Stepping Beyond Staycations

Stepping Beyond Staycations

Stepping Beyond Staycations (2018 EDITION)

May 24, 2018 / By Nate Wisan

Today’s post comes from Nate Wisan. He has already spent 9 weeks of 2018 traveling through Europe (including a 630-mile hike from France to Spain), California, and other parts of the U.S. He is an adventurer and entrepreneur and loves sharing travel secrets. In this post he speaks about moving beyond the staycation, all without having to increase the travel budget.

Back when the market crashed in 2008 the staycation entered its heyday. Travel writers advocated saving money and staying local, thus, the term “staycation” was coined. With the uptick in travel apps in recent years, and the introduction of truly budget airlines, going beyond the staycation without breaking the bank has never been easier. Today we’ll compare the cost of traveling to a place I just returned from, Denver, CO for a weekend (vacation), verses soaking up the sun in my hometown of San Diego (staycation).

Let’s examine the essential requirements of a staycation: lodging, transportation, food, and entertainment. We’ll set the budget at $500 since that’s roughly two nights in a nice hotel plus Uber rides, food, and a little money left over for sightseeing. We will also assume there will be two travelers.

Here are some typical costs for a weekend in San Diego in 2018:

  • Hotel room: $65-250+ USD per night
  • Public ferry ride: $4–6 USD per ride
  • Street food: $7-10 USD
  • Restaurant meals: $15-30 USD
  • Local beer: $7-9 USD
  • 5L bottle of water: $1.5 USD
  • Uber around town (per trip): $14–25 USD
  • Whale watching: $29-45 USD

Lodging – Fancy hotels can easily eat up your entire budget. Motel 6 is always an option, but that’s not most people’s idea of a vacation. Most people will go for something like a Doubletree or Hilton, booked far enough in advance to capture a $150 USD/night rate. That means $300 of your $500 budget is already gone. Leaving only $200 for transportation, food and entertainment. Not a lot of money, especially if you plan to go out and experience the many clubs and breweries that San Diego is famous for.

Food — The days of $1 street tacos is sadly behind us. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t deals to be had. Many restaurants like Rubio’s still offers “Taco Tuesday” deals that are sure to excite any lover of flaky fried fish wrapped up in a soft taco. Of course, that means planning your vacation to cover a Tuesday. Plan for the average meal to run between $7-10 if you’re just stopping at a taco stand for lunch, or the higher cost of $15-30 if you plan to sit down for lunch or dinner. Food and drink costs will quickly eat away your budget, if you are not careful.

Let’s take a look at what a weekend in Denver might cost on a similar budget of $500 in 2018:

  • A beautiful AirBnb condo: $27 USD per night
  • Domestic round trip flight: $128 USD / person
  • Street food: $5-10 USD
  • Restaurant meals: $15-30 USD
  • Brewing experience (Groupon): $20 USD
  • 5L bottle of water: $1.5 USD
  • Uber around town (per trip): $10–20 USD
  • Denver Taco Festival (Groupon): $10 USD / person

After running the numbers the two trips come out to virtually the same cost. That doesn’t seem possible! How could two people flying halfway across the country for a vacation cost the same as staying local? It call comes down to the airfare and lodging costs. Other costs, e.g. transportation, food, and entertainment can be booked with services such as Groupon or Uber, which keeps costs virtually the same rate across the country. A hamburger or sandwich price won’t fluctuate that much between San Diego, Denver, New York, or Vegas, unless you really want that $300 Kobe Beef smothered in caviar.

In San Diego the majority of the staycation budget was spent on lodging, whereas in our Denver example it was airfare that cost the most. By staying in a beautiful, and economical, Airbnb in Denver, we were able to offset the cost of the airline tickets.

As we saw above, staying within a tight travel budget no longer means road trips and staycations are your only option for a good time away from home. Modern travel apps like Airbnb, Uber, and Groupon provide many ways to save money and see the world. Couple cost-saving apps with budget airlines and you’re in for a fun adventure that can take place far across the country. Traveling outside our own backyards was never so easy.

