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How I Spent It: 3 Women Share Their Trip Budgets Down to the Dollar

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 12/1/2021 Julia Ries
© Jennelle Fong

There is no right or wrong way to travel. Some people like to splurge on a fancy hotel or nonstop flights, whereas others prefer to keep travel costs low and spend their money on experiences, fine dining, or tours. Whatever you choose and no matter your travel budget, there’s a trip out there for everyone. Perhaps the best part about traveling is that you can apply your personal tastes and interests to a trip and make it your own.

I, for one, like to mix up how I travel. I’m all for splurging on a spa resort or booking an off-roading adventure abroad, but sometimes what I’m really after is a low-key trip in the woods—which is what brought me to Lake George earlier this fall. Keep reading for how I budgeted for my trip, as well as how two other women chose to make the most of their travel savings over the past year.

A long weekend for two in Lake George, New York

Having recently moved from sunny Los Angeles back to our hometown of Philadelphia, my fiancé Blake and I were particularly excited to experience Fall on the East Coast this year. We wanted to take a quick, easy trip within driving distance of Philly, and because we just completed a cross-country move and have a wedding to plan, we didn’t want to spend too much on a super luxurious getaway. A cabin in the woods with easy access to hiking trails (for our dog Ollie) and cozy restaurants and bars was what we were after, and after doing some research, we settled on Lake George in the Adirondacks.

Because we started planning this trip pretty last-minute, Airbnb yielded few results—but we did find an available cabin that allowed dogs for $1,250 for three nights. Even though it had a well-stocked kitchen, we weren’t looking to cook during our trip. We used about $70 on breakfast and sandwich supplies, but spent a healthy chunk of our travel budget ($538) dining out. We grabbed dinners at Gaslight, a casual bistro on the edge of town, a farm-to-table spot called 10 McGillis Public House, and our favorite, the restaurant at the Inn at Erlowest. Erlowest had the highest Yelp ratings in Lake George and our meal—lobster bisque, gnocchi bolognese, pork chop, and a bottle of merlot—did not disappoint. If you have the time, get to your reservation an hour early and have a drink next to the fireplace that overlooks the lake.

Our friends recommended the Adirondack Winery Lake George Tasting Room, which is located right in town, along with Springbrook Hollow Farm Distillery, a bourbon and whiskey farm situated on a picturesque foothill overlooking the Adirondacks. I highly recommend both of these spots—the tastings are cheap (it’s free at the distillery and $10 at the winery); it’s the bottles you purchase to take home that can run up the tab. We love doing informational tours when we travel, so we booked a one-hour scenic boat cruise around the lake. The cruise was only $21 a person and it was an incredible way to take in some fall foliage and learn about Lake George’s history (which, by the way, dates back to the 1700s).

The rest of our activities were completely free. We took Ollie to swim at Dog Beach, which is located right on the shoreline along the lakefront walking trail, and wandered across the street to Lake George Battlefield Park and the Fort William Henry Museum so my fiancé could get his history fix and read up on the battle that took place on the lake during the French Indian War. We originally chose Lake George because we wanted to hike, so we researched trails in the area and settled on two hikes for our trip: Prospect Mountain, a longer, steep trail a short walk from our cabin, and Schumann Preserve at Pilot Knob, a shorter trail on the opposite side of the lake that leads you to a gazebo overlooking the lake. Both of these hikes offer impressive views, though it takes a bit more time and fitness to get to the peak of Prospect Mountain.

After hiking up Schumann Preserve and getting one more glimpse of the fall foliage, we drove back into town and grabbed coffee at Cafe Verro in town before making the four-and-a-half hour drive back to Philadelphia.

My total: $1,050 ($2,100 for two)

A girls trip to Sante Fe, New Mexico

Nina D’Agostino is a 35-year-old tech consultant living in Philadelphia who documents her trips on her travel blog The Scouts Collective.

This past August, I traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico with three girlfriends who I became close with through work. We chose Santa Fe because we’re all interested in art and the city is a great hub for Southwestern art, style, culture, and fashion.

We arrived in Santa Fe on a Thursday after flying from JFK in New York to Albuquerque for a roundtrip total of $383. We got a rental car and found an Airbnb right in town that cost $592.50 a person for four nights. On our first day, we scooped up day passes with access to a cabana for $185 at Ojo, a natural springs spa located right outside of town, and spent the day wading in the thermal and saltwater pools.

The best part about traveling is that you can apply your personal tastes and interests to a trip and make it your own. © Jennelle Fong The best part about traveling is that you can apply your personal tastes and interests to a trip and make it your own.

