A Real Travel Budget: New Mexico With Kids

It is funny that out of all the articles I have written in the past year, this one makes me the most uncomfortable. There is something very private about one's budget. Publishing my budget exposes the places where we were simply too lazy to be frugal, the places where we splurged (possibly with guilt) and the places where we were weren't as fancy as I'd like people to think we are. I think that is part of the reason it is so difficult to get a sense of how much it really costs to travel.

To add to that, I'm always cautious about giving the impression that the only way to enjoy traveling is to spend a lot of money. My husband and I have backpacked on as little as $40/day and had incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and we have sometimes splurged on private tours or other activities that were wildly expensive. We are lucky to be in a position to focus on getting the best value for our dollar, and the best possible experience instead of cutting costs at every corner, and I think that this budget reflects that. Still, I think each family tailors its own travel costs to reflect their interests, needs and priorities.

Some will think this budget is totally unattainable (and there are definitely places I would trim if we had a tighter budget) others will think we made too many compromises and might want more pampering on their own trips. I added some notes about why we made the budget decisions we did with each major expense. We often picnic or pick up food at a grocery store instead of eating in a restaurant, and I did not track those expenses since they were about the same as the cost of eating at home. Similarly, I carry water bottles with us so that we're not forced to spend time and money in an expensive cafe when we get thirsty.

Airfare: $859.50 total for 3 round-trip tickets from Seattle to Albuquerque

We booked our flight at a time of day when D would be likely to get a free seat.  That worked on 3 out of 4 flights.  She sat on my lap on the remaining flight. Since our dates were somewhat flexible, we used Farecast, Kayak and Orbitz to help us find the lowest prices. We also considered flying into Phoenix (which is cheaper) but realized that would mean cutting Taos out of our itinerary, which we weren't willing to do. We'll visit Arizona on a future trip.

Rental Car & Ground Transportation: $648 total
Round-trip car service to/from airport and our home: $100
Rental car: $479 for 8 days from Hertz
Gas: About $70

We could have cut the rental car cost considerably. I booked the car at the last minute (but did use an AAA member discount) and I have grown leery of rental car discounters lately. If we were on a tight budget, I would have tried using Priceline's bidding service and spent more time searching for coupons. We also took a free SUV upgrade which meant increased gas cost (but also a more comfortable ride).

We used a car service to/from the airport that provides car seats. If our budget had been tighter, we would have asked a friend to drive us. Parking off-lot at the airport would have been more than the car service.

Day One: Flying to Albuquerque: $168
Dinner: About $20 Airport Pizza & snacks from home
Hotel: Casa De Suenos: $148

We chose a family-run hotel at the edge of Old Town. A few nights in atmospheric adobe buildings were an important part of the trip for me, and in general I like to stay in locally run hotels when I can find something that accommodates kids. Still, since the sights in Albuquerque are spread out, it would have been just as convenient to stay at a cheaper and more modern airport hotel.

Day Two: Albuquerque: $276
Hotel: Casa De Suenos: $148
Breakfast: Included with room
Lunch: Monica's El Portal $38
Snack: Golden Crown Pandaria $12
Light Dinner: $14 shared takeaway from Sandiago's Mexican Grill @ the Sandia Peak Tram
Indian Pueblo Cultural Center $12
Explora: Free (reciprocal agreement with Seattle Science Center)
Rattlesnake Museum: $12
Sandia Peak Tram: $35
Parking: $5

We had such a big lunch & great snack that we weren't hungry for a full dinner. In general, lunch in a restaurant is cheaper than dinner, but also cuts into your sightseeing time.

If you have local museum or zoo memberships, bring your cards with you. Many major museums have reciprocal agreements.

Day Three: Drive to Santa Fe: $126
Hotel: Santa Fe Suites $82
Breakfast: Included with room
Lunch: Delicasa $25
Dinner: Whole Foods Market
Parking: $7
Petroglyph National Monument (parking) $2
El Rancho de las Golondrinas $10
Saint Francis Cathedral Basilica: Free

The hotel was a little bit out of town (about 10 minutes drive) and substantially cheaper than a room within walking distance of the plaza. While the room was bland and uninteresting, I appreciated the extra space and kitchen. What I didn't anticipate was how much time and money we would spend on parking. If I had it to do again, I would try harder to find something in town at a slightly higher rate (but not the $100-$200 extra that seemed to be the norm).

Day Four: Santa Fe: $246
Hotel: Santa Fe Suites $82
Breakfast: Included with room
Lunch: The Shed $57
Dinner: Bumble Bee's Baja Grill $45
Parking: $14
Georgia O'Keefe Museum: $16
Children's Museum: $32

Children's museums get expensive quickly because kids aren't free! We could have opted to visit on a Sunday (for dollar days) and some Children's Museums have a reciprocal agreement with our local museum (this one did not). If the weather had been cooler, we would have spent more time playing outside instead.

