We woke up a couple of weekends ago and realized that we had yet to plan a vacation for my scheduled time off in September. So, being the would-be jet setters that we are, Amanda gave me a challenge: $1,000, pick a vacation and, well, go. I gladly accepted.
The first thing I did was make a list of places we’d like to visit and added a few places we thought we could travel to by car to save some money. I chose Toronto, Montreal and Atlanta (we have friends there — hi ET!). I also put Key West, Florida on the list thinking we’d fly into Miami and drive. It’s a place we’ve both been wanting to visit.
So here’s how it went.
First I planned out the time it would take to drive to each location: Toronto 9 hours, Montreal 10.5 hours, Atlanta 10.5 hours. All very doable drives. I grew up frequently traveling to my family beach house in North Carolina which in the old days was an 8.5-hour trip, so anything under 12 is easy. The drive from Miami to Key West is only 3 hours 47 minutes.
The next step was to find hotels, ideally of the boutique or historical variety and generally centrally located. We don’t want to drive once we reach our travel destination, so we don’t like to stay at motels in the suburbs. I hopped over to Hotels.com and Orbitz to search each city for hotels. When I looked (almost a month ago) for rooms available for check in Monday, check out Friday I found some nice candidates. In Atlanta I saw the Melia Atlanta for one with a quoted price of $142 a night, Montreal had most hotels we would like for about $200 a night, and the place we liked in Toronto was almost $250. The hotels and B&Bs in Key West were also more than I had expected, each in the $150 range. I was quickly finding out because of our taste in hotels the bulk of the trip budget would be taken up by lodging.
The fuel bill would also be significant, even for our fuel efficient Espresso Colored Fiat, affectionately called the Bean. The gas for Bean would be $125 for the 1,304 mile round trip to Atlanta, about $110 for Montreal and a little less than that for Toronto. We would have to get airfare to Miami and rent a car for Key West, $155 for the car rental (not including gas) and $315 for round trip air from Washington, DC to Miami.
I continued to crunch the numbers and once adding in meals, tips, taxis, parking, shopping and sightseeing each of the trips seemed to come close to and around the same mark of $1,000 (give or take). But the idea of wasting a day in transit on the road just didn’t seem efficient and we felt like we weren’t getting the bang we wanted for our bucks. Our trip to Tanzania in March was big bang/big bucks, but it was missing one thing: beach time. So, on a whim, I decided to check out the cost of flying to Playa del Carmen, Mexico and spending four nights there. I was in for a surprise.
I found a boutique hotel with great Trip Advisor reviews in downtown Playa near the beach for $80 a night and flight from Baltimore to Cancun for $780 round trip for two. The flight leaves early and arrives before noon, direct. We will make it from our house to the hotel in six hours! You can’t get a better bang for your buck than that, a trip that ticks all of our boxes (especially a beautiful, swimming-friendly beach). We will, of course, spend some money on the ground meals, tips, shopping, maybe diving, but we couldn’t pass up this opportunity. The moral to the story: just because a destination may be geographically closer doesn’t mean it’s less expensive.