California Dreaming Revisited: Reality of Traveling on a Budget

I am going take a look at traveling on a budget while revisiting a post I wrote 2 years ago. There are a few things I realize now.

I just got back from Kuwait a week and a half ago and I planned a mini trip to Cali. Last June I visited my friend Cortnee, but felt my trip was too short. I did a couple of Airbnb experiences and stayed in an Airbnb for the first time. I explored the Getty Museum and LACMA and spent a day at Universal Studios.


This was my first time to stay in an Airbnb and highly recommend it if you are trying to save money. My number one tip is to check the listing thoroughly to make sure it has everything you need. These places are people’s homes and each one offers different amenities, so read all the rules and things they provide carefully. I believe booking here is better than a hotel because it is cheaper and homey. Everyone is different so it is important to read reviews as well.

Reality: One thing I want to add is that when I visited the previous year, I stayed with my friend. The best way to travel on a budget is to stay with a friend or family member. Plan your visit in advance so you can give them enough time to make adjustments. While it is nice to stay in a hotel and have someone else make your bed for you, those cost can add up.

Airbnbs are the best alternative to hotels when traveling on a budget. The only downfall is you don’t have a person cleaning your room everyday. Hotels are usually centrally located. When booking an Airbnb you have to do your research on the area as well as the home to make sure you can get around easily. Another alternative are staying in a hostel.

Airbnb Experiences

In addition to booking my first Airbnb stay, I booked a couple of experiences for the first time. There are a lot of different experiences and I did a photo tour and hike. The photo experience was nice because I was able to tour Cali and get pictures of myself. I needed to kill some time before I was able to check in to my Airbnb as well. As soon as I landed in LA, I took an Uber straight to the meeting location for my experience. At the meeting location there was a guy cursing out everyone who crossed him. I thought I was in New York for a hot second.

Another reason why I booked the tour is so that I can be with a group. Even though I am introverted I still like experiencing places with others. Everyone was from different places, Australia, Brazil, Las Vegas, and Houston. Our first spot was the Hollywood sign. We went to a location where we could get good pictures from a distance without hiking. I always feel super awkward taking pictures so that makes my pictures come out awkward. I had a lot of weird pictures in the beginning, but towards the end I got more comfortable. After the Hollywood sign we did Urban Lights, Beverly Hills Sign, street of Palm trees, pink wall, and angel wings, not exactly in that order. This experience is a must if you visit LA and like posting on IG.

Reality: Experiences are not always cheaper than other tours. They are just unique and most likely hosted by a local. Tours are great for solo travelers which is why I didn’t mind spending my money. The only downfall is that you have to stick to the schedule of the tour guide. However, having a tour guide is beneficial for those who do not have a good sense of direction. When traveling on a budget you can forego tours and experiences all together and plan your own.

Public Transportation

My main source of getting around was public transportation because I was traveling on a budget. The place where I stayed was further away from Hollywood than I expected. This meant that I spent most of my time on buses and trains. It would have cost me about $30 for an Uber each time I wanted to get to Hollywood. That is not bad for the distance, but coming and going each day could have added up. I have the money to spend, but I like to save when I can. So I found my way around on the bus and the subway. I got lost a couple of times and lucky for me I was not on a schedule so it was ok. The first time I took the bus was when I left the Getty Museum.

Metropolis II

I wanted to go back to Urban Lights to get pictures at night. The host from the photo tour recommended it and warned it would be lots of people. Getting to the Getty from Urban Lights was easy. I basically followed a couple because I overheard them saying that’s were they were going. When I got to Urban Lights at night it was lots of people and hard not to get people in my photos.

Reality: There is a lot to unpack here. First, let’s talk about this statement “I have the money to spend…”. I don’t know what kind of weird flex that was. Just because I have the amount in my account doesn’t mean I have it. Technically, I didn’t have it because I was in debt and had student loans.

Then, there is the Airbnb that was too far. I was being positive about a mistake I made. It is better to pay extra coins for staying closer to the city. Even though the place I stayed was cheaper than the places closer to the city, I made up the cost in transportation. The best alternative for this situation is to stay close to the city and use public transportation.

Next, I got lost. Like lost, lost I was going in the wrong direction for like an hour. I originally said it was ok, but that was another huge mistake I made. This is not the first time I have gotten lost on public transportation. I got lost in Rome and Luxembourg because I didn’t know where I was going. Don’t be like me, plan, read the map or just take an Uber it could save you time. Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean getting lost on the bus.


LACMA vs. The Getty

I thought I would like LACMA more than the Getty because it is an art museum. I like the Getty more because there is art, architecture, and gardens. My favorite was the cactus garden because the desert holds a special place in my heart. At LACMA I thought the Metropolis II was really neat. It is a kinetic sculpture created by Chris Burden modeled after a fast paced modern city. There are more things to explore at both museums. The Getty is free. You have a choice between taking the tram or walking from the main entrance. I took the tram because I didn’t have the right shoes. With the walk, you can get good pictures of the mountains.

Reality: The best part about the Getty is that admissions is free. It reminds me of the Smithsonians in D.C. because of how nice and clean it is. Just because I am traveling on a budget doesn’t mean that I want to go to janky places. Budget doesn’t always mean you have to sacrifice quality.

Universal Studios

I was really excited about the Universal Studios tour. I decided to go all out and book the VIP experience and it was worth the price. This ticket included park entrance and the tour itself. It also included the fast pass, valet parking, and lunch. This was the day me and Cortnee decided to meet up. When we first arrived we were bumped up to 8:15 because we got there early. We ate a nice complimentary breakfast which included sandwiches, pastries, fruit, juice, and coffee. We received a welcome baggie that included little things like sunscreen, lip balm, mints, etc.  


I paid for the most expensive tickets because I wanted to splurge. However, this was a good use of my money because I had such a great time with Cortnee. It is ok to drop a few extra dollars to have a great experience. When traveling on a budget you should cut cost when you can, but you should also consider what your extra money is going towards. My extra money went towards, parking, food, and access to the front of the line. It all depends on what you want and are willing to pay for.

Universal Tour Continued

We started our tour on time and headed to the trams. The difference between the regular studio tour and the VIP experience is you get a closer look at sets. Our first stop was the soundstage where Super Store is recorded. It looks exactly like a supermarket, but the difference is most of the food is fake and the shelves have wheels so they could be easily moved for shots. We saw the set of Desperate House Wives, Amityville Horror, Jaws, Whoville, and Bates Motel. We got a closer look at the plane wreck from War of the Worlds and took pictures.  This scene was also used in Nikki and Rihanna’s music video