We spent a lot on food this day too, in part because I always want to taste as many items as I can.

Day Five: Santa Fe: $175
Hotel: Santa Fe Suites $82
Breakfast: Included with room
Snack: Farmer's Market $12
Lunch: Buffet at India Palace $27
Dinner: Whole Foods Market
Parking: $14
San Miguel Mission $2
Museum of Spanish Colonial Art: $6
Children's Museum: $32

Once again we had a simple dinner at Whole Foods. This is one of my favorite mealtime "tricks" because I can always find something the kids will eat, it's super fast, and I know it is healthy. I get to sample local produce, cheese and baked goods, so it's rewarding for me too. We could have saved more money by having our entire meal at the Farmer's market, but I was anxious to try the renowned Indian food at India Place.

Day Six: Drive to Taos: $296
Hotel: Monte Sagrado: $206
Breakfast: Included with room
Lunch: Street Food $24
Dinner: Orlando's $40
Parking $6
Palace of the Governors (Santa Fe) $16
Los Alamos National Labs - Bradbury Science Museum Free
Twirl $4 recommended donation

Several of the cheaper hotels in town did not accept children (or were not a good fit for children), and the Hotel Monte Sagrado seemed like such a beautiful hotel that I was willing to splurge a little and end the trip in luxury. I'm glad I did, $206 was a bargain price for this beautiful property.

Day 7: Taos Pueblo: $319
Hotel: Monte Sagrado: $206
Breakfast: Cereal and Milk
Lunch: Bent Street Deli $48
Snack: Hotel Monte Sagrado: $25
Dinner: Guadalajara Grill $40

Day 8: Return to Albuquerque: $240
Hotel: Hyatt Place $134
Breakfast: Room Service $20
Lunch Apple Tree: $54
Dinner: El Patio $28
Twirl $4 recommended donation

We usually don't order room service because it is so expensive, but this room had a lovely patio, and it was relaxing to sit outside and eat warm pancakes with D while E slept in.

Day 9: Fly home: $20
Breakfast: Included with Room
Starbucks in Phoenix $20

This 9-day vacation cost $3,373 including airfare, meals, ground transportation and lodging in 3* or above properties. That works out to about $94 per person / per day. We saved some money because D was young enough to be a lap infant, and both kids were young enough for free admission at most museums. We also could have cut expenses significantly by staying in less expensive hotels in Taos and Albuquerque, renting a cheaper car, and picnicking more.

What Do You Think
This is the first time I have shared my budget. Was the information helpful? Did you like the way I presented it, or would you have preferred a spreadsheet? Do you have lingering questions? Do you want to see more in the future? Let me know in comments. Related Links
Saving Money on Your Vacation
Creating A Budget for a Family Vacation
Easy Ways to Track Travel Expenses and Stick To Your Vacation Budget

Albuquerque With Kids
Santa Fe With Kids
Taos With Kids

Photo Credit: Diannam

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  1. Meg on September 17, 2008 at 7:40 a.m.


    This is great and an important part of learning to travel with kids. Despite how it feels when you are buying the extra air ticket, it does not add that much to the total cost of the trip.

    This gives a great baseline for someone who wants to visit NM with kids. Depending on budget, families can cut some areas or add in others and your perspective on where to save is great.

    These are actual costs, not a budget. Was this about what you expected to spend? What costs surprised you when you added them up? I shocked my husband last year when I added up all of the actual expenses on one of our trips. He didn't realize how much eating out, bookstores, and gas add to the "big ticket" items.

  2. Debbie on September 17, 2008 at 9:36 a.m.

    We thought the trip would cost about 3k, so we weren't far off, and for us a 10% difference in cost is something we can absorb in other ways... in general, I'm happy to give up all sorts of other things in favor of travel. For example, a nice dinner out for our weekly "date night" is about $100, but I enjoy finding interesting "dives" or eating @ home and then seeing a movie too. So that is an easy way for us to cut our spending at home.

    I agree with you about how much the little things add up. In 2000 my husband and I took a "RTW" trip & were on a much tighter budget... $100 / day for the two of us. We kept a diary of expenses each day and we very quickly realized that in countries where hotels cost under $20 / night, two dollar bottles of water were quickly killing our budget. We also realized that we'd rather hire a guide for $10 / day than have 10 bottles of water. That's how we got in the habit of bringing our own drinks and snacks with us each day.

