Travel: New Zealand 2015

This trip was a splurge, flat out. We went in high season, booked a month out, stayed in hotels the whole way, and ate delicious, delicious food. It was amazing and totally worth it, but holy cow was it expensive!

My total cost for the trip was $6,779.06, including flights and just over 3 weeks in New Zealand.

I feel super weird sharing that amount since there are so many people who blog about credit card rewards and churning. My boyfriend used the trip to churn the Barclaycard and the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which got him/us a decent number of points. This trip was not planned far in advance and we spent a lot of time not in big cities that had hotel chains, so hotel points weren’t that useful. We used discount hotel booking sites to book a lot of the hotels and we got better flights by paying for them than we could have with points. I don’t know where we would have managed to churn Air New Zealand points from the US?

This trip was also our second foray into shared finances and the biggest one, the first one being our shared checking account for groceries. At home, we split every expense except groceries at the source. This sounds tedious to everyone else, but it works for us. When we go out to eat, we either pay for what we ordered or we split the bill evenly if our separate amounts are within a dollar of each other’s. We agreed as we were booking this trip on about how much it would cost, how long we wanted to go for, where we wanted to go, and the type of trip that we wanted to have: hotels not hostels, renting a car instead of tour buses, not a big group experience. We also decided to put most of the expenses on one credit card (and agreed to use a recent card that my boyfriend got) and then deal with things when we got back. We both had separate credit cards that we used for non-shared expenses. This system worked out pretty well! We’re still talking about getting a joint credit card and trying to figure out which one we’ll get. I think it’ll probably be a few months before we figure that out.

This trip was also the longest amount of time that we have spent together consecutively, without anyone else around. And it was awesome! It’s definitely nice to have two bathrooms again, as well as couches, and gave us perspective on how nice my condo is.

It was interesting seeing people’s reactions to our trip. Some people assumed my boyfriend couldn’t possibly have this much vacation time, so he must have quit his job too. Someone else called it a once in a lifetime experience. I laughed at that because I hope to do another trip like this again in a few years. My mom told me that unemployed people shouldn’t take expensive trips. (My dad thought it was an amazing idea!) Another person called it a honeymoon! Most people were pretty excited for us though and other than my mom, no one seemed to wonder how we could afford to do this. The weird part though is that going to New Zealand for ~a month seemed crazy enough to people that the reactions we got seemed pretty similar to how I would expect people to react if we were quitting our jobs to travel full-time.

How did my portion of the costs break down? The number seems huge when I look at it, but once you break it down, it doesn’t seem quite so crazy.

  • Lodging – $61 USD per night. This isn’t that crazy considering that we did no cleaning other than one load of laundry while we were gone and we stayed in hotels.
  • Rental car + gas – $695.77 USD. This was about 2,000 miles of driving and included the ferry cost for the car and us. We rented an older model car which cut costs down a bit. Gas was simply expensive though compared to how much it costs in the US – our weighted average per US gallon was $5.285 USD per US gallon on gas. At the time of writing, the average gas price across the US was $2.28 USD per US gallon.
  • Food – $40 USD per day. We ate out for mostly every meal, occasionally super cheaply and sometimes a wonderful splurge dinner. I had leftovers a few times and we picked up some snack food from the grocery store like fruits and granola bars.
  • Mobile phone – $25 USD. We both picked up SIM cards in the Auckland airport since we have unlocked phones, which was awesome. I used about 1 GB of data while I was in New Zealand and a few minutes.
  • Flights – just under 40% of the overall cost. This was mostly poor planning as when we went ended up being super expensive and we bought them somewhat last minute. This was part of why I wanted to go for so long.
  • Activities – just under $600 USD. This included a dolphin cruise, checking out a LOTR attraction, going to a thermal village, the cable car in Wellington, some thermal pools, a train, a couples massage, some caves, and a few other items.

Beyond the finances, what did we do?

We went in January/February, in the height of a very hot summer they’d been having. I packed for that and was missing some long-sleeved shirts when it got chillier in parts of the South Island.

