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I’m 24 & This Is How Much I Spent On A Long Weekend In San Diego


Welcome toTravel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track theirtravel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.

This week's travel diary: A 24-year-old digital copywriter who spends Labor Day weekend with friends in San Diego.

For questions, feedback, or if you're interested in tracking your travel expenses during an upcoming trip email us at traveldiary@refinery29.com.

Age: 24 
Occupation: Digital Copywriter
Salary: $60,000

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Trip Location: San Diego, CA
Trip Length: 4 days (plus half a day of travel)
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 14

Costs: I took a nonstop flight from Newark, NJ, to San Diego: $170. Nonstop from San Diego to JFK: $333. I have a TransitChek card through my job, so I used that to hop onto the C train and catch the PATH to Newark. I bought my PATH ticket to New Jersey separately ($2.75).

Total: $505.75

Costs: I stayed with my old roommate at her spot in Pacific Beach, San Diego. I was stoked! I've missed San Diego's fresh fruit, ocean views, and sunny yet lackadaisical vibe. 

Total: $0

Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending: 
On a trip to upstate New York, I found some great reads in a super cool bookstore/bar. My parents got me a $100 Amazon gift card for my birthday, so I went to town on as many books as I could find, including Becoming by Michelle Obama, Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan, and How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston. They are coming with me for the six-hour plane ride and long beach days ahead ($0). I also treated myself to an amazing but exorbitantly priced avocado lox bagel with tofu scallion cream cheese, and saved the other half for my flight ($16). I grabbed a travel-size toothpaste and toothbrush ($5).

Total: $21

Travel Day

4:00 p.m. – Whoo, I am off! But oh, did I forget how much I dislike flying from Newark. There’s construction on one side of the New Jersey Newark platform for my connecting train — which I forgot I had to take — and I immediately start worrying that I won’t find a way to the other side. When I finally get to the other side of the platform, I then worry that I won’t know which route to take to the airport. I ask someone for help, and they direct me to the sign above my head, showing a distinguishable plane icon for any route stopping at the airport. Ugh! My mind always gets the best of me. I purchase my one-way ticket with Apple Pay ($8.50), sit down on the train, and prepare to arrive at the airport. $8.50

5:00 p.m. – What a surprise: In an attempt to calm my nervous system, I bolted out of my office an hour earlier than expected...and left my Baggu with the other half of my lox bagel in the office fridge. I quickly text my coworker to take it home. I get to the airport with over an hour to spare before boarding, so I decide to use my last one-time United Club pass. (More travel credit card perks.) I find this to be the best time to catch up on my favorite reality TV show, Big Brother — I’m a diehard fan — grab a couple complimentary gin-and-seltzer-waters and chill for a few.

6:15 p.m – We’re boarding! Apparently, despite my being at the gate five minutes before the first round of onboarding, my group has already entered the cabin. I’m a little disappointed because I wanted to grab a couple of last-minute “I Love NY” shirts for my friends/ex-roomies, but am happy to grab my seat, specifically for the extra legroom and space I purchased months ago.

9 p.m. EST – I don’t realize I’m hungry, but I also know that the homemade veggie pad Thai with more greens than noodles, plus half the lox bagel from 9 this morning, isn’t the healthiest way to head into vacation. Without my well-thought-out payday splurge meal to munch on, I peruse the menu to find a (surprisingly) appetizing dish called the Mezze Sampler ($10), a mix of stewy couscous, pita, falafel, and hummus. As the flight attendants arrive, I quickly order a plate and a gin-and-sparkling-water ($10). I pay using my United credit card, which returns 25% spent on in-flight purchases. I choose free biscuits (vegan cookies) as my complimentary snack and settle in, ready to finish the remaining 150 pages of Becoming. Four hours left, and I’m back in California! $15 

10 p.m. PST: We’ve arrived! My friends are already a little buzzed, and since I’m not in New York or around a working metro system, I opt to call an Uber to my friend L.’s house — she lives off Grand Street in the heart of Pacific Beach. I expense all my work and freelance trips for editorial shoots, so I currently have 50% off all trips. Score! My friend J. is so excited to see me that she Venmos me $20 to cover the trip over. I love my friends! 

12 a.m. – I arrive at the house to find my two old roomies waiting for me with arms open! We quickly get ready and head out to the bars on the beach. L. grabs the Uber there. My friends refuse to let me buy drinks, so they grab some tequila shots and beers and we cheers to our friendship and the weekend ahead.