    It's nice to stop for an ice cream or a cold drink sometimes, but I like to be able to choose moments when that seems like a good idea instead of making constant runs into Starbucks just to pick up a snack and drink.

  3. Kara on September 17, 2008 at 10:48 a.m.

    Wow, Debbie. Your candor is refreshing. Thanks so much for sharing. I record expenses in Quickbooks for our family budget, but usually end up lumping together misc. cash expenses(my husband and I total how many dollars we have in our wallets when we start, and what we have when we're finished; we don't have ATM cards, so there is never newfound cash; each credit card receipt gets logged, tho). Next trip, inspired by you, I may try to be more detailed, to see spots where I can save money.

    That said, like you, sometimes I'd rather spend the dough on a nice hotel. Or not "worry" about whether or not to buy the appetizer or get another beer at a restaurant. After all, you're on vacation! And when you get home, you can always cut corners, as needed. (Though I'm hoping I don't have to let my cleaning lady go after holiday trips...)

    I think you did a great job finding deals on hotels and on airfare. Thanks!

  4. Debbie on September 17, 2008 at 11:16 a.m.


    You're right. There's nothing wrong with splurging on vacation... the trick is to know where you are spending your money so that you can make active choices about where it goes. For most people, keeping detailed records for a couple of days is enough time to figure that out (and adjust) but of course on a very tight budget you would want to keep track of expenses for the entire trip.

  5. ML Chan on September 17, 2008 at 2:19 p.m.

    This is great from a planning perspective. From my consulting days, I actually still have my per diem tracking sheet that has helped me plan and budget myself for family vacations. I know its pretty obsessive, but with one wage earner I'm trying to do total cost of trips so that i can challenge myself to save just a little bit more for the next trip. Save more...travel more ;)

  6. Aviva on September 17, 2008 at 3:05 p.m.

    This was great! And I liked that you included details on your reasoning for some of your choices -- like why splurging on one hotel vs another. Yes, it was not a cheap trip, but not all vacations should be cheap trips.

    I did like this way of showing your expenses rather than a spreadsheet where you wouldn't have space for the extra notations you included.

    We track every penny in and out of our regular budget, but while we try to get receipts for everything when we're traveling, it gets to be a lot of pieces of paper sometimes so like Kara above, we count what cash we start the trip with and what we end with and I end up with a Misc Cash vacation expense on our regular budget spreadsheet. But we do tend to try to put all possible expenses on credit cards when we travel (both for the record-keeping and for earning cash back or other points -- since we pay our credit cards off in full every month we don't worry about interest charges or paying for a vacation for the next year.) so our out-of-pocket cash expenses tend to be minimal.

    Anyway, thanks again for showing us your spending for your trip. I really appreciated seeing it, especially since many/most of the activities you did on your trip are ones I'd like to do when we make it to New Mexico.

  7. Marcie on September 17, 2008 at 4:13 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing Debbie. I like how you listed the expenses instead of making a chart. It allowed you to explain things and gave a fuller picture of why you chose to do things the way you did.

    I thought your travel expenses sounded about right for the way my family travels. You don't want to go all that way and deal with all the hassles of travel to be cheap and not do anything once you get there. But obviously, you want to watch the expenses so you can take another trip!

    Nice report. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Michelle D on September 17, 2008 at 11:16 p.m.

    This is a great post.
    It's packed with information for anyone planning to travel with small children. Kudos for putting all this (fairly personal) information out into the ether for anyone to read.
    I noticed that you chose hotels where breakfast is included. This is one of my most-used budgeting tricks for traveling. I've got a bunch more here: http://wanderlustandlipstick.com/blog... - in case these are helpful to any of your readers.

  9. Susan on September 18, 2008 at 2:33 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing. This information is super helpful.

  10. Dariela on October 2, 2008 at 10:21 p.m.

    Thanks so much for posting this. I think it's great and I like the way you presented, it was easy to read and understand. To answer one of your questions for the readers: I would love to see another one!

  11. Anna on February 11, 2010 at 8:45 p.m.

    This is fantastic since I am trying to plan a trip to New Mexico right now. I am embarassed to admit that I have never sat down and made such a detailed list of everything spent on a vacation. I generally go in with an idea of how much I want to spend on airfare and hotels, try to find good deals, then allot a certain amount of money for "general spending while there"- museums, food, taxis, etc. (I rarely rent a car when traveling since I try to stay in central areas or visit cities with great public transportation). When the money seems to be "running low," I start cutting costs. This seemed to work when I was traveling without a child (because I could trade having 3 meals/day for having 1 meal and going to a museum, for example), but I now realize this won't do for my future travel plans. Thanks for making me realize the error of my ways! And for the very helpful information!