We currently find ourselves 2 months into our Gap Year Adventure! The month of March started out in Arizona and ended up in western Texas, so we saw plenty of desert in-between the bigger cities.
One of the biggest things we’ve noticed so far is how much time has appeared to slow down (which I wrote about last week). Despite only being on the road for a couple months, it feels like we’ve packed in over a year’s worth of adventures and memories!
As for spending, we managed to come in a little lower than last month on the road and MUCH lower than an average month in Seattle. Once again, we managed to make good use of our accumulated hotel points for lodging and kept our gas costs low despite traveling ~2,500 miles in our car.
Check out the full breakdown of our ~$3,600 worth of expenses below:
Lodging – $835.39
The cost of living on the road comes in far cheaper than we were paying towards our mortgage in Seattle!
Lodging Breakdown by Nights:
- Hotel nights booked with points – 17
- See below for breakdown
- Hotel nights booked with points + cash – 1 (IHG)
- Hotel nights booked with cash – 7
- 4 IHG
- 3 Hilton
- Camping nights booked with cash – 2
- Nights spent with friends and family – 4
Just over half of the nights were covered by our stash of hotel points (thanks to credit card bonuses). We also made the most of our cash stays by putting them towards a lucrative IHG promotion as you’ll see below.
We camped for the first time out in Carlsbad, New Mexico and it ended up being a little chilly thanks to some high winds. More camping nights have already been booked for April, so hopefully we luck out with some better weather this time.
Points Spent by Brand:
- IHG – 8 Nights – 70,000 points
- Hilton – 5 Nights – 40,000 points
- Hyatt – 5 Nights – 25,000 points
We managed to get great value out of our hotel points this month with an average cost per night of only 7,500 points! This included 4 nights at an IHG pointsbreak property and a 5th night free from Hilton.
Points Earned per Brand (not including credit card spend):
- IHG – 56,107 earned
- 42,400 from the 2018 Q1 Accelerate promo
- 7,000 from 10% points rebate via the IHG credit card
- 3,707 from regular earnings
- 3,000 from welcome bonus
- Hilton – 11,339 earned
- 7,339 regular earnings
- 4,000 from Points Unlimited promotion
- Hyatt – 2,500 earned (Q1 2018 promotion)
Once again, I’m amazed that various hotel promotions let you earn points while booking with points, but we’re certainly not complaining. Both of us were targeted with generous IHG promotions this quarter and the first one was completed this month for a big points boost. The second will be completed before the end of next month for another ~40k points!
Hopefully there are more solid promotions in Q2 and beyond to keep our lodging expenses down.
Transportation – $324.56
Everything related to getting us between all of the lodging above as well as to the attractions below.
- Gasoline – $221.92
- Car Maintenence – $32.75
- Uber – $58.09
- Parking – $11.80
Once we got away from the west coast, gas become much much cheaper. Despite traveling a similar amount of miles as last month, we only spent 65% as much on gas! Car maintenance was an oil change where we chose convenience over price because they shared a parking lot with our hotel.
Uber was a necessity when out partying with friends in downtown Austin, while parking was for certain places/attractions we visited.
- Miles Traveled – 2,737
- Gallons of Gas Purchased – 109
- Average Miles per Gallon – 25.10
- Average Price per Gallon – $2.04
Gas was cheaper, but our miles per gallon driven was a little lower for the month of March. This can mostly be attributed to the very high speed limits across New Mexico and Texas. Lots of driving took place on 75-80 speed limit roads with one road even getting up to 85! Our car just isn’t as efficient at these higher speeds, especially with the roof rack on top.
Overall mileage may reduce in future months as we spend more time at national parks. We no longer have a specific place to be like we did at the end of March, so our rate of travel will probably drop a bit.
Food and Restaurants – $1,103.78
If there’s any one spending category in our life that’s extravagant, it’s probably food. And it’s not that we’re eating at fancy, top of the line places, this is just the cost of rarely cooking our own food.