We spent about half the trip on each of the North and South Islands. The ferry between the two islands was one of my favorite parts about the trip! It was incredibly gorgeous. We spent a few days in Auckland, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, and Wellington. We only spent one night in the Marlborough (wine) area, which we regretted pretty quickly. Post-earthquakes Christchurch was both really sad for all the historical buildings that they had lost and really interesting to see how the city is changing. Milford Sound was absolutely amazing! Such a long day though. Queenstown was gorgeous, but super touristy. Wellington was fun because we didn’t do too many touristy things and more so went to interesting cafes and restaurants.

Driving on the other side of the road was both weird and not weird. The rental car we ended up with was pretty similar to the one I drive at home, so that wasn’t too much of an adjustment. The weirder part was the volume of driving we did and the windy roads. We drove about 2k miles in the 3ish weeks we were there, which is about what I normally drive in 6 months.

I can’t wait to take a long trip again with my boyfriend! Some of our fellow introvert friends were surprised we managed to not kill each other despite not hanging out with anyone but each other for almost a month!

Independence Day Long Weekend Mini-Vacation Budget

I don’t usually post budgets from my trips, but I’m making an exception this time because I am really happy with how cheap this trip turned out to be and I traveled by myself. I traveled to a friend’s wedding over the Independence Day long weekend and spent time in three different cities over the course of four days. It was a pretty whirlwind trip, but I managed to see a lot of people and keep the costs down. In fact, this trip was cheaper than my half of a trip that my ex-boyfriend and I took which just involved driving.

Flights: $105.90

Yup, you’re reading this correctly. I booked my flights far enough in advance that I was able to use miles, despite the fact that it was a long weekend. My flight times weren’t even that bad. With this airline, you still have to pay the taxes and fees for the flights when you book with miles, but I’ll take a $105.90 flight any day over a $800 flight, which is what it probably would have otherwise cost me.

I also only took carry-on luggage with me, so I spent $0.00 on checked baggage fees. I decided it was cheaper to buy sunscreen there than to pay $25 each way to check a bag. I didn’t end up buying any sunscreen though – I just borrowed a friend’s the one time I needed some.

Ground transportation: $224.00

This was the most expensive portion of the trip. The airport I flew into was about 60 miles from the friends’ house who I was staying with for the wedding. The wedding was in another city, though under 10 miles away. I also wanted to visit friends who were in yet another city, almost 80 miles from the first friends’ house. Add in a 10 mile trek back to the airport and the fact that the city where I first stayed isn’t very walkable and I logged close to 200 miles over the course of the weekend.

I priced out two different ways of doing this: one with a rental car and one without. I would have had to take a combination of airport shuttles, cabs, and public transportation adding up to five different modes of transportation and around $200 (I couldn’t price out the cabs) if I didn’t rent a car. When I found a rental car for a shade under $200 plus gas, I booked it. It made things so much simpler and was totally worth the < $30 price difference. I ended up with a pretty sweet car for a rental (I’ve never seen a rental car before with all the bells and whistles!), which was pretty fun. I ended up only spending $26 on fuel, which isn’t bad.

I am very proud of myself for taking public transportation to the airport in my city. I have gotten out of the habit of doing that since I’ve been doing a fair amount of travel for work, where I can expense the cabs to the airport… It was quite a pleasant ride and I got some good reading in. I’ll definitely be doing this more often.

Lodging: free!

I stayed with friends the whole trip, which really helped to keep costs down and is way more fun than staying in a hotel. The wedding hotel wasn’t any closer to the wedding site than my friends’ house and there was no transportation provided from the wedding hotel to the venue, so this didn’t work out that badly. I took a small present for each of the friends I stayed with, which I counted in July’s Groceries spending. Had I stayed in a hotel for the wedding, it would have cost me almost $300 for lodging and I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere.

Cash & Food: $97.75

I track cash withdrawals somewhat while on vacation. Most of it was recategorized into food and I’m pretty sure what I didn’t get receipts for was also food…

For a four day trip covering three different cities, I think that this isn’t bad for food spending.

