This weekend we visited Asheville, NC to see one of my best friends, Jessi and her family. We've been Best Friends for over 20 years and so when she moved to NC from our hometown, Wheeling, WV, last year I was thrilled to have her so close!
This was our third trip out there since she moved last April and there will be many more to look forward to - especially with her third child on the way!
Anyways, we aren't prioritizing travel this year like we did last year [Asheville twice, Wheeling three times, Pittsburgh, Charleston SC, Wilmington, Boston, Latvia, Estonia & Finland!] but we ARE making a few trips for babies and weddings mostly, so I thought I'd share some Budget Friendly travel guides for the trips that we DO make this year - with the first one for Asheville.
The purpose of this trip was centered around Jessi & Josh being season pass holders for The Biltmore and the fact that they had two free guest passes to tour the home. We've been to the grounds and the winery on another trip with them but passed on touring the home because it's normally $65/ person or $75/ person during peak times - with the free passes soon to expire - we headed to Asheville!
From our house to theirs only takes a little over 2 hours to drive - so we left around 3 and got in a little after 5PM. We knew we'd be going out to eat our first night but we also packed some food with us to try and save some money over the time we were there - which leads me to my first budget tip.
Budget Travel Tip #1 // Pack Food & Snacks For The Trip
Ok. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I honestly feel like this is one of those things that people KNOW to do but don't actually do that often.
We spent about 10-15 minutes going through the fridge, washing and chopping things that would potentially go bad in the next few days while we were away and packing them in containers. We packed grapes, blueberries, 4 peppers, chopped potatoes, hummus, baba ganoush, gluten-free bread, an avocado and I also brought vegan mayo and butter to use in case they didn't have any.
We also filled two water bottles and brought a nearly empty bottle of Italian Soda for the drive.
Carl made fun of me for how much water I brought, but even if we don't drink it all, I'm not ok with stopping at a gas station to buy a plastic water bottle if I've got my own reusable water bottles.
It's so easy to stop for a water and then make the excuse, "well, since I'm here..." and buy other snacks or stop at a fast food drive through. I will admit, we've done this SO many times in the past, and it's just an unnecessary expense that produces unnecessary waste.
Snacks Cost = $0
[You might even consider this an added savings, seeing as we probably would have had to throw some of the food away when we got home if we hadn't taken it with us on the trip.]
That night we went to Nine Mile for dinner, a restaurant that offers Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegan & Vegetarian friendly menu options. Jessi is a vegetarian / pescatarian, and I thought it was incredibly thoughtful of her to look up vegan places for us to go.
I must admit, in the past I've been guilty of not always taking other people's dietary needs into consideration and just kind of assumed they'd be able to find something. I know that how I eat is not for everyone, and I definitely don't expect people to accommodate me, I rather think it's my responsibility to make sure I have something to eat, but I'm always SO grateful when someone goes that extra mile - which is why in the last couple of years, I've worked on getting better at that myself.
We ordered a sampler appetizer of chips and dips for the table, [something we usually wouldn't do, but by the time we left for the restaurant, we were already getting hungry and then had to wait 45 minutes for a table of 6, so we went for the app.] an entree for each of us and drinks. Carl got a beer and I ordered a local kombucha.
Our entrees each came with a salad and vegan garlic bread, so even before they came out, I was already getting full between those and the appetizer. I ordered the Jamaican Me Thirsty dish with the tofu and gluten free pasta. It was delicious but I only ate a few bites before I was full and took the rest with me.
Budget Tip #2 // Watch What You Eat & Drink
When eating out, pay attention to how much you order and how much you eat. People tend to eat and drink a lot more when they go out to eat as opposed to when they cook for themselves at home.
When Carl and I go out to eat, we typically stick to one drink per person - two max. Since I'm going sober for a year, this makes the bill less expensive than it would have been in the past. With our two drinks, splitting the app, our two entrees and tip our bill came out to $47.00.
Dinner Cost = $47.00
[This was really for four meals between the two of us since we both took home leftovers.]
Saturday was all about The Biltmore, but first, doughnuts.
We ate some fruit at the house before we left and then went to Vortex Doughnuts because they offer pretty much all of their flavors in vegan options as well.
I ordered the Chocolate Chocolate Vegan Doughnut with a Decaf Pour Over & Carl got the Peanut Butter & Banana Doughnut with a mug of House Drip Coffee. Seeing as the doughnuts were INCREDIBLE, we went back for seconds and got a Vegan Cinnamon Sugar Apple Fritter to share.
Doughnuts Cost = $15.65
[This was definitely an unnecessary splurge but even still, 3 specialty doughnuts + 2 coffees + tip for under $16 is a pretty good deal - this easily could have been a lot more.]
After our doughnuts we headed to The Biltmore for our scheduled tour at 11:15AM - I'm pretty sure booking a reservation is something you need to do ahead of time on weekends - Jessi took care of all of this for us, so all we had to do was pick up our tickets.
The house [feels weird calling it that] is GORGEOUS - and of course - HUGE! It's the largest home in America after all. There are 255 rooms and I think they said 43 bathrooms - all of which are not available to the public.
