I keep track of all of my expenses using a spreadsheet and a Google Form that I manually fill out each time I spent or earn. As a result, it was very easy to track how I spent money during my six weeks on the west coast.
Going into the trip, I really had no idea how much it would cost. While I wanted to be somewhat frugal while not earning a salary, I also knew that I wanted to take full advantage of opportunities on this trip. I shied away from saving a few dollars if it meant missing out on something great.
Ultimately, the trip cost less than I was expecting, mostly because I was able to stay with family and friends so many of the nights. I spent only seven nights in hotels, cabins, or B&B’s.
The biggest expense, by far, was the car. I rented a “full-size” from Enterprise for exactly four weeks. A full-size sedan is above economy, compact, standard, and intermediate. It’s below premium, luxury, full-size elite, premium special, convertible, and sporty. There are lots of types of cars that you can rent. I went for something near the middle because I didn’t want to feel every bump on the road during the 2,200+ miles I’d be driving.
I ended up with a 2019 Ford Fusion. It drove fine, got decent fuel efficiency, and had Apple CarPlay, which was a big win. The rental came out to $800 for the four weeks, plus $400 for the one-way trip. With taxes and fees, the total was $1400. A friend of mine who did a similar trip on the pacific coast highway, bought and sold a car for a loss of about $1400. So I’d say I did just fine, plus I didn’t have the stress of buying and selling. Granted, I didn’t have a luxury convertible, but it was too cold for that this time of year.
Gas costs a lot more on the west coast than it does in New England. To fuel my 2,200+ miles, I spent a bit over $300 on gas. Insurance was $150. Parking and tolls ran me $90. Surprisingly, my only toll was the bridge out of Oakland.
Next came airfare. I had three flights: Boston to San Francisco, San Francisco to Palm Springs, Seattle to Boston. The last flight I bought with points, so I only paid fees and for my checked bag. Total: $435.
For accommodations, I used HotelTonight.com and Airbnb. Shortly after my return home, Airbnb announced that it bought HotelTonight. Both sites were easy to use and I was able to book places to stay roughly a day in advance. I spent roughly $100 – $150 per night, with the two nights in the cabin in the forest running $200 per night. Short of going to a hostel or staying far from the coast, I’m not sure I could have found accommodations much cheaper than $100 per night. Everything’s pretty pricy there. My total for the seven nights came to just above $1000.
Altogether these travel expenses totaled $2737
Food and Drink
The next largest expense was food and drink. I spent most of my meals at restaurants, which got pretty tiring after a month. Restaurants are also not cheap, especially in California, bringing my bill to $1000. Another $80 was spent on food in grocery stores, including two salad meals. At restaurants and bars, I spent $85 on booze—not that much all things considered. Lastly, $400 was spent at cafés, which includes coffee, juice, ice cream, and croissants.
Altogether I spent $1565 on food and drink.
Recreation and Entertainment
This category is sort of a hodgepodge of spending not related to essentials. Fitness, for example, comes out to $272. It includes things like yoga classes, lift tickets, ski rental, and trekking poles. Entertainment, $409, includes wine tastings, bike rentals, movie tickets, and park entrance fees.
Since I spent much of my time outdoors with friends or on my own, this category did not come out notably high: $681.
Shopping and Gifts
Roughly 6% of trip spending was at REI. There was other shopping, both for myself and as gifts for friends and family. I spent $53 on essentials like soap, sunscreen, first aid kit, and toothpaste. OK, most gifts were in the form on chocolate from Dick Taylors in Eureka: a whopping $90. On books, I spent $44 after browsing some great local bookstores in the Pacific Northwest. Entirely from REI, I spent $400 on hiking and “roughing-it” clothes and gear. My Bluetooth speaker, which proved extremely wonderful in the mornings and evenings, was $70 from Bose. Another $130 went into things that I didn’t really need, like an Apple-branded tote bag, an ammonite fossil from a taxidermy shop in Portland, CBD oil infused coffee from the Oregon coast, and a headlamp—which turned out to actually be quite useful.
Adding this all up, we get $787. OK, I guess this came out to more than recreation and entertainment. I guess there’s more consumer capitalism in my blood than I previously thought.
Keeping the Lights On
In addition to all of my trip spending, I also had recurring spending to keep the lights on back home, both literally and metaphorically. Subscriptions, the bane of all millennials, ran me a modest $45, plus $52 for my phone plan. And then there was rent, utilities, and insurance, plus a few other places that have my credit card on record and like to charge it every month.
Subtracting out these monthly home and recurring expenses, the trip cost me a delightfully satanic $6606, or about $150 per day. If I were to compare this number to my typical at home spending on shopping, entertainment, and food over a similar six week period, the trip spending would of course be higher, but not dreadfully so.
For anyone looking to do a similar trip, I recommend staying with family and friends as much as possible. Not only is it a great cost-savings measure, but you get to spend time with family and friends and explore new places with people that know those places well.
It was a great privilege to take this trip, both from the perspective of being able to take a leave of absence from work, having the savings that I could afford to do it, and having so many family and friends willing to take me in for a couple nights. If you’re interested in doing a trip like this one, I hope you find this breakdown useful.