The upfront costs of vacations are predictable. It’s the little things—airport snacks, cocktails before dinner, tipping a tour guide—that can throw even the most well-planned vacation budget off track. In this new series, we’ll look at the spending patterns of real travelers in popular destinations, so you can estimate what you’ll actually spend. (Thanks for the inspiration, Refinery29!)
In this installment, two sisters take a road trip to California’s Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park.
Flights: $640 (JFK – LAX, Delta Economy)
Hotels: The Saguaro: $552.00 for two nights (booked through Kayak); Hicksville Trailer Palace: $83.25 for one night; Teepee: $121.00 for one night
Rental Car: $466.28 (6 days + insurance, Hertz)
Size of Group: 2
4:30 p.m.: Laura and I embark on our first ever sisters trip. We start by taking the NYC subway (J Line) from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the Airtrain in Jamaica, Queens for service to Terminal 4 at Kennedy Airport. It takes us about an hour. Cost: $15.50
5:30 p.m.: We’re through security in under 15 minutes. (Thank you, TSA PreCheck!)
5:31 p.m.: Our flight is delayed, so we have time to kill. First stop — Hudson News for the essentials: Teen Vogue, InStyle, Nylon, water, and a bag of quinoa chips (we are suckers, but at least we will be hydrated and stylish). Cost: $31.99
6:51 p.m.: Laura says she is going to faint, so we b-line it to Panda Express. (Why did we skip Shake Shack, you ask? Well, it’s because we are going directly to In N’ Out Burger the second we land in L.A. at midnight. Duh!) Cost: $8.70
6:24 p.m.: I can’t stand when people eat without me, so I opt for the build your own salad from La Break Bakery. I do not recommend this place, but at least it is healthy. Cost: $13.08
7:21 p.m.: As we board, the flight attendants hand us Rice Krispie Treats as an apology for our flight being delayed. Because of this, we forgive them. Cost: Free
8:00 p.m.: Complementary snacks are served to economy passengers. Laura and I choose the cheese plate, and we’re pleasantly surprised to find out it’s from Murray’s — a beloved cheesemonger in NYC. The platter was comprised of cheddar, gouda, and manchego with marconda almonds and some dried fruit and crackers.
11:14 p.m.: We land! Laura and I are tired, so we decide to skip In ‘N Out Burger (for now) and instead stop to buy candy to fuel us for the 3 hour drive ahead. Cost: $7.66
3:15 a.m.: We arrive at the hotel in Palm Springs. We are so tired, but hey, we made it!
10 a.m.: We’re off to a late start. We need to hydrate so we stop for overpriced waters at CVS. Cost: $12.18
10:50 a.m.: We head to Norma’s in The Parker Hotel for breakfast, and feel chic as we order $30 egg entrees. Yes, it is expensive, but it’s all about the experience! The lobby is designed by Jonathan Adler and couldn’t be any cooler. The worst part? We missed the Kardashians by one day! Cost: $95.39
12 noon: We begin our drive around Palm Springs for Desert X — art instillations throughout Palm Springs & the Coachella Valley that use the desert landscape as a canvas. We make five stops around the Valley, but both decide that our favorite is “Mirage”, a glass house that sits atop the mountains and reflects the surrounding landscape and people. Cost: Free
3 p.m.: We head over to the Moorten Botanical Garden for some plant history. Fun fact: they have the world’s first Cactarium here (whatever that means). There are lots of cacti to see and there is a free tour of the gardens. Cost: $10
3:47 p.m.: Time to shop! We start at Sunny Dunes Antique Mall and then walk along Palm Canyon, popping in and out of stores for a little over an hour. We were told Trina Turk is a must-visit, since it’s one of the first stores in Palm Springs (and Jonathan Adler also designed it). We’re most successful at The Frippery, a vintage shop where Laura ends up with a very cute dress for the summer. Cost: $106.82
6 p.m.: We hit the Amigo Room at the ACE Hotel for a drink and light bite. We order the Palm Spritz, Cranky Coyote and chips & guacamole. We are hungry and need a cocktail, because our parents won’t stop calling us to check in. Cost: $46.51
7:45 p.m.: We spot a photobooth on the way out. Of course the first attempt was a disaster, so have to take another round. Cost: $12.50 (or $6.25, if you do it right the first time)
8 p.m.: Dinner at Birba. We call ahead and are told they’re full, but we go anyway and get two seats at the bar. We split a few things and have a glass of wine. The whole restaurant is outdoors and it is fun to people watch. Cost: $52.59
9:13 p.m.: We have a busy day tomorrow and are tired from traveling the night before, but want a nightcap so we go to Seymores, a speakeasy bar tucked away in a small room attached to Mr. Lyons Steakhouse (both owned by the same owners as Birba). We skip the fancy cocktail and go with a basic sparkling rose. Cheers! Cost: $23.00