Daily Total: $23.50

Day One

9:30 a.m. – I wake up the next day slightly hungover and in need of fruits and veggies. J., L., and I drive down to the beach for some donation-based cliffside yoga. There are about 100 people taking the class — so beautiful! I Venmo the instructor ($5), thankful that I can still contribute to the cause without cash on me. I end up running into my brother’s girlfriend after class, so we take photos on the water, laughing about our casual small-world run-in. We quickly discuss Labor Day plans and then part ways, and J., L., and I head down the road in desperate need of caffeine and fruit. $5

12 p.m. – Better Buzz is a San Diego staple. Their drinks are mad sweet to me, but I really enjoy their lavender tea latte. Plus, J. swears by them and enjoys taking pics in front of the signage. I grab a lightly sweetened lavender latte with oat milk ($5.50) and an islander açaí bowl ($8.50 + $2 tip). We sit outside upstairs, catching up and enjoying views of the beach. There’s a living version of my dream guy sitting upstairs, too (photographer, long hair, sun-kissed skin, accent, baby face), and my friends start baiting me to approach him. I laugh it off, but I can’t help but feel very physically and emotionally content with my surroundings. I missed California so much! $16

2 p.m. – After heading back to the house, we quickly change for the beach and head out. L. has a car, but it’s beautiful and the beach is nearby, so we walk. On the way to the beach, we stop at L.’s favorite poke spot. I spot an SD hard kombucha brand I’ve never tried before and immediately grab it ($8). I order a tuna and salmon poke bowl with ginger dressing ($15 + $2 tip) to pair with my blood orange mint hard kombucha. I take a picture of the can, to use its design and copy as inspo for an upcoming pitch at work. $25

3 p.m. – On our way to the beach, we realize that water is much needed and much overdue. We quickly stop into Ralph’s, and I grab an alkaline water. On our way out, I spot a woman with White Claws in her basket. J.’s never had them before, and they're on sale for 2/$5, so I grab four. $10.79

5 p.m. – We’re at the beach for a few hours before we see the beach police perusing the area. I'm assuming they’re looking for open containers (strictly prohibited in SD). I can’t help but notice they only seem to be engaging with, ID'ing, and ticketing POCs, which really puts a sour taste in my mouth. Sometimes I forget that even my home state isn’t as “chill and inclusive” as I’d like to believe. I motion that we leave shortly after. As a POC myself, I feel a little down. It’s blatantly obvious that there’s so much more work to do when it comes to equality, even in the parts of the world you call home.

9 p.m. – We come home exhausted and ready to chill before heading to dinner. We haven’t made reservations, and since it’s Labor Day weekend, we know getting one is unlikely. 

10 p.m. – We head to North Park and put our name in at an Italian restaurant L. used to work at. It’s a 60-minute wait, so we head across the street to Kindred, my favorite vegan spot, which is known for its upscale plates in conjunction with death-metal jams. I order some popcorn for J. ($6) and a couple cocktails for L. and me ($30.49 + $4.51 tip). (L. purchased the Uber here, so I pay for her drink.) The popcorn takes longer than expected to come out (20 minutes), so they remove it from our bill. It's now about 11 p.m., so we head back across the street.

11:30 p.m. – Not wanting to eat too much before the night ahead, L. and I split gnocchi and a sardine salad, and J. gets a chicken salad. We’re afraid that we’ll get too tired from wine, so we stick to water. We split the bill evenly. $17.58

 12 a.m. – J. is too tired, so she heads home, and L. and I catch an Uber downtown. She pays for the Uber. We start walking downtown and arrive at Water Grill, a restaurant lounge L.’s brother works at, so she grabs us some drinks under her family discount card. We leave and roam down the street, eventually running into some of L.’s guy friends. We walk into the Tipsy Crow together, and the guys buy two rounds of shots for everyone. I’m extremely tired at this point, but California bars literally start closing at 1:30, so I’m in luck. I call L., and we Uber home. $17.56

Daily Total: $171.93

Day Two

11 a.m. – The next day I wake up famished and ready to eat the world! L. recommends we put in a resy for a well-known café called The Cottage in La Jolla, an affluent area in San Diego County. We decide we can roam around La Jolla while we wait. The day is cloudy but still quite warm, so we drive down near the café and walk L.’s dog. We have about a 90-minute wait, but The Cottage has free mini cinnamon rolls and coffee outside. Score! We take the dog and window-shop the surrounding couple blocks.