We ate out for all of our meals: I ended up spending around $450 on food and drinks throughout the trip. Santa Fe is known for green chile, so I had a goal of eating green chile in every meal (which I succeeded in, thanks to all of the breakfast burritos, salsa, mixtos, enchiladas, tamales, tapas, and, yes, a green chile croissant that I ordered at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market). I even bought a green chile scented candle for $17, which smells exactly like roasting green chiles. It’s incredible.

Because this trip was really about art, we hit up the Georgia O’Keeffe museum (where I spent $20 on the ticket and $50 on some prints and a t-shirt—love a museum store) and purchased tickets to MEOW-WOLF, a gigantic interactive, immersive art installation, where tickets go for $43. We spent a few afternoons bopping through the town, browsing though the art galleries sprinkled along Canyon Road. We were also on the hunt for turquoise jewelry—another Santa Fe speciality—but because turquoise can come at a steep price, we visited an amazing thrift shop called The Double Take where I bought a silver and opal ring for a fraction of the usual price ($150). We heard about a nearby town called Chimayo that’s well-known for textiles and rugs, so we made plans to visit the town, but on our way there we took a detour and stopped by the Nambé Falls & Lake Recreation Area where we went on a hike (and by that, I mean we waded through a river barefoot and climbed a rock face) to see a waterfall. By the time we finished the hike, we were exhausted—and ravenous—and decided to skip Chimayo and grab some mixtos and micheladas ($30) at Rancho de Chimayo before heading back to our Airbnb.

On our last day, Monday, we bought $21 day passes for El Rey Motel so we could hang out and work remotely by their pool. On our way to the airport, we stopped and grabbed a quick dinner at a large industrial food hall called the Sawmill Market in Albuquerque before taking a red eye back to New York.

My Total: $1,786

A quick solo trip to Charleston, South Carolina

Kathryn Crimmins, who is in her mid 30s, works in healthtech in New York City.

A couple of years ago, I spent a month living in Charleston, South Carolina, and quickly fell in love with the city’s charm and history. I was eager to head back for a quick visit and figured early November would be the perfect time — New York was getting chillier and Charleston was wide open and welcoming visitors again after the craziness that was 2020.

I found a roundtrip flight from LaGuardia Airport to Charleston International Airport for $95. This route can get pretty expensive but if you purchase your ticket well ahead of time and opt for basic economy, you can keep it cheap. I arrived on a Thursday and took an Uber straight to the very beach-trendy Ryder Hotel, a recently renovated boutique hotel downtown, where I booked a three-night stay for $875.

I kicked off my weekend with some small bites at a modern Southern-style restaurant Lenoir before dropping into a comedy show (for just $15) at Theatre 99, a live improv comedy venue right around the corner from my hotel. After the show, I ordered a couple drinks from Little Palm, Ryder Hotel’s bar, and was able to keep the tab low since a free welcome cocktail came with my stay.

The next morning, I slept in and grabbed brunch at Toast, a low-key all-day breakfast spot that had been recommended to me during my previous stay, before going back to my room and squeezing in a quick yoga session in my room with a yoga mat my hotel provided at no cost. I try to read a lot when I’m on vacation by myself, so I picked up a new book from a local bookshop, Buxton Books, for $20 and set myself up at an adorable wine bar, Bin 152, and read at the bar for a few hours. A glass of wine and a plate full of cheeses was well worth the $50 I spent there.

Charleston is a big foodie city, so I knew I’d be spending a good portion of my budget ($263 to be exact) at bars and restaurants. When I travel alone, I try to stick to two big meals a day to save money and still be able to experience the city. I also try to eat at the bar in restaurants—it feels more low key and I’m able to chat with the bartender who usually can give me some great local recommendations. During my trip, I hit up some of my favorite spots—High Cotton, where there’s often live music, and Malagon, a very delicious market and tapería. Tapas are hard to eat alone, but that didn’t hold me back: I spent $75 and took the leftovers back to the hotel.

One of the best ways to see the city is from a rooftop bar, which Charleston has plenty of. Sometimes these bars can get crowded, though, which is why I opted for Fiat Lux, an upscale spot located on the rooftop of Hotel Bennett, which is right on the edge of Marion Square. It’s a much quieter, less costly way to take in the stunning views.

I spent my final day strolling around town. I wandered over to Rainbow Row—home to a string of colorful houses along the waterfront—and the Battery, a fortified seawall stretching along the tip of the Charleston peninsula. Total miles walked: Seven. I flew out the following morning at 7 a.m. and was back in New York by mid morning.

My total: $1,448

These conversations were edited and condensed for clarity.

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