  • Wednesday night: $6.30 I bought a footlong at Subway to eat on the plane there.
  • Thursday breakfast: $7.67 I was a bit rushed and grabbed a hot chocolate, a muffin, and a scone at the airport. I ate the scone near the end of my flight there as a snack.
  • Friday breakfast: I found some cereal at my friends’ place.
  • Friday lunch: $13.29 Out with a friend!
  • Friday snack: ~$3 milkshake!
  • Friday dinner: at the wedding
  • Friday dessert: ~$4 ice cream!
  • Saturday breakfast: Cereal at my friends’ place again.
  • Saturday lunch: Out with a friend and paid for both of us, using up the last of my cash.
  • Saturday snack: $2.70 out with a friend
  • Saturday dinner: $24.12 out with a bunch of friends
  • Sunday breakfast/snacks: $8.57 super early flight, so I forgot to borrow some food from my friends’ place this time.

Tourism: none

Between all the friends I wanted to see, the wedding, and my incredibly short stay, I didn’t do much else than eat food. Next time I’ll maaaybe do something else than eat food!

TOTAL: $429.06

I still can’t believe I managed to keep this trip this cheap with how many miles I both flew and drove, but I did and I had a ton of fun! Unfortunately my next trip to this city won’t be this cheap since I’ll have to pay for my flights in full, but that’s life! My original budget for this trip before I realized I could use miles to pay for most of my flights and I could stay with friends the whole time was about $1,500 and I honestly wouldn’t have made the trip for this particular wedding at that cost.

Readers, how was your Independence Day long weekend?

The Limiting Reagent on Travel: Vacation Days

With my June trip, I’ve used up all of the vacation days that I’ve managed to accrue in my working life thus far. That means that I took a whopping 19 days of vacation between January and June.

I was starting to worry that my travel spending was getting out of hand:

  • Trip #1 (January): $2,100
  • Trip #2 (February): $900
  • Trip #3 (March): $700
  • Trip #4 (June): $2,100
  • Total: $5,800

Yes, I have spent a total of $5,800 on travel so far in 2012. That number boggles my mind now that I’ve added it up. This ignores the occasional weekend trip to nearby cities where I stay with friends and just count gas and food in their normal categories.

If you take $5,800 and divide it by the number of vacation days I’ve taken for the trips (19), you get a cost of $305 per day, which is less than my daily salary.

Since I’ve now hit the limit of my vacation days, my travel spending is going to come to a halt for a few months while I accrue more vacation days. I don’t know what I’m going to use the remainder of my vacation days for this year, but I’m definitely looking forward to staying at home or at least near it for the rest of the summer :)

And if I have any interest in going to Japan in 2013 to visit a friend, I should start saving my vacation days now!

At my company, you accrue vacation monthly and it rolls over up to a certain maximum, irregardless of calendar year boundaries. Some of my coworkers regularly hit that maximum and stop accruing vacation time, but I have no idea how they do that when I never have enough vacation time!

Readers, have you run into the problem of not having enough vacation days?

The Cost of Travel

Travel is expensive. But you know what I’ve decided? I don’t care. I’m doing everything “right”:

  1. I have 6 months in emergency reserves, plus all of my insurance deductibles set aside. (Total: ~$24,000)
  2. I am investing 20% for retirement, including maxing out my 401(k).
  3. I have a pretty good picture of my spending.
  4. I am making a car payment to myself, automatically each month, to be able to pay for my next car in cash. Even though I’ve only had my current car for about a year and a half.
  5. I’m saving about 50% of my net pay each month.
  6. My net worth has exceeded my expected gross annual income. (w00t!)
  7. I have no family obligations (plus I’m single).
  8. I have no debt (and never have).

So I’m planning on taking all of my vacation days for travel, plus weekend jaunts. But wow, are weekend jaunts more expensive! I’m cool with it taking longer to buy a condo if that means I get to travel more in the meantime (the amount of vacation time I have will limit this from really being much of a problem though).

