Tuesday, July 23

how to do Vegas and LA on the cheap [grocery trips, airbnb, and general restraint]

I had such a good vacation, friends. It's hard to be back at work after the whirlwind adventures over the last two weeks- Vegas, to LA, to NYC, to NC. Definitely been an emotional and jet-lagged week, but I'm feeling good and savoring the memories.

Before we begin, here are some guidelines D and I try to stick to, until we're millionaires and rules don't apply. Afterall, we're still ballers on a budget for now.

1. What do you really want to do? Go do it. I'm not embarrassed that D and I love fancy cocktails, thrifting, free things, beautiful views, and ice cream more than 17th century art and 10-mile hikes. Yes, vacation is a GREAT time to try new things, but save yourself some money by prioritizing. Don't pretend to care about things that aren't you, as it's a waste of precious time and funds. Own who you are (even if you are booze-hounds who O.D. on frozen treats and like dusty attics filled with treasure).

2. Only eat out for one "real" meal a day. Indulging in just one spending-more-than-five-bucks meal a day while on vacation keeps your calories in check and your wallet happy. One of our first stops in Vegas was at the liquor store for cheaper booze than you'd find at the bars, and our first stop in LA was at the grocery store to get fruit, veggies, and granola to eat for breakfasts/lunches. It's not as exciting, but you shouldn't be eating belgian waffles followed by gourmet sandwiches followed by steak dinners and ice cream anyway.

3. Shop around for the best rates. This applies to lodging, restaurants, and activities alike. For hotels, remember that location is important, amenities probs not (you won't spend much time in the room anyway). More on this below, but in Vegas the cheapest room rates are ALWAYS on the hotel's own website. In LA, Air B'n'B saved us a boatload of cash. I did so, so much research on neighborhoods to visit, housing options, restaurants at the right price point, and more so that our trip was intentional and within our budget. Put the time in beforehand, you'll be less stressed throughout and will avoid over-spending.

4. This one should go without saying, but you should be saving up before, keeping some semblance of a budget, and exercising restraint after the trip. A well-kept budget can't handle a $1,000 whopper every time you decide to go out of town, so make sure you're planning ahead and cutting costs elsewhere to afford your getaway. No one likes stressing during the trip or feeling guilty afterwards and tainting those beautiful memories!

On to the trip!

the only negative I saw in Vegas (haaaaa!)
Vegas Vegas Vegas. I "get it" now, and I'm already saving my pennies to go back. Here's what you do in Vegas, if you're me: get iced coffee, lay by a trashy pool bumping house music all day, tour the casinos, shower and admire your tan, get dolled up, go see cirque, eat a fancy dinner, gamble, make best friends with the craps table, drink, go home with your love. I can see how you wouldn't want to do it for long stretches of time (D and I kept commenting in awe of the people who live and work there full-time), but it was just so damn fun. Most importantly, it's an opportunity to wear the clothes that would be inappropriate in any normal setting.

white floral trash
We kept Vegas cheap by eating fruit and granola bars for lunch (not exciting, but healthy and cheap), not drinking until it would have an impact (as in, no solo pina coladas at the pool, but feel free to go crazy when it's time to hit the club), and finding deals for dinner and shows (or Cirque tickets were on discount (check Living Social, Groupon, TravelZoo etc), and we went to one of the trillion mid-priced restaurants by top chefs, rather than splurging on their fanciest offerings). 

this sink is ready to party Vegas style
Everywhere sells booze, so stock up and drink for cheap before you hit the clubs! Or, get free drinks for hanging out in the casino. Since the hotel website had the best prices for lodging, we booked via Hotels.com to get rewards but then did a price adjustment. Saved us some moolah.

makes me think of Wiley Coyote
Next, we rented a car and drove to LA. I enjoyed the ride; D, not so much. We took the cheapest rental option, which happened to be a mustang convertible. BUMMER.

D and I enjoying our windswept hair
Since gas prices are so high in LA, we went with the pre-paid fuel option, which saved us almost $.50/gallon. Make sure to do your research to decide whether you should fill up on your own or let them take care of it for a fixed price.

look to my right, and I see the Hollywood sign
After the drive, we went straight to the Rose Bowl flea market. I've been dreaming of going for the last few years, ever since I got into blogs and interior design, as it's such a great source for some of my favorite designers. I didn't buy anything there, but I'm so, so glad I had the experience of being there. After that, we headed up to the Griffith's Observatory, which may be one of my favorite things we did (plus it was free). By then we were starving, so we went for our one"real" meal of the day (breakfast was quick and cheap from DD's in Vegas, lunch was an apple and granola bar).

use the flat bread to pick up the meal!
We indulged in Ethiopian food from Meals by Genet (found out afterwards that she's been on Best Thing I Ate on Food Network), which is my first foray into Ethiopian cuisine. I'm now in love. It was also significant that I finally understand some of the food passages from my beloved Cutting for Stone- now I know what injera is and how to eat stew without utensils! Apparently DC has the largest Ethiopian immigrant population, followed by LA. We rolled ourselves home after a huge meal and were ready for bed.

sunset at Santa Monica Pier
We used airbnb for our hotel, which I highly recommend. It's like couch surfing, except you pay and are way safer. People can list their apartments to rent out for as short as one night or as long as a couple months. You search based on price, neighborhood, privacy, location, and more. The hosts are all reviewed, so you know what you're getting into. Our host was a total star- she left us cute hotel-size toiletries, tons of towels and beach gear, a clean, quiet space, access to a working kitchen, and even off-street parking (which we paid an extra $20 for). It was $75/night for the two of us for an amazing location and a very nice apartment. The whole process was worry-free and extremely convenient.

beach day
Santa Monica was a wonderful place to stay. It was easy to head into LA from there, and we spent a day doing west LA/beachy things, which obviously was very convenient. We were at 7th street and Broadway, which was very quiet and safe while still being easy peasy walking distance to the beach, pier, 3rd street promenade, and more.

the best thing to hit my coffee world since cold brew
One of my favorite things to share with you: this amazing sea salt and caramel iced coffee from Dogtown Coffee, right on the beach in Santa Monica. It was so good I went back the next morning. It's caramel iced coffee, topped with frothed cream mixed with sea salt. May sound weird, but it was just amazing. I plan on recreating for my next guest, which I believe will be my sister in two weeks. Ready, M??

Greek pizza
D makes fun of me, but one of the most important parts of vacationing, and experiencing a new city, is trying the local flavor. I research almost obsessively- if any of you are planning a trip to LA, I have a 4-page, single-spaced Google Doc I can share with you of restaurants and activities you can choose from. I may take it too far, but it allowed us to eat at the best, and best priced, of LA, including Village Pizzeria in Larchmont, above (we missed sandwiches from Larchmont Wine and Cheese by 2 minutes, darnit!)...

I asked permission before I snapped
...and drinks at Misfits...

looking into opening a snow cream franchise in DC, stay tuned...
...and snow cream from Blockheads...

D doesn't understand where to look...#takemoreselfies
...and many flavors at Sweet Rose Creamery, just to show you a few faves. Again, a quick trip to the supermarket and access to a full kitchen through airbnb saved us money every day and made our splurges feel like earned indulgences.

The Getty, best free art museum EVER
Other awesome things we did include visiting the Getty (could spend HOURS here, make sure you get there early as it closes at 5, also free)...

watch out for the legendary freaks
...checking out the skate park in Venice Beach (free, duh)...

...and thrifting in Fairfax (Goodwill, Council City Thrift Shops, Inheritance, and Tini, to name a few, free to window shop but let's be real). I'll show you what I picked up in another post, it's getting late and this post is long enough.

LA/Santa Monica makes me want to buy a Maison Gray of the pier to remember our trip by...$250 for a photograph ain't THAT bad, right D? With all the money we saved, I think we can afford it :)


  1. What a WONDERFUL trip! Thank you for documenting- it looks like you guys had a fabulous time. I may be hitting you up for that LA list. :) Brian and I used Air B'n'B for our trip to San Francisco and it was fantastic.
    PS I'd love to try that iced coffee... you can practice on M first!

    1. If you guys do head to LA, I'm sending it to you- it's super comprehensive. i can't believe I didn't know about Air B'n'B sooner, D was actually the one who introduced it to me. Way better than a hotel.


how you like dem apples?