A Half-Weekend Getaway Budget Breakdown

The Cost of Getting Away

32 hours total. 18 on the road. 10 in a hotel. 4 listening to the sweet, acoustic jams of Ben Harper. And all sans baby.

That should give you a glimpse into our recent half-weekend getaway to Denver. Hopefully that’s not our new reality of vacationing, but on this particular occasion, it meant the difference in going or not going.

At first glance, it might look and sound spontaneous and a bit haphazard, but you’d be wrong. This trip was actually 20 months in the making. While we were living in Boston, I saw that Ben Harper had announced an east coast acoustic tour. Ben Harper was the soundtrack of my formative teenage years and Joanna had never seen him live, so it was an easy splurge-decision. On the on-sale date, I was able to snag fifth row general admission seats, entered my plastic digits, and did a silent fist pump at work.

So what does that have to do with the concert in Denver you ask? Welll… long story short, we moved from Boston to North Carolina, angrily sold the tickets (at a profit), and ten months later, moved from North Carolina to Utah. When I saw a west coast acoustic tour was scheduled, I purchased two tickets to his Denver show, knowing that I could always sell them if my high hopes never materialized. After a couple nights of hardcore scheming in late October, we found a way (and a suitable budget) to make it work.

I thought it’d be fun to share our total expenses from our trip, offering both a sense of how we spend our money and, maybe more importantly, how we don’t spend our money. So here’s our 32-hour vacation spending breakdown:

Concert tickets

Unlike the Boston show, this one wasn’t general admission. And while my Ben Harper Spotify playlist was screaming at me to splurge on the $75 lower-level seats, my Mint.com account reasoned with me and I went for the $42.50 upper-level loge seats (which were still great seats, might I add). And don’t get me started on the $27 in extra Ticketmaster “fees.” They’re probably as popular as al Qaeda, right?

$112 / two loge (which is a really weird word) seats


When I was crunching the numbers, the biggest question mark was how we would get there. I started my search with Southwest, since that’s our current reward travel credit card of choice. The cheapest round trip flight from SLC to DEN was around $200/person. Kayak’s results weren’t much better, so I figured $400 total and door-to-hotel door travel time of 5.5 hours. We’d also have to rent a car which would add another $30-$40 to the total. I did some quick mental math and realized we’d pay a fraction of that cost by driving the 1000-mile round trip. And since I had recently driven the same route on my trip from NC to UT, I knew that the I-70 was one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the country. So this decision was a no-brainer.

$101 / three gas station fill ups, 37 mpg/avg., lots of time to talk about how much we missed our little girl


Using the same tactics I outlined in our How to Get Priceline Deals post, I snagged a Friday night stay at a 3-star Best Western Plus for $41 using Priceline’s Name Your Own Price feature. Pros: cheap, 10-minute drive to the downtown concert venue, free continental breakfast. Cons: they only had two-bed rooms available at check-in (which is the first Priceline booking that’s ever gone awry), $12 in Priceline fees. But since we were only there a night, we were all smiles about the dough we were saving.

$53 / one-night stay at a 3* hotel and 1.5* (free) breakfast


We’re simpletons when it comes to food. In fact, we’re probably the opposite of foodies. I still pronounce quinoa “quee-no-ah,” which I’m pretty sure is right. We’re also pretty frugal, so eating out isn’t an expensive affair. We allowed ourselves one “nice meal,” which translated to Panera Bread. Fancy, eh? We meant to find a nicer restaurant, but we opted for a quick cat nap at the hotel before the show instead. Our other meals consisted of Wendy’s, Arby’s, and 7-Eleven. We know… our bodies hate us.

$50 / a few burgers, a few regrets, but on budget


This was clearly the most crucial component of all. Could we have survived the trip with our Baby Girl? Maybe. Would we have enjoyed it? Absolutely not. We gave a road trip a test-go to Hilton Head while we lived in North Carolina. It was about half the distance as the Denver trip, and we had to stop four extra times each leg to address her needs. At the end of the trip, she cried and yelled for an hour straight. By the time we pulled into our garage, we were well beyond the point of sanity. That doesn’t mean we won’t try it again, but our wounds (and eardrum damage) is still too fresh. Lucky for us, we have wonderful, awesome family nearby that offered to watch her. One sister took a day shift, while another took over at night through the next afternoon.

$0 / best sisters evarrr!

Speeding tickets

Nada. I usually set cruise control about 4-6 mph higher than the speed limit and promptly lower it when I see good hiding spots. To date, I’ve never had an issue — knock on Highway Patrol-repellant wood.


Grand total

I like round budget numbers, so we were originally gunning for $300. A few bags of sunflower seeds and an unaccounted downtown Denver paid parking lot charge put us over. But in the end, the total felt worth the cost — especially since we let our frugal flag fly in almost every possible spending category.


And as if this post wasn’t long enough already, here’s a photo and video from the trip.

View from Interstate 70This doesn’t do the I-70 justice at all.

Here’s a clip from the show (but not our seats).

So now the part that makes this blog fun: how would your trip budget be different? Would you even consider a trip this crazy and short? Where would you have splurged and where would you have cut back?

