight versus taking a bus. Since vacations are where I spend most of my money, I like to indulge a little, especially when it comes to food and drink, but I do try to be reasonable and not eat expensive meals every single night or pick the most luxurious hotel. It’s about spending on things that you’re most passionate about!

    • Terra

      That’s how I look at it too – I don’t mind riding in coach on the flight somewhere, but I will absolutely splurge on eating a good meal or staying in place that’s either super cute or super convenient. And as a single person without kids, this is where my money goes and I’m pretty good with that.

  • phampants

    Ugh, I need to show you my spreadsheet for my trip around the world.

    And honestly, our generation should be more upfront with money and not coy like previous generations. Because we’re all hurting and learning from each other’s mistakes can save us all money. My parents taught me to save, but not how to retire. I learned how to travel solo, but not for 2. Challenges are everywhere. While someone’s tricks will work for everyone, we can all be less afraid to be ashamed about money.

    (Sorry, this comment is all over the place, but damn. Please keep this conversation going.)

    • Terra

      I would LOVE to see your spreadsheet for your trip around the world! That sounds fascinating!

      I think money is one of the last big taboo things we’re all afraid to talk about, but it’s really refreshing to see how others are spending their money and I do think there’s a lot we can learn from one another. I’m a pretty good budgeter, I know how to travel well alone and how to save money on solo trips and I didn’t get much financial advice from my family and still feel like I’m figuring it all out as I go, especially when it comes to saving toward retirement. I’ve gained so much from having candid conversations with friends about the money we’re making, saving and spending.

  • Stephany

    Yes, yes, yes! I am so happy you pushed publish on this post. These conversations are SO important because money shouldn’t be a taboo topic. And I think it’s equally fascinating to learn how much you spend on these adventures – and what you wish you did differently.

    I totally pay for convenience when I vacation. I just feel like a vacation is a time to splurge, so I typically allow myself to do so. I have more drinks at dinner, enjoy the fancier hotel room. I should probably be stricter with my budget on vacation, but YOLO, right? Ha.

    • Terra

      Thanks for the encouragement to push the publish button! It was scary, but I’m glad I shared it.

      YOLO pretty much sums up my approach to vacation spending! I definitely always have more drinks, especially because craft beers are a hobby of mine and I love trying out the local offerings and, at 34 years old, I just really like staying in nice and cute places. That’s what makes me happy.

  • Lacey

    That was a really eye-opening breakdown! As you were tallying each item I was like, ok, that’s good, decent for dinner and then at the end was surprised by the total like you! But it all makes sense. And Dave and I are big proponents of the fact that we don’t mind paying for experiences like that, because stuff is just stuff, but the experiences stay with you forever.

    • Terra

      I’m the same way with experiences – I think I maybe spent $40ish dollars on stuff on this trip, but I usually spend less than $10, typically a park patch of something small like that. I don’t need stuff, but I want to experience as many places as I possibly can.

      Writing this also got me thinking about solo travel and how much more expensive things are as a single person. If I was partnered, I would have saved a few hundred dollars on the hotel rooms, the rental car, etc.

  • San

    Besides the fact that money spend on travel is well-spent, I don’t think $1303 is outrageous (when it includes airfare, hotel and rental car). Not at all. Thanks for breaking up your expenses 🙂

  • Kate

    Ugh, I just spent SO much for a not-even-as-cool-as-this trip to Miami with my best friend, & it was HORRIFYINGLY expensive… I think this is a really interesting post, & it’s helpful to see what other people spend, what they spend it on, & where they choose price versus convenience, etc. Thanks for sharing The photos, at least, are absolutely gorgeous, & now you’ve got me wanting to visit the desert…

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