12:30 p.m. – Once seated, I become very anxious over what to order, as there are so many good options. I flag down the waiter and ask for some recommendations to help ease my decision making. I end up ordering the wild mahi-mahi Benedict, which is a "wild" salmon filet, poached egg, sautéed spinach, garlic, and Hollandaise sauce over rosemary olive oil bread. The food is good and the plates are big, but I’m just happy for the huge glass of fresh grapefruit juice in front of me. The check comes and I immediately put my card down. J. wants to do each-card-for-each-meal payment since her food was the most expensive, but I like to get travel points for every purchase I make. I offer to pay plus tip and we can split three ways evenly, regardless of whose dish cost more or less. $30 

2 p.m. – We’re going boating today, so on our way back to L.’s house we stop at a Vons to pick up some alcohol and snacks. Me and J. head in, and L. offers we split the cost of whatever I pay for. J. grabs some snacks and motion-sickness medicine, while I grab an Espolon tequila and two kombuchas. While I know I’m still young, my hangovers have definitely changed over the years. Plus, I'm fresh off a colonoscopy (I'm only 24!). Because of such, I prefer to drink more expensively than to feel like a raisin the next day. I can’t tell if the alcohol is cheaply priced at the grocery store or if I’m used to everything in New York being overpriced, but I walk out spending less than $25 for a bottle of reposado. Score! We split the costs evenly. $12.30 

3 p.m. – The boat owner is waiting for us at the dock, so we quickly change and lug our snacks and drinks down to the bay. L. knows the guy who owns the boat, so it's ours (and free!) for the afternoon. L. pretty much lives on the water, so walking everywhere is an option, thankfully — there’s so much to see on foot! We find the rest of the group and get on board. I rarely do open-water activities due to my very strong (yet very irrational) fear of sharks, so this is the first time I’ve willingly been on a boat. I pop open the bottle I purchased earlier. I go sit at the front of the boat, looking around the bay, watching others on their paddleboards, sailboats, and jet skis. After a couple hours, we ask to be taken back to the dock. We’re buzzed, hungry, and ready to go.

6 p.m. – J. really wants fresh fish tacos, and I’m craving guacamole, so we walk down to a well-known Mexican spot...the line is wrapped around the building! We all order the special, which includes a choice of two tacos, beans, rice, and a drink ($11.50 + $2.50 tip). They don’t have guacamole, but I remember most authentic Mexican spots don’t. I make a mental note to find some before I leave on Tuesday. We pay separately. $14

7 p.m. – J. recently returned from a trip to Italy, so she’s craving gelato. We find a Luigi's Gelateria of Pacific Beach joint down the street that has a plethora of dairy and nondairy flavors/sorbet. I sample the vegan dark chocolate — whoo, it’s really rich! I decide to get half dark chocolate, half pistachio to level out the flavors. J. won’t let me put my card up, so I guess I’m not paying!

9 p.m. – J. has a super early flight the next day, and I am (again) quite exhausted. L. wants to party, but I feel as if I might tip over. As I lie down on the bed, I’m almost immediately asleep. In a way, I’m kind of glad my body is forcing me to relax, because it’s something I never seem to do in New York.

Daily Total: $56.30

Day Three

9:30 a.m. – With J. gone, me and L. clean up her apartment and get ready to take the dog to the dog beach.

10 a.m. – We head to Ocean Beach, a relaxed hippie beach compared to party-centric Pacific Beach. Once in L.'s car, we decide to stop into a cute little café on the side of the street. I order an avocado toast ($8.50) and a fruit smoothie ($6.50). I have the exact amount plus tip in cash, so I pay with that. $18

10:30 a.m. – L.’s friend I. joins us for breakfast, and we move to an outdoor spot to eat. My avocado toast was unfortunately flavorless and cheaply prepared, but the smoothie, thankfully, contained much of the flavor the avocado toast lacked. We chat about San Diego’s kombucha culture and the comparison between East and West Coast brand campaigns, soaking up as much vitamin D as we can. San Diego is known for its cloudy mornings due to the marine layer — air masses developing over the ocean — but it almost always wears off (especially as of late thanks to good ol' climate change! Not #fakenews). Since hard kombucha originated in San Diego and I'm originally from California, kombucha has easily become my everyday necessity. I make a mental note to look into any East Coast kombucha brands when I'm back in New York. When we look up, the marine layer has worn off and the heat is definitely here to stay. 

