Travel Money Diaries: Rachel K. in San Francisco

I live in Washington, D.C., and my best friend from college lives in Chicago. Since we graduated, we’ve alternated between me flying to Chicago and her flying to D.C. to stay with her parents in suburban Maryland, but this fall we thought we’d try something new — a joint trip to a different city. For some reason, we chose the most expensive city possible: San Francisco.

As two 25-year-old women on budgets, this was perhaps not the wisest location to choose, but we went ahead anyway. Our trip was from Thursday, Oct. 5 to Sunday, Oct. 9.

In order to spend the most time as possible on vacation and spend less money, I booked a regrettable flight with United that left from an inconvenient airport and required me to switch planes at LAX. Oh, and it boarded at 5 a.m. on Thursday. My return flight was a red eye that would get me back at 5:30 a.m. on Monday. On the bright side, it was $337 round trip.

Unfortunately, I also booked basic economy, which doesn’t include a carry-on bag. I needed to pay $25 each way to check my bag. My boyfriend also dropped me off at the airport, so I didn’t have to pay what would have been at least $30 for the Lyft.

Once I got there, I treated myself to my favorite air travel routine: a magazine and a newspaper. I spent $9.42 on this month’s Vanity Fair and that day’s Washington Post. At LAX, I spent $2.99 on a bag of Chex Mix, since we weren’t served any food on the plane and I had been awake for at least six hours.

Once I arrived, my best friend greeted me with a $3 iced coffee from Starbucks and we set up a Splitwise trip for the weekend. The app was super helpful and I highly recommend. It made it much easier to not have to worry about who was paying for what every time we bought food.

We spent most of the weekend walking around and eating food, just seeing the city. For transportation, we largely relied on an unlimited pass that covered bus, Metro, streetcar, and cable car. The three-day pass was $32 and definitely paid for itself. We also had to pay $8.95 each way to get to and from the airport, plus $5 for two buses the first day.

We stayed at an Airbnb in a less-than-safe part of town to save money. The actual room was perfectly fine for what we needed, but the two-block radius around it made us a little uneasy in the early morning and on our way back at night. I spent $283 on my half.

For meals, we spent a lot of time before the trip and during finding good places that wouldn’t break our budget. We have almost identical food preferences and eating styles, so we would often split a few things instead of having to buy two full entrees. I do have some regrets — our first full night, we went to happy hour (for dinner) at a rooftop bar with an incredible view of the city. We each had one margarita, shared some guacamole and ate one empanada for $18.50 each without really eating anything of substance.

Some of the food we spent was expensive but worth the money. On Saturday morning we went to Tartine Bakery, which I’ve followed on Instagram for years. We shared a morning bun, a gougère, and a lemon tart and each got coffee — a $13 breakfast for each of us, but some of the best baked goods I’ve ever had.

Speaking of coffee, I could not stop myself from continuously purchasing overly expensive, extremely small beverages. I wanted to try Blue Bottle coffee, even though it’sopen in D.C., but the $4.50 I spent on what must have been a 10 oz. iced coffee was not worth it. And yet I was not deterred! At home, I almost never buy coffee when I’m out, so I was really leaning into this vacation mindset.

At the end of the four days, I spent:

  • Air Travel: $387
  • Other Transportation: $54.90
  • Airbnb: $283
  • Food: $125.95
  • Coffee: $$18.50 

Total spent: $869.35

- Rachel K.

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