Thus far in my young life, I’ve been to many cities in North America and Europe:

  • Austria: Vienna
  • Belgium: Brussels
  • Canada: Edmonton, Montreal, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria
  • Czech Republic: Prague
  • France: Paris, Strasbourg
  • Germany: Berlin, Cologne, Stuttgart
  • Greece: Athens
  • Italy: Rome
  • Mexico: Cancun, Manzanillo, Nuevo Vallarta, San Jose del Cabo
  • Netherlands: some town I can’t remember the name of
  • Poland: Krakow
  • Slovakia: Bratislava
  • United Kingdom: London
  • United States: 7 states

Where have I not been that I would like to go or some places that I would like to go again? I’m going to categorize these by the number of weeks I would want to spend seeing them (0 = weekend jaunt).

  • Australia (1-2)
  • Canada: Rockies (0), Nova Scotia (0), Quebec City (0), Victoria (0 – it’s been awhile)
  • Europe: Ireland (1), Scotland (1), Spain (1-2)
  • New Zealand (1-2)
  • United States: the other 43 states* :)
*I know that that isn’t super clear, but I’m not quite ready for you guys to know which state I live in.

I’m sure that I’m missing many places that I haven’t been, but this is my list for now. I don’t want to overextend myself with travel and sports. Taking a vacation a month in January, February, and March was a bit much. I think that I should look at having a minimum of a month break between trips. I’m not going anywhere in April or in May and then I’m going away for about a week and a half in June. This puts remaining trip slots for the year in August/September and October/November.

As for my June trip, I’ve already paid for the flights and the hotel in full. So all that is left is food, touristing, and airport transfers.

If I go on a trip in August/September with my mom, we will probably go to Waikiki or one of the Canadian weekend trips that I would like to do. If I go with a friend, maybe we would go to Washington, DC, but I wouldn’t do that trip in November with the election.

Soon, I should start my 2013 travel planning! (Mostly for the placement of the 2 week trip so I can plan my vacation days accordingly.)

Readers, any cities that you’re particularly fond of and you think I should visit? :) What is your favorite US city to visit and why?

Revising my travel budget

There is currently $400 in my vacation savings account.

So far this year, I have taken the following trips:

  1. All-inclusive resort in January and a side trip, at a total cost of about $2,100 (all but about $270 was paid for in December 2011)
  2. Sports tournament trip in February at a total cost of about $880

I am planning the following trips for the rest of this year:

  1. Weekend trip later this month at an estimated cost of $800
  2. Week-long trip in June at an estimated cost of $1,500
  3. Weekend trip in August at an estimated cost of $500
  4. Week-long trip in January at an estimated cost of $1,200

Total estimated cost for this year including the trips I’ve already paid for: $5,150

My vacation savings account started at $1,180 at the beginning of January, which means that it needs to be funded with about $3,970 to get through the year with my vacation plans. I’ve put $500 into it so far this year ($250 at the end of January and $250 at the end of February). I’m going to increase this amount to $3,470 / 10 = $347 and round up to $350 per month for the rest of the year to cover all of the vacations that I have planned.

Last year, I spent nothing on travel, so my vacation savings account accumulated happily at $166.67 per month and some minimal interest. Since I have decided this year that taking vacations is really important to my sanity, I’m accepting that is going to cost more money than the $0 I spent on travel last year. This is obviously going to reduce the amount that I can save towards a down payment, but I would rather put off buying a place for a few months and take more vacations than buy a place sooner. We’ll see how I feel about that after the June trip.

I’m not really a huge fan of having sub-accounts for budget categories – it just doesn’t work for me. So at this point, travel is essentially a budget category and I’m going to move it into my regular budget instead of being separated into savings. This means that I’m going to transfer that $400 from my vacation savings account to my checking account, where I keep my monthly budget and cash flow amounts. One of the nice things about the way I run my budget is that if I go over in one category, there is generally enough slack in one or more other categories within my checking account in addition to the reserves I keep in my checking account so that I will never overdraft.

There. Now I feel much less stressed out about my travel spending. The amount I had budgeted was really not in line at all with the trips that I want to take and that was starting to stress me out.