12 p.m. – I made plans to meet my brother, T., and his girlfriend, N., at Better Buzz before heading out to Temecula, an inland city 60 minutes north of San Diego, for her parents' Labor Day BBQ. I’m not super close with my family, nor do I feel comfortable spending large amounts of time with large numbers of people, but T. and N. have been together for almost two years, and I’ve yet to meet most of her family. I say goodbye to L. and take an Uber over to Hillcrest, a cute pocket of San Diego that (slightly) reminds me of Brooklyn, in its own way. My 50% off promotion has expired, but I still have 25% off and $5 in Uber cash. $5.47

12:30 p.m. – Upon arrival I have to use the bathroom, so I head in. I feel weird asking without purchase, so I buy an iced, lightly sweetened lavender latte with oat milk. Better Buzz definitely has New York–like prices. I'd say that, judging by the line down the block, blocking the Whole Foods next door, no one seems to mind. $8

2 p.m. – Once T. and N. scoop me, we head off to Vons, Southern California's main grocery store, to purchase some things for the BBQ. I don’t want to come empty-handed, and also know I’m most likely the only person who doesn’t eat meat. I grab some Beyond Burger patties, bratwursts, and Espolon tequila ($35.39). I notice Health-Ade kombucha has some new flavors I’ve yet to see on the East Coast, so I grab three for cocktails ($11.97). After an hour-long drive, we arrive! I’m brought around to meet and greet the whole family, which has me very overwhelmed in a matter of minutes. I decide now is the perfect time to lie by the pool, read, and chill out. $47.36

1 a.m. – I didn’t have an idea of how long we’d be at the BBQ, but I definitely didn’t expect to spend over 10 hours at N.’s parents’ house. I realize that I need to be up by 6 a.m. to work remotely with my team in New York. We’re launching a new website this week, so I need to be available in case anyone needs anything copy-related. On the way back to San Diego, I find an Airbnb super close to the airport that is halfway a treehouse. It’s beautiful and cheap, plus I have $20 off for referring myself. Pro tip: Refer your different email addresses and change the spelling of your name, and you can score yourself money off future Airbnbs. I book the Airbnb 20 minutes before arriving back in San Diego. (I'm usually not that spontaneous!) I unpack my basics and slip under the covers. I've never been more ready for bed! $59.28

Daily Total: $138.11

Day Four

5:45 a.m. – I jump out of my Airbnb bed to the horrifying sound of my 5:45 a.m. alarm. I’m definitely feeling the disconnect after a long weekend. I’m happy that my boss was okay with me spending the extra day in California, but I’ve always been a visual learner — and a new website with new copy definitely needs visual, in-person review. 

6 a.m. – I Slack my boss so he knows I’m online, and start to prepare for the day. My room has an outdoor shower (which is amazing), so I get ready and take my computer to the rooftop deck in the treehouse. 

9 a.m. – After a couple hours answering emails, I decide to walk to Balboa Park and then Uber to get breakfast before the airport. My stomach hurts pretty badly and I’m feeling weak, so I call an Uber even though the café is down the street. $5.67

9:30 a.m. – I grab a spot in the sun and order a green smoothie. I’m not hungry, but I can tell my body is craving health. I check in to my flight and scroll through my social media apps, killing time ($7.35 + $1.65 tip).

10 a.m. – I call another Uber to the airport, since it ends up being much farther away on foot than I expected. Check-in and TSA are a breeze, and with the look of the desolate airport, both me and my anxiety are grateful that I chose to fly a day later. I’ve used my Delta credit card as much of the trip as possible, since its current balance is $0, making it easier to track, plus — points! I’m flying Delta back to New York, which, thanks to my credit card, means my checked bag is free. $7

10:30 a.m. – I make an executive decision that water, food for the plane, and a book are imperative to get through the rest of the day. Since airplane prices are exorbitant for literrralllly no reason, I always do a couple laps to find the best bang for my buck. I grab an Evian water ($3.50 + $0.50 tip) and some “healthy” Thai food, which consists of shrimp fried rice with kale and veggies ($15.19 + $2.81). I’m given a huge portion, so I’m content, but I can’t help but feel guilty about all. the. plastic: wrapper, fork, knife, bowl, lid, etc. It makes me sad, but also reinforces the passion I have for sustainable initiatives and using mindfulness to create change. I mentally promise myself to bring my Tupperware and travel-size metal cutlery with me from now on. $22