- Eating Out – $939.94
- Groceries – $163.84
I’ve separated out the household items that we buy at grocery stores so this is just the food and drink.
Despite this being our biggest spending category at the moment, when broken down it doesn’t seem too bad. With 31 days in March, we’re looking at $35.60 spent per day, or $17.80 per person. Going even further, that’s $5.93 per meal per person. Certainly not winning any frugality awards, but it’s a cost we are fine maintaining for now.
Entertainment – $569.31
The majority of the fun stuff we’ve been doing on the road falls into this category, so it’s probably our best use of money overall.
- Attractions – $229.90
- Roswell Alien Museum
- LBJ Presidential Library
- Kitt Peak Observatory
- Desert Museum
- Numerous National Parks/Monuments
- “Sports” – $163.90
- TopGolf Driving Range
- Bars and Alcohol – $155.61
- MoviePass – $19.90
- 8 movies this month for less than $20!
Our bar tab was up this month because our
kickball drinking friends were in town for a long weekend of fun. All of the attractions were well worth the price of entry, especially the ones that accepted our annual parks pass! The various “sports” are some of our go-to entertainment when we run out of parks/museums/attractions to visit, but want to get out of the hotel.
I still question the sustainability of the MoviePass program, but get it while it’s hot…
Be sure to follow us on Instagram to see the amazing pictures we’ve been capturing on the road!
Everything Else – $722.23
Aside from everything related to travel, food, and fun, there are a few other items we spent money on this month.
- Cell Phone Plan – $74
- Storage Unit in Seattle – $46
- Mail Forwarding – $3.63 (one set of forwarded mail)
- Shopping – $144.90 (clothing and necessities)
- Gifts – $115.22
- Health and Personal Care – $107.63 (insurance, medicine, hair cuts)
- Utilities – $230.85 (unless I missed one, this should be our final utility payments from before we left Seattle!)
We expect most of these categories to shrink in future months, but there is always a chance that different ones pop up to take their place. If this trip is anything like the ~5 years we spent in Seattle, then most months will contain some kind of “exceptional” expense. It’s rare to have a month where everything is just normal spending, but we’ll have to wait and see!
If you have been following our story up until this point, you may have noticed that our mortgage payment didn’t show up above and I’d like to explain why.
As of the start of this trip, our “home” in Seattle became a rental property and therefore joined the businesses I track separately from our regular expenses. That means the mortgage for the month of February showed up in the negative column of our Rental Property business, just like the landlord’s insurance and a few improvements we made to the property before leaving.
The reason I’m not counting it against our gap year expenses this month is the same reason I won’t be subtracting out profits from our expenses in future months. This applies to the other businesses we track separately as well:
- This blog: Money Metagame
- The Gift Card Arbitrage business
- Our credit card/travel hacking shenanigans
The travel hacking one is interesting because we are personally benefiting from all of the miles, points, and free hotel nights, but I’ve chosen to keep it separate because we end up with a cash profit every single year. Every single annual fee we pay is offset by cash signup bonuses, cashback, travel credits, and more. The miles and points are just gravy on top of the entire endeavor. I didn’t want these profits to artificially make our regular expenses appear low, so I’ve decided to track all of them separately as a “business” of sorts.
Totaling It All Up
We’ve now been on our Gap Year Adventure for 2 months and have spent a total of $8,851.44.
One amazing thing is that the previous two months are the 2 lowest months on record since I started tracking our spending at the beginning of 2014! That’s 49 months of living in Seattle where we never managed to spend less than $3,750 in a single month.
If my prediction of future months being a little cheaper holds true, then life on the road will end up being much cheaper than life in Seattle.
At an average monthly spend of ~$3,650, we’re looking at a 12 month total of ~$44,000. Extrapolating 2 months of data into 12 may prove to be foolish, but that’s the best we can do so far.
There are several things we could do to reduce costs, but we’re happy with where our money is going right now. Stay tuned for more updates of our life on the road!