How to Save Money on Short Vacations

Lodging — As mentioned above, Airbnb is a perfect way to reduce lodging costs while traveling. Airbnb’s community of hosts provide wonderful accommodations at rock bottom prices. Should you want to save money on lodging even more, one other option does exist: Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing is like Airbnb, except you stay on someone’s couch. And it’s free! This is a great way to stay in the same communities where the locals are staying. If being a tourist just isn’t for you, and the thought of living like a local gets your heart pumping with excitement, then Couchsurfing may be for you. Your host may even offer to show you around town.

Airfare — I have flown Frontier Airlines, Virgin America, Spirit, and Wowairlines far more than once. They are all very, very cost effective. Most do not charge for carry-on items, so make sure you don’t check luggage. Keep your eyes open for sales, and it doesn’t hurt to sign up for their email newsletters. That is often the best way to find out about flash sales.

As an example of how cheap these flights are, I missed my Wowairlines flight from Iceland back to Los Angeles in early May of this year. A next-day flight to San Francisco from Iceland cost me only $203 after tax. Then a flight from San Francisco to San Diego was $123. That’s under $350 for two next-day flights, one of them being international. Very cheap! PS. It would have been A LOT cheaper had I not missed my flight in the first place: that’s the moral of the story.

Food — Vacation is often a time to splurge on nice meals that you otherwise would not be able to fit into the budget. I recommend eating well while traveling, after all, you’ll need to keep your energy level high if you want to whale watch, swim with nurse sharks, and pub crawl all within one day. Eating extravagantly does not mean spending a fortune, however, With websites such as Groupon or you’ll be able to sample the finest food at the finest restaurants, all while saving 40-60%. Buy your restaurant voucher ahead of time and you could be dining in style, for little more than the cost of a burger and fries.

What to do — Again, I’m a huge fan of using Groupon or Airbnb Experiences. These two sites will allow you to see the sights without opening your wallet too far. I recommend looking at these travel sights right after you’ve booked your flights. Find exactly what you want to do while you’re traveling, and then book them right away. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your trip is planned out, and that you’ve got some amazing things in store.

General Travel Tips for Short Vacations

Battery pack — On short duration vacations you won’t want to spend much time in the hotel room. You’ll want to be out exploring the sites and sounds. Living like the locals and experience the unique tastes of the city. The last thing you want to be doing is stuck in a restaurant or hotel waiting for your electronic devices to charge. Bring along a small portable battery pack and charge your devices on the go. This means you’ll always have sufficient battery life in order to capture the next National Geographic-esque photo.

Take a walking tour — Most major cities now offer a free walking tour. The term “free” is a little misleading. Although the tours are free, the guide does expect you to offer a nice tip of $5-10 after the tour. This is a good way to learn the history of a place, and you’ll meet other interesting travelers as well. Google “free walking tour” and the city’s name. This should provide you with the location, duration, and starting time of the tour.

Ask the locals — Guidebooks and travel shows offer a narrow perspective of a culture. Ask a local restaurant hostess, Uber driver, or bartender where she recommends going to experience local culture and food. I’ve been to some amazing places in the world simply by following this practice.
Uber Uber Uber – Use Uber! It is much cheaper than using a taxi service, drivers respond to your requests quickly, and service is often top notch. One caveat, if you plan to go out for a serious night of drinking, consider taking a taxi home. Uber’s rates skyrocket during peak late night drinking hours, and you’ll save a few dollars choosing to taking a taxi home.

Wet wipes — These little beauties are lifesavers when it comes to cleaning up between events, removing the occasional bird-poop-rocket from your favorite purse, or the thousand-and-one other uses that can appear while traveling. Throw a packet in your purse or backpack and forget about them until the need arises, you’ll be thankful you did.


Short-duration vacations can be so much grander than a weekend in Vegas or remaining close to home with a staycation. With 50 states in the US, many of which are serviced by budget airlines, the cost of staying local for a weekend or traveling to somewhere new is virtually the same. Get out and explore!

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