Budget Tip # 3 // Skip the Extras
The place was packed so, like I said, make sure you make a reservation. To make this experience as free / cheap as possible, Carl and I went without the audio tour and meandered around taking photos and reading the occasional description sign. They had an exhibit of the costumes from Titanic on display throughout the house, so really, we were reading about those and not about the house haha.
Near the beginning of the tour they offered a spot to take your photo - Carl and I passed on it and just kept going. Just because they want to take your picture so that you're tempted to buy it later, doesn't mean you have to.
I think all in all we spent about 2 hours going through the house. My favorite rooms were the Winter Garden when you first walked in, Mrs. Vanderbilt's room - it was mostly gold with accents of lavender and purple [really gorgeous] and the indoor swimming pool - I'd love to see it filled with water! There were also a couple of costumes on display that I would wear today completely unironically - not joking.
After we walked through the house we walked on the grounds for a bit and went through the gardens and the greenhouse. Even in winter, the views were gorgeous so I can only imagine how beautiful it is there in the Spring when everything is in bloom!
Biltmore Tour Cost = $0
[Free Day Pass + Skipping the audio tour + Skipping the photo]
Now for some spending that definitely could have been avoided with some better planning.
It was past lunchtime but not quite dinner time and I was getting hungry. If you know me, you know that the hanger is real and that when I get in this state I can't be trusted to make decisions.
There was a bit of back and forth [that's code for me being of no use and Jessi trying to make me happy] over if we should go home for lunch or grab something at The Biltmore or go to Sierra Nevada Brewery and eat there. As a group, we opted for going to Sierra Nevada and also grabbing something small at The Biltmore to hold us over for the 30-40 minute drive to the Brewery.
I really really didn't want to spend money, but I was hungry and needed something. So, I ordered a spiced chai latte with soy milk and Carl got a Salted Caramel Latte. The inner debate over ordering a $7 pastry vs. a $9 sweet potato and black bean burrito vs. a $4 drink was real. Ultimately we went with the drinks as the cheaper option since we were only expecting about an hour before we'd be eating.
Once we got to the Brewery, there was an hour and a half wait. Yeah. 1 Hour and 30 Minutes added to the 30-40 Minute drive = 1 hungry Genevieve. Thankfully they served a small menu at their outside bar, so we went there out of desperation.
I ordered what is probably the BEST pasta salad I've ever had - and yes - it was vegan. The guys got some drinks and we hunkered down for a bit. Fortunately our wait was actually only 30 minutes. Relief was had by all.
Budgeting Tip #4 // Pack Snacks
Yeah. I got this SO right for the drive and SO wrong for the day! I'm not used to traveling in large parties, so I had no idea we'd have to wait so long for tables when we went out to eat. In hindsight it makes total sense - and it's not anyone's fault - I just didn't prepare because I just didn't know. I do now though - I will have snacks on snacks in my bag for situations like this in the future.
Drinks & Pasta Snack Cost = $24.34
[This was for the two coffees, Carl's beer, my pasta salad & tip. See what I mean about how easy it is for things like this to add up?]
Dinner was definitely worth the wait! I ordered the Thai Coconut Curry [vegan] and a side of fries not fried in duck fat [what it usually comes in] and Carl ordered the Ginger Wings which he said are easily in the Top 3 wings he's ever had!
The menu items are set up like Tapas - something we weren't aware of when we were making our choices, but that our server told us when he was taking our order. Normally, when I hear 'tapas' I think small plates that are annoyingly expensive and not enough to eat. Fortunately, the portions were what you'd find in a typical restaurant, so if you wanted to share you could but each item was enough for one person, so no need to order multiple plates if you didn't want to.
Surprisingly, Carl only had the one beer from before and I had water the whole night so our bill wasn't too bad.
Dinner Cost = $36.00
[For my curry, a side of fries, Carl's wings and tip.]
After dinner we headed back to their place and settled in for a move. We watched Superbad,[Have you seen this recently? It's way funnier than I remembered it being - I already want to rewatch it!] had some vegan ice cream bars and went to bed.
The next morning we woke up and made breakfast together before church.
I made a sheet of roasted vegetables using the potatoes and three of the peppers I had brought and Jessi made some scrambled eggs and veggie bacon [which I couldn't get over how close it tasted to bacon - it actually freaked me out a little, but was very good,] we chopped up the avocado to have with the eggs and had fruit and coffee.
[In case you're confused, I'm still eating eggs - so I'm technically "mostly vegan."] It was seriously delicious and seriously free / cheap.
Dessert + Movie + Breakfast Cost = $0
[Yes, these technically cost money, but if it's something we already had or they already had, I'm considering that free.]
Last time we went to Asheville we visited Elevation Asheville, but since they attend a different church, we wanted to go with them. We went to Biltmore Church and we really liked it. It felt similar to Elevation in its model but more intimate and very similar to a church back home that Jessi used to go to.