11:15 a.m. – They’re about to start boarding my flight, so I walk back to the gate and pop into a bookstore. I immediately see a hardcover called Super Pumped, about the company Uber, which reminds me of an amazing documentary I saw a couple weeks ago about the spike in taxi driver suicides since ridesharing services began to dominate the roads. I think $27 for a book is a little pricey, but it's hardcover and books aren't cheap when purchased from an actual bookstore, whether in an airport or not. I toy with the idea of leaving it, but both my parents are teachers and a book was the one item they would always buy for me, no questions asked… Maybe that's why I'm a writer now, lol ($28.80). As I’m reading the inner flap of the book, I see a bright pink T-shirt in my periphery that reads, “You Stay Classy Now, San Diego,” written in a bubbly ’00s font. Perfectly cheesy, perfectly cute. I snag one for my Florida-native roommate, who has never been to California but I know would adore San Diego ($17.67). We just moved in together, so I know she'd appreciate the sentiment. $46.47

12 p.m. – We’re off! I fly somewhat often, but I didn’t realize Delta has in-flight meals from California to New York — maybe it’s new?! I can't determine whether my confusion is from exhaustion or forgetfulness, but I now have a free meal coming my way, on top of the Thai food I purchased before I boarded. I can’t complain, but I wish I'd known/remembered. I quickly eat the shrimp out of my Thai dish, knowing there’s no way I can consume it later without asking for salmonella. Soon after, I’m served a veggie wrap with fruit, plus a dark chocolate square and water. I save the rest of my rice for lunch the next day and click through my phone, checking Slack and responding to texts, thanks to free Wi-Fi messaging (another in-flight Delta perk).

12:30 p.m. – Even with more food than expected in my belly, I’m still exhausted. I start reading the first couple pages of my new book while listening to a movie in the background. Soon after, I fall asleep.

8 p.m. EST – What felt like one hour must’ve really been five, because I’m already back in New York. I already mentally mapped out my way back to my apartment in Williamsburg, making sure to avoid the L train like the plague. I go to fill up my MetroCard with money for the AirTrain, but I can’t remember if you can fill up TransitCheck MetroCards or not, so I buy a separate MetroCard for the five-second trip from arrivals to the A ($6). This is one of those pesky financial annoyances that seem ridiculously priced. $6

10 p.m. – I take the A to the J and am home in a little under 45 minutes. I make some tea, jump into the shower, and steam my clothes for the next day while watching Big Brother. What a weekend! I have a lot on my plate this week for both my day job and freelance gigs, so I set an early alarm, climb into bed — issa wrap!

Daily Total: $96.14

How did you save up for this trip?
For this particular trip, I saved a little each paycheck (biweekly) for about two months — four paychecks in total. I also kinda just went for it, which was problematic in the end (i.e., forgetting to book my return flight). I don't have a separate account, but I do make note of what I spent (exceeding amount saved, if any) and deduct from my funds the following paycheck. For this trip, I deducted about $250 from my next paycheck to pay myself back.

How do you budget for vacations in general?

I usually budget around being really on top of tracking flights. I did that for my flight out to CA, but as you know, that wasn't the case coming back to NY. For example, I just went to Europe for $1,000 less than normal. In those cases, I usually divide what I saved by two, and that becomes the funds of my vacation available for experiences, rather than transportation to the destination. I really should track more carefully so that I can save and splurge across the board, but I count being a frugal flight finder another form of saving. 

How did you prepare for this trip?
I'm from California, my brother has lived there for almost 10 years, and in summer ’15 I lived in the specific area I visited.

Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip?
Yes, I flew both United and Delta and used their respective cards. 

Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation?
I'm really into the travel credit card use-and-abuse idea — which is essentially filling up your card with the minimum amount needed to get X number of travel points, then transferring your balance over to a card with no APR. I learned this the hard way, but it's helped maintain a lot of the debt I've already accumulated. Thankfully, I already paid off both these flights, so no extra vacation credit card debt! Aside from this trip, I would estimate I have about $3K overall in vacation credit card debt.

What was your favorite part of the trip? 
Eating açai bowls and cliffside yoga, 100%. Banzai Bowls and Rum Jungle Cafe are my two faves, even if I didn't end up going to them this time. NamaSteve Yoga is fun and a great way to really experience the beach community.

Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
I think partying in PB is a tourist trap because everyone ends up down there, but it's definitely fit for a very specific demographic. Try something radical and new. 

Would you stay at your hotel/Airbnb again?
I was there for such a short amount of time that I can't really speak to that, but for the sleep and outdoor chill, it was nice. 

Where were you located and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
Pacific Beach. It's within walking distance to shops, two beaches, cliffside yoga, bars, and really great food. Compared to NY, it's pretty quiet, even on its "busy" streets (Garnet, Grand). You're also close to the bay, and Uber is very cheap to get to nearby areas. Recommend!

Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time?
Perfect amount of time!

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