Gap Year Spending Month 1 – $3,743.55

Now that we’ve been on the road for a full month, its time to take a look at how much full time travel is costing us.  Neither of us have ever been away from home longer than a few weeks at a time, so crossing the one month mark is new territory.  And there are still 11+ months to go!

We stayed busy this month, starting out with a brief trip to Cabo to kick off our Gap Year.  After that, we left Seattle and drove in segments all the way down the coast to the LA area before moving inland.  At the end of February, we find ourselves in Mesa, Arizona, just outside of Phoenix.

After driving over 2,500 miles, visiting numerous attractions along the way, and spending a couple dozen night in various hotels, it’s time to break down how much we spent.  Thanks to some strategic miles and points usage, it might a bit lower than you think!

Lodging – $758.51

Not bad for 28 nights away from home, right?

Lodging comes in a little lower than I expect to average going forward, but that’s because we only paid cash for 8 nights!  The rest were either covered by generous friends or our stash of hotel points.

Lodging Breakdown by Nights:

  • Hotel nights booked with points – 15
    • See below for breakdown
  • Hotel nights booked with cash – 8
    • IHG – 4
    • Independent brand – 4
  • Nights spent with friends and family – 3
  • Nights spent at home – 2

As you can see, the $759 went towards only 8 nights for an average cost of ~$95/night.  This includes utilizing the 4th night free benefit on our Citi Prestige card a single time, but also includes $75 in pet fees because we started out this trip with our dog.

Points Spent by Brand:

  • Hyatt – 6 Nights – 90,000 points (mostly towards the all-inclusive in Cabo)
  • Hilton – 5 Nights – 40,000 points
  • SPG – 4 Nights – 14,000 points

The vast majority of our points usage this month went towards the 4 all-inclusive nights in Cabo at a cost of 80,000 Hyatt points, while the remaining nights were very efficient at an average cost of ~6,000 points per night.  Of course, different hotel brands’ points are worth wildly different values, so that number on it’s own doesn’t mean a lot.

Points Earned per Brand (not including credit card spend):

  • IHG – 8,476 earned (3,500 from the 2018 Q1 Accelerate promo + 1,000 welcome bonus + 3,976 regular earnings)
  • Hilton – 2,000 earned (Points Unlimited promotion)
  • SPG – 1,750 earned (1,500 from Making a Green Choice + 250 welcome bonus)
  • Hyatt – 1,000 earned (Q1 2018 promotion)

IHG was the only major brand we booked with cash, but we managed to earn points across several different brands thanks to their ongoing promotions and our hotel status.  I’m amazed that they let us earn points on stays that are paid for with points, but we’re certainly not complaining!

Both of us were targeted for very generous IHG promotions this cycle and will each get ~40k points after paying for 5 nights!  We paid for 4 nights on my account this month and will get an additional 36,500 points for the 5th night that will occur in March.  We’ll also ensure that Becky is able to book 5 nights on her account for an additional ~40k points before the end of the promotion (April 30th).

If we’re really able to stretch those 40k points using Pointbreaks, it will work out to be a: Buy 5 nights, Get 8 nights free deal!  Twice!

Overall, this month will probably be on the lower end of how much we spend on lodging during this gap year.  Not only does February have 2-3 less days than the rest of the months, but we also spent 2 nights at our own house before hitting the road.  Of course, there will possibly be times we spend a week or more with family, so maybe it will all even out.

Our journey as of February 28th, 2018

Transportation – $667.88

In addition to the lodging itself, there are costs getting between each new destination.  The majority of this category is gasoline, but also includes several expenses related to our Cabo trip, parking, tolls, and a little bit of standard car maintenance.

  • Gasoline – $345.42
  • Cabo Airfare – $163.42 (thanks to booking the trip with Southwest points)
  • Cabo Airport Parking + Shuttle – $85.86
  • Parking – $43.20
  • Tolls – $4
  • Car Wash – $5
  • Car Remote Battery – $16.08
  • ReachNow in Seattle – $4.90

~$250 was the entire out of pocket expense for the 4 night all-inclusive Cabo trip, which was a fantastic deal.  However, that is probably the last flight we’ll take for the next several months.

Parking was a combination of street parking with a meter and parking garages, mostly visiting various attractions and restaurants.  Tolls are self-explanatory, we self-washed the car once, and replaced the battery in our car remote because it was becoming unreliable, especially from any kind of distance.

Our Mazda 3 parked in Joshua Tree National Park

Driving Stats:

  • Miles Traveled – 2,542
  • Gallons of Gas Purchased – 105
  • Average Miles per Gallon –  26.32 (includes 222 pre-trip miles because we didn’t start with a full tank)
  • Average Price per Gallon – $3.29

Plenty of driving this first month and we are happy with where our miles per gallon ended up.  We never tracked it very closely in Seattle because we drove less than 5,000 miles most years, but ~26 mpg seems great considering we have the roof rack and large storage box on top!

The price of gas along the west coast is on the higher end compared to most of the country, but we didn’t really go out of our way to find the cheaper stations.  Now that we’re in Arizona, it’s rare to see any gas stations above $2.50/gal!

Food and Restaurants – $933.85

In the past couple of years, we’ve averaged ~$30 per day spent on food and we came in just north of that in this first month.  Probably because a few meals that we normally would have made ourselves were replaced with eating out.

  • Eating Out – $820.94
  • Groceries – $112.91

I did separate out the non-food items for our grocery bills and those will show up below, so this is only food.

One thing that helped our food spending is the free food and drink we get at many hotels.  Sometimes it’s because of our hotel status and other times a free breakfast is available to all guests, but we do our best to utilize it.  At the Sheraton, we had access to the Club thanks to our SPG Biz card, so both breakfast AND dinner were covered for those days.