The message was great - the music was great and the girls really love it, which in my book is all that matters. They're starting a new series called Follow Me on discipleship and I like the first message so much that I'll probably watch the rest online.
Church Cost = $0
[We are faithful tithers, but we tithe at our church so we didn't put anything in the offering plate when it came around. We believe that the tithe is for your home church and that anything above and beyond that is an offering. We are very intentional about the various donations and offerings we participate in throughout the year, so if it's not part of our budget or our plan - we're probably not going to give unless we feel lead to. Being generous is a priority in our house AND we're on a budget. We look forward to the day when we can give outrageously! I could write an entire post around tithing / giving offerings and donations while on a budget...and I probably will.]
After Church we went back to their place to eat our leftovers from the previous two night's dinners. Then we packed up and headed out.
It was a really nice visit and we got to do a lot while still relaxing and not spending tons of money. Travel doesn't have to be BIG and luxurious or super expensive AND just because you're traveling, doesn't mean you have to go shopping or buy souvenirs or buy extra food. Sure it's nice to indulge every once in a while, but it's not a requirement in order to fully enjoy the experience.
Budget Tip #5 // Take Advantage of Freebies!
This is kind of a common theme throughout our trip because our entire trip was centered around having free day passes to The Biltmore thanks to Jessi & Josh! So, if your friends offer you a gift or free tickets or staying with them for free - take them up on it! No, it doesn't make you a mooch or lame - it makes it less expensive and more intimate!
We're really grateful they offer to put us up when we're visiting and it's fun to stay with them and the girls and their animals! We don't have kids or any fur babies at the moment so a weekend with two kiddos, three cats and a dog is an adventure all on it's own!
Accommodations Cost = $0
Before heading out of Asheville, Carl and I went to the French Broad CoOp to stock up on bulk goods. I usually buy these sorts of things at Healthy Home Market in town, but since they recently went out of business, I've been keeping a running list of things to buy when we visited.
Budget Tip #6 // Take Advantage of Bulk
I brought all of my reusable bags, some growlers, shopping totes and my washable crayon and hard core zero-waste nerded out. It was SO fun - haha! This was to avoid using their plastic bags and stickers that would just end up in the landfill. I did run out of bags and used a few of their brown paper bags that I'll be able to compost.
I bought wild rice, almond meal, organic sugar, navy beans, rolled oats, peanuts, dark chocolate covered almonds, vegan chocolate chips, chia seeds, flax seeds, black tea, vanilla extract, pepper corns, cinnamon, onion powder, arrowroot powder and baking soda to stock our pantry.
I also bought casteel soap and activated charcoal in bulk with unscented shea butter, vitamin E oil and organic peppermint essential oil. I'm going to use these things to make my own laundry detergent, eyeliner, mascara, deodorant and toothpaste.
I'm pretty excited to take my zero-waste game to the next level with these purchases.
Bulk Shopping Cost = $220.49
[Ok. This is A LOT of money up front - and when we were buying our bulk weekly, it NEVER was this much. Since my ability to do that has pretty much gone away [at least weekly since it was a 5 minute drive away] I'm looking into ways to do this monthly or quarterly.
Obviously making a trip to Asheville for the sole purpose of shopping in bulk is wasteful, but if you're going to be somewhere that has a bulk store - you might as well stock up right?!
These things that I purchased will last us WELL over a month, I'm actually pretty curious to see how long they last exactly, especially because I didn't just purchase food items but I also purchased ingredients to make kombucha, laundry detergent, toothpaste, deodorant and make-up.
Shopping this way will ultimately save us a lot over time and will also save a lot of packaging from ending up in the landfill since we use resuables to purchase our bulk items.]
I didn't bring this up at the beginning of the post, but my goal for this and any further budget travel guides is to share how we travel and spend as little as possible while also enjoying ourselves.
Obviously, if you're on a super tight budget and / or just getting started with budgeting, there's a good chance travel isn't on your list of things you can do at all [yet!] - let alone on a budget.
We aren't perfect with any of this. We do our best AND keep in mind we've been at this for almost five years [three and a half together.] Some people might be blown away by our budgeting skills and other people might be way better than we are.
My hope is to encourage people to live the best life that they can with what they have, while working to improve their lives and situations. I'm also excited to see how writing these posts will keep me accountable to not spend haphazardly while traveling. So with that, let's get to the total...
Asheville Trip Cost = $154.19
[This includes about $31.20 for the gas needed to get there and back. If you want to count our bulk shopping then the total is $374.68 - but I don't feel like that counts since it's for necessary things we'll be using over the next several months.]
Not bad for a weekend away for two right?!
Sure, we could have done better in places, but like I said, we're not perfect and I'm excited to see if I get better at this throughout the year.
Traveling doesn't need to cost an arm and a leg - we had a place to stay, entertainment, gas, food, drinks and snacks for a little over $150 for two and a half days of traveling for two people. That's $30.84/ person/ day - seriously not bad.
I hope this helps inspire you towards more affordable travel and taking advantage of free opportunities that present themselves!
Love & Blessings,