7:30 a.m.: We wake up early for an 8 a.m. yoga class at our hotel, only to find out the class is at 9 today. We decide breakfast sounds like a good alternative to stretching and being zen. We try our luck at Cheeky’s (since it’s early), but the line is out the door, so we go to King’s Highway instead. This place has a mid-century vibe and good food. Laura gets the lox and I get the avocado toast. The avocados here are so creamy and good — we can’t get enough. Cost: $48.63
10 a.m.: May the architecture tour commence! We set off on a self-guided tour we found online that includes modern steel structures & 70s style homes up on the hills. We also drive up to old Tuscany, located in the mountains, to see the homes of the stars, past and present. Elvis’s house was the coolest! We are lucky enough to catch an open house. Laura and I decide that our parents should buy it, so we can vacation here frequently. Also, we make sure to see the house with the pink door. Cost: Free
12:30 p.m.: Time for some poolside relaxation at our hotel, The Saguaro. It’s noticeably less crowded than yesterday. We assume it’s because it’s a Sunday and people are checking out… and we don’t mind at all. The pool floats are on point (think flamingos and swans) and just waiting for us to take pictures in. To complete the vibe, we order frozen cocktails. Cost: $26.16
3:30 p.m.: We have a late lunch at the Barn Kitchen in the Sparrows Lodge. When we walk in, we’re initially faced by the pool, but we wander a little further and find the back garden with a long table and lots of outdoor seating. It is beautiful and tranquil back here. Laura and I split the ham and mustard melt and the hummus platter, which we accompany with ice teas. Pretty sure Laura is annoyed with how many times I tell her how much I love this place. Cost: $40.71
5 p.m.: I scream, you scream, we all scream! We’re running out of time in Palm Springs so, why not? The Ice Cream Shoppe is a cute store that has lots of Californian paraphernalia in addition to inventive ice cream flavors. We both go for a small of the local favorite flavor — date — with rainbow sprinkles. The small is two scoops! We are very happy and very full. Cost: $9.63
7:20 p.m.: We head for drinks at the Draughtsman, an upscale sports bar with an outdoor area that has games. Laura and I play foosball and corn hole before sitting by the fire and enjoying our Aperol spritzes. (Oh, and just because I know you’re wondering, I win both games.) Cost: $23.00
8:30 p.m.: We head to dinner at Las Casuelas Terraza, as we’re told it was a must for Mexican, and sit close to the live music they have every night. Obviously, we start with chips and guacamole. Laura gets the enchiladas and I get the carnitas tacos. Cost: $53.91
9:30 p.m.: To burn off those carnitas, we walk along the main street and end up in a tourist shop to buy postcards to write to friends and family back home. Cost: $1.09
8:30 a.m.: We arrive for our third & final attempt for breakfast at Cheeky’s. Again, there is a line, but we wait and fill the time by writing our postcards.
9 a.m.: We get a seat indoors — score! The menu is constantly changing so it is hard to plan ahead on this one. We order the bacon flight, which is a Cheeky’s staple and a must-try. Laura gets an omelet and I get a granola. We eat everything. Cost: $48.24
10:30 a.m.: We stop to send postcards from the post office. Cost: $2.25
11 a.m.: Then we stop for gas. Luckily, we find an affordable place to fill up. Phew! Cost: $31.16
12:35 p.m.: After a three-hour drive drive southeast, we arrive at Salvation Mountain, located in Slab City. The area is definitely off the grid — it’s got a post apocalyptic feeling. People live here in tents, free from rent, but also without plumbing and electricity. The mountain itself is covered in artwork with inspirational words and drawings.
2:55 p.m.: We have spent most of the day in the car and are ready for one last meal in Palm Springs! We go to the Sandwich Spot for a sandwich on the “Dutch crunch” bread they are famous for. Then we head down the street to Great Shakes for the berry and almond shake. Cost: $8.99 & $5.50, respectively
4:45 p.m.: It’s time to bid farewell to Palm Springs and head to Joshua Tree. In a little under an hour we arrive at Hicksville Trailer Palace, where we’re staying tonight, and it’s truly a palace of trailers. Pictures don’t do this place justice. There are about 10 trailers, ranging in size, scattered across the site, and we chose the smallest, The Pony. From hot tubs to archery, ping pong, and mini golf, this place could keep you entertained for hours. There’s only one other guest staying here right now, so it’s pretty quiet.
6:42 p.m.: We end up at the main bar in town: Pappy and Harriet’s. The wait for dinner is an hour and a half, so we get a drink (a beer is only $3.5!) and watch the live music — it happens to be open mic night. We’re impressed by the food menu, too. We get a kale salad and split the pulled pork sandwich with fries. Cost: $36.05
9.39 p.m.: We’re back at Hicksville for a night of games and trying to stay warm — we didn’t pack for the 35 degree weather (because it’s April).