Entertainment – $484.40

We’re not going to travel around the country just to avoid the sights and sounds of the places we visit!  This category covers all of the entry fees, ticket costs, and passes that got us into various events and attractions.

  • Trees of Mystery – $36 (Redwood forest attraction)
  • Klamath Thru Tree – $5 (Yes, we paid $5 to drive our car through a Redwood!  Worth it!)
  • Winchester Mystery House – $98 (Same crazy house featured in the new horror movie, Winchester)
  • Hearst Castle – $50 (much like the Winchester house, another eccentric rich person building a ridiculous place to live)
  • Hollywood Bus Tour – $80 (Super touristy, but very entertaining! But don’t pick the open air bus if the temp is in the 40s…)
  • LA State Park Daily Parking Pass – $5 (Day hike to a waterfall)
  • Palm Springs Tramway – $56.90 (Rotating tram going up to ~8,500 feet of elevation in 10 minutes! Very scenic hikes)
  • Annual National Parks Pass – $80 (We plan to get plenty of use out of this over the next 12 months!)
  • Cubs vs. White Sox Spring Training Game – $40.60 (Great view of the game from the second row! Thanks Stubhub)
  • Mini-golf – $13 (Fun Bay Area themed course on Alameda island)
  • Moviepass – $19.90 (Still the best deal in movies, we attended 5 this month)

Plenty of fun on the road in February and this doesn’t even include some of the free things we visited like Lombard Street, Elephant Seal viewing, local parks, and more!  I think this category might jump higher in future months, but I suppose that depends on how often we move from location to location.

The annual national parks pass was a one time expense for the year, so that will cover many “free” days of entertainment in our future.

We drove through a tree!

Everything Else – $898.91

All of the expenses that don’t fit nicely into the above categories.

  • Pet – $564 (Should cover food, toys, baths, shots, and everything else for the entire year)
  • Cell Phone Plans – $72
  • Gifts and Souvenirs – $46 (Mostly postcards to keep for ourselves and send to family, this includes a roll of 100 postcard stamps)
  • Laundry – $8 (Coin-op machines at one of the hotels)
  • Misc. items – $59.93 (A travel mug, sunblock, laundry detergent, medicine, etc.)
  • Health Insurance – $7.96 (Includes sending a fax to verify eligibility)
  • Other Insurance – (-$7.13) (Our umbrella and VPP premiums for the year were fully offset by a refund of our homeowners policy being prorated)
  • Utilities – $118.15 (Have to pay up for what we used before leaving)
  • Trash Disposal – $30 (One final trip to the transfer station to fully empty out our house)

The “Everything Else” category is all over the place this first month, but I expect it to settle down in the future.  The largest expense, Pet, should be $0 going forward unless something unexpected happens, and Utilities should disappear by April after we pay the final bills.

One item that isn’t present this month is our storage unit, which will be $46 in all future months.  We paid through the end of February when we opened the unit in late January.

What’s Missing?

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 many 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.

Predicting the Future

As I mentioned above, February is an interesting month to start because it happens to be the shortest month of the year.  Our lodging and food expenses in particular benefit marginally because February is short a couple of days, but the rest are fairly unaffected.

On the other hand, if I had to make a guess, I think most of our future months will come in below this month!  Just take a look at some of the expenses this month that will disappear going forward:

  • Pet expenses – $564
  • Annual parks pass – $80
  • Utilities – $118.15
  • Trash Disposal – $30
  • Postcard Stamps – $35 (I think 100 will last us most of the year)

I do expect our Lodging to go up a bit, but Transportation will probably go down if we’re aren’t flying anywhere most months.

If our expenses do stay exactly the same each month, we’re looking at a 12 month cost of ~$45k which doesn’t seem too bad for full time travel.  In fact, it’s less than we spent each year we lived in Seattle!

It’s WAY too early to start extrapolating to a full year, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated as the year progresses.

Any questions about our travels or expenses so far?  There are a million different ways to split everything up, but hopefully this breakdown was easy to understand.  I’d love to hear how you might look at things differently in the comments below!


13 thoughts on “Gap Year Spending Month 1 – $3,743.55

  1. What happened to the dog? Did you pay someone $564 to drive it out into the country and find it a good home with a nice family?

    1. No, Becky’s sister in the Bay Area generously agreed to watch him for us during our year long adventure.

      The money is to cover all of his food, supplies, and more while we’re away.

  2. Do you plan on utilizing airbnb/homeaway for longer stays? I’ve read on other blogs that people are able to negotiate cheaper stays if they plan to stay longer

    1. We’ve checked those options out in a few locations, but the price is always much higher than the surrounding hotels. Financially, I think vacation rentals like Airbnb make the most sense for larger groups or for longer term stays (>1 week).

      As we’re only two people, mostly staying less than a week in various places, it hasn’t made sense for us yet.

  3. next time buy a national park pass off of eBay. It will have less than 12 months left on it, but it will work out to be significantly cheaper per month than the $80/year.

    1. Thanks for the idea, sounds like a solid money-saving tip.

      For us, we’re fine paying the full $80 price because we’ll probably get use out of all 12 months AND the money goes towards something we’re a big fan of: preserving national parks. We essentially just treat it like a donation. Plus, $80 for an entire year of national parks/monuments/forests/etc it an amazing deal!

    1. Thanks for the idea. We’re pretty fresh to camping in general, so we’ll probably stick to more developed sites at first. I could see us expanding our horizons a bit as we get more comfortable. As long as the weather is nice, I’m sure we could handle it.

      1. check out Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites if you’re in the western part of the country. Lots of gorgeous and free sites out there!

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