Costs of Travel #2 – Finding Our Bearings in the US of A (by Nathan)
We crash landed into North America after four months trekking in South America. It was exhilarating to travel in a new continent and deeply satisfying to break the mold of a mere two week vacation. Surprisingly, the trip felt very short and we were definitely itching to travel more when we finally returned to Los Angeles. Originally our plan was to arrive back at the United States and then re-evaluate if it was actually possible to travel the world for the rest of the year. Upon arriving back to LA, there was no doubt, we were going to continue traveling and we were going to make it the best year of our lives. One challenge was that to travel for another year, we would really need to reign in the costs. We began our research and started to plan “The Big Trip.”
The plan was simple, we would take a couple months to explore and travel in the United States. It is funny sometimes that it is so easy to travel to somewhere exotic and foreign, but the best of our own country was often overstepped. In order to gain our bearings, re-assess the financial situation and best plan our around-the-world trip we decided tour parts of the United States for three months. We embarked on a tour of Los Angeles, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, New York City, Chicago and even a little Nebraska.
Like before, I have created a few colorful charts to describe the costs of travel. Carmen and I use charts like these to compare travel destinations and better plan our vacations in the future. These figures include everything: flights, transit, food and lodging and we hope they can be a helpful tool to those needing a rough idea of the possible expense of travel. There are eight categories of expenses. There were no visas and we decided to travel without any health or travel insurance. Flight costs were smeared among the destinations of NYC and the Midwest. “Get in” refers to expenses related to travel to a destination- buses, gasoline, subways. “Transit” refers to the transport costs once at the destination. Lodging is usually a big expense of travel, but we utilized family, friends and camping to significantly reduce this cost.
This time we took some of our own advice and began the careful monitoring of a budget that would be sustainable for the next year of travel. The United States is pricier than many parts of the world, but we were able to keep our costs down by cooking a bunch and staying with family and friends. Countless people went out of their way to host us in spare bedrooms and couches and we are grateful for their hospitality. Los Angeles was our home base; Carmen’s parents were a valuable resource and we can’t thank them enough for letting us stay with them. My family is spread all over Southern California, and we traveled some weekends to the mountains and San Diego. It was really wonderful to spend some quality time with our parents and my brother. We made our best efforts to use transit, which is a major feat in car-loving Southern California. Our favorite ride is a train that connects Downtown LA to San Diego that is relatively easy to use and only about $17 for a one-way ticket. Our biggest costs were food, gas a new camera and an iPad for the blog.
Of course we got a little stir-crazy and after two weeks for being stationary we set out on a road trip to Grand Canyon. Some of the most beautiful land formations on earth are relatively close to Las Vegas. We decided to take a road trip from Los Angeles. We camped for 11 nights and drove back. I could spend months exploring the beauty of Utah and Arizona. Every national park has an entrance fee and lasts a week, so on this trip we decided to focus just only on the Grand Canyon. Car-camping in the U.S. runs about $35 a night. But, both the South and north Rim are flanked by national forests that promote “freedom camping.” If you can deal with the lack of facilities (i.e. paved roads, bathrooms and showers), then you can go find a beautiful spot all to yourselves in the middle of the forest. We also took several visits to the wilderness permit offices to establish hiking trips into the canyon and forests. After many nights of sleeping in the dirt it was nice to settle into a hotel bed in Las Vegas. If you visit Vegas on a Wednesday, and stay in downtown instead of on the strip there are big, comfortable rooms for $37. We splurged on a Cirque du Soleil show, and for two weeks of Grand Canyon it only cost us $42 per person per day.
We also wanted to spend time in two of our favorite US cities: New York and Chicago. We enjoyed the great company of our friends Taylor and Andrew in Brooklyn and many laughs alongside our cousin Tracy and her pugs in Chicago. Something we love about both these places is the accessibility to amazing food. As you can see by that we spent $27 each per day on food alone! We have a hard time turning down a Momofuku pork bun, torta at Xoco or popsicle on Highline Park, but the food of a place is part of the essential experiences that we love about travel.
Nebraska was one of those states that was never on our travel list for its excitement or adventure, but more of a place for its hospitality and family charm. I have an aunt who is 93 and I had really wanted to visit her for many years. And, because Nebraska is in the middle of the country we never prioritized it into our travel plans. In a trip across the US it was essential to make this trip to Grand Island and Dannebrog Nebraska. We felt inspired by long bus rides in South America and we took a greyhound from Chicago to Omaha. But from there we had to rent a car, our biggest cost, and we drove across hundreds of miles of corn fields. We couchsurfed a night and then camped in a nearby park. We were pleasantly surprised with the down-to-earth people and the mellow life in Nebraska. Though vastly different from our other travel differences, it stands out as a rewarding and peaceful experience in our travels this year.
Our final hoorah before our around-the-world trip was a road trip to San Francisco. We visited one of our favorite restaurants in Santa Barbara and enjoyed two exciting weeks with our friends in the Bay Area. This was a food tour more than anything else- we gorged on all our favorite restaurants and bars. These places used to be our stomping grounds, but we were now visiting them as visitors. One of the biggest outcomes of this trip was that we sold my truck and we bussed back to LA.
Looking back in hindsight, three months was a long time in the United States when we really wanted to be seeing more of the world. I valued the time that we had to plan and prepare for the Big Trip and I feel that it was essential to the success of the next seven months abroad. The biggest success was that we were able to work out an around-the-world series of flights for a relatively cheap price. We listened to our own advice from South America and we slowed down, cooked more and enjoyed the company of our friends and family. The end cost was not a budget breaker, but something more impressive- travel in the United States for $46 per day per person.