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  • Reply Jennifer @ Budgeting in Baby November 25, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Not that its a huge part of your budget however when I travel I like to pack all the meals that will be ate on the road or at the very least a large snack variety. Because $3 for a small bag of chips is ridiculous when I can get a similar bag of chips for $0.99 at Aldi’s before I leave.

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:06 am

      Good call. We brought drinks and a few snacks for the trip out there, but we could have done a better job planning for the return leg — especially since it was such a short trip.

  • Reply Brian November 25, 2013 at 10:13 am

    I stopped using priceline a long time ago, but that is because I started collecting hotel points from promos and credit card churning. So I probably would have seen what I could have gotten on points.

    Meals would have been a stretch for us. We enjoy hitting local places we can’t normally find. Sometimes that means having to rely on a “diner’s drive-ins and dives” place. Many of them have been amazing, but some, I feel, have lost their way since Guy went through. Oh well, at least someone local is making some green!

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:11 am

      If/when I get around to logging more work travel and feel more comfortable in the world of credit card churning, I’m sure Priceline will take a backseat to point stays. What card(s) for hotels do you use?

      We need to a better job of planning at least one meal at a local joint at every destination. The boring “food is food” in us usually gets in the way, but we’ll make it a point to suppress that voice next trip.

      • Reply Patrick December 5, 2013 at 12:34 pm

        I’ve been using HiltonHonors Amex and Visa for a while now so we aren’t churning very aggressively. I like staying at Embassy Suites, mostly for the cooked to order omelets they have at breakfast, but the rooms are well cleaned, up to date, and I’ve also always gotten a free code for the wifi at each hotel we’ve stayed at. Haven’t paid for a hotel room in quite a while because of all the points we have. IMO the best deal I’ve gotten using points was last spring (May i think) for room just off Michigan Ave. in Chicago. It was listed for around $400 but I only used 50k points. Just checked and it’s listed for 50k points right now too, but only $119, so you can definitely get some deals if you are staying during a peak time.

        I’ve heard that the Marriott Rewards is a good program too, but I’ve never used it.

        • Reply Johnny December 21, 2013 at 10:05 am

          Thanks for sharing, Patrick. I’ve always enjoyed my stays at Embassy Suites. I’ve been eyeing Marriott Rewards, but I think we’ll keep putting all of purchases on our airline cards until we have a greater need for hotel stays.

  • Reply Laura @ RichmondSavers.com November 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Sounds like you two had a fun weekend trip! I think you did well on your budget, and I don’t think the trip was too crazy – when you’re passionate about something, it’s worth the occasional splurge to be a part of.

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:13 am

      It was a blast. Live music is one experience that we’re usually more lenient on. And in general, experiences trump “stuff” when it comes to identifying worthy splurges for us.

  • Reply Emily November 25, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    I have to admit that I thought it was crazy that you spent more time in the car than you did at your destination, but it definitely sounds like it was worth it in the end!

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:15 am

      Haha. We really enjoyed most of the time in the car. By the end of both legs, we were ready to get out and breathe some fresh air, but it all seemed worth it in retrospect.

  • Reply Halsy November 25, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    Weekend trips are one of the few pre baby things I miss! Life is so much better now but trips really arent what I would consider a vacation or getaway anymore. It sounds like u guys had a great time at a reasonable price tag! We are expecting number 2 and have yet to be away from our toddler daughter together for more than a couple hours. We are hoping to do an overnight trip even if it’s just local and staying at a hotel downtown and having one of our parents come stay with our daughter.

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:18 am

      Definitely make that night sans baby happen! Especially before #2 comes around. You’ll still probably spend most of your time talking about your girl and texting your parents to see how she’s doing, but it’s just nice to have a moment to breathe and talk and not worry.

  • Reply Michelle November 26, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    I’m so excited that you two got to do this! I know it can be challenging when you have a baby 🙂

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:19 am

      I’m somewhat surprised we went through with it, so I’m proud of our recklessness… I think.

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone November 27, 2013 at 2:03 am

    I always walk away from trips/events thinking, “Was that $____ worth of fun?” It sounds like for you guys, this one was $316 worth of fun. I think the main things that I would do different would just be based on different priorities. Like, I’d never pay $50+ dollars to see a concert (because I just don’t like live music that much)…which means that I wouldn’t have gone on this trip in the first place! Also, I definitely would have extended the get-away for another night, because, hey, you spent tons of time in the car to get there. But…I don’t have a child, and I imagined that was the main reason you stayed for just one night!

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:21 am

      Without our girl, we would have stretched a few extra nights. But mostly for the sake of our family who was helping with babysitting, we didn’t want to ruin their ENTIRE weekend — just half of it. 🙂

  • Reply Meghan November 30, 2013 at 12:44 am

    Glenwood Canyon = pretty! Check out Hanging Lake one day. 🙂

    I would definitely make the trip!

    • Reply Johnny December 3, 2013 at 2:29 am

      Shooooot! We totally should have stopped by to check that out! Next time, and there will be a next time, we’ll make a much deserved detour. Thanks for the tip!

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