9:15 a.m.: We bid farewell to Hicksville and head to our first stop of the day: Noah Purifoy’s Desert Art Museum. It’s just 10 minutes from our “hotel” and supposedly life changing. In reality, its just a huge piece of land with different structures made out of debris, wreckage, and trash. It is a sight to see. Cost: Free (I would hope so!).
10 a.m.: We arrive at Joshua Tree National Park. The sight of the actual Joshua trees is breathtaking. Our first stop: Hidden Valley, for an easy trail to warm up our hiking skills. Then, we go up to Keys Point lookout for a beautiful view and an even more beautiful selfie. Then we wind our way around to our next stop, Skull Mountain. Over the mountain, the Joshua trees disappear and the Cholla Garden begins. We find Arch Rock on the way back, for one last rock climb that day. Cost: $25 (car entrance for the day)
2:30 p.m.: We are starving from all that activity! We head to the recommended Crossroads for lunch where I get a turkey sandwich and Laura gets a quesadilla. Again, we both have ice teas. Cost: $37
3:30 p.m.: Just up the road from lunch is Art Queen & Sun Alley shops — a collection of eclectic stores and art spaces. The most unique store we find is the Crochet Museum, a small green structure housing hundreds of crotched items.
4 p.m.: We head over to the town of Yucca Valley to shop. We start at an antique shop, where I find a set of 14 glasses that I love. Laura basically drags me out, kicking and screaming, and reminds me that I can’t bring glasses back with me on the plane. Then we go to a few vintage shops — The End, Hoof & Horn, and Promised Land. All the stores have such unique pieces and locally sourced trinkets. Cost: Free (But I really wish I was typing $50 right now… for the 14 glasses).
5:15 p.m.: We arrive at our teepee for the night. Yep, you heard me right… our teepee! It’s housed on a piece of land that has about six other teepees of all sizes. Ours is the smallest, but the inside has a light, heater, and heated blanket so we will be set for the cold evening weather. We are proud of ourselves for really beginning to embrace the outdoors.
6:30 p.m.: Nothing completes a vacation more than a stop at Walmart!! We go just for firewood, but end up with graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows. I think you all know where we are going with this. We also pick up some appetizers of pretzel goldfish, and individual cheese packets (we don’t want the coyotes to get to any of our leftover food!). Cost: $28.64
6:40 p.m.: We decide to gas up before our drive back to LA in the morning, and find a cheap station on a side street. Cost: $34.91
8:15 p.m.: We go to Pie For the People for a slice. This place is known for their New York pizza, with a twist. Laura goes for a plain slice and I for a veggie, which is very spicy. They are huge slices and we can’t finish them, which is surprising for us. Cost: $12.78
9:10 p.m.: We attempt s’mores back at our teepee. There is something we aren’t doing right, because the chocolate won’t melt. At this point, I think I hear a coyote so I run inside the tent and end all of our outdoor time for the night. Laura is not amused. Just when I think I can handle the outdoor lifestyle…
9:45 a.m.: First stop: Hadley Fruit Orchard to peruse the dried fruit selection and try the famous date shake. If I could have one everyday, I’d be a happy girl. Cost: $22.81
9.50 a.m.: Our road trip to L.A. begins! We listen to Spotify “California” playlists all the way there, while Laura finally takes the wheel.
11:27 a.m.: We arrive in L.A.’s arts district to check out the Hauser & Worth Gallery. Parking is impossible, so we stop at a lot. Cost: $12.00
12:30 p.m.: We drive along Mulholland drive, atop the Hollywood Hills, where you can get great views of Los Angeles and the Valley, and stop at a few overlook passes, including Runyan Canyon — a place known for celebrity sightings. Unfortunately, there are no paparazzi in sight, therefore I am 100% sure there are no celebs, either. Then we head down Sunset Blvd and Melrose.
3 p.m.: We stop for lunch at Joan’s on Third. It’s a gourmet market with an extensive menu of sandwiches and salads. We sit outside and enjoy the last few hours we have in the warm weather (now that we are out of the mountains). Cost: $47.00
3:45 p.m.: I can’t help but stop in Kreation Kafe to stock up on my favorite garlic almonds. Cost: $12.70
4:30 p.m.: Time to hit the beach! We go to Venice Beach and walk along the water, past Muscle Beach and then through the canals, which are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
7 p.m.: Our final gas-up for the car. Cost: $21.16
8:30 p.m.: Our last stop before our red-eye flight is the place that was supposed to be our first stop: In ‘n Out! It was worth the wait. Cost: $10.21
9:30 p.m.: We’re back at the airport. We plan accordingly, so there is enough time to drop off the car and take the shuttle to the terminal and still have time at the gate.
7:10 a.m.: We touch down at JFK. We’re debating whether to splurge on a cab or take the subway home, but we decide on the AirTrain/Subway combo to save money, so we can start saving up for our next sisters trip! Cost: $15.50
Food & Drink: $669.89
Transportation: $1226.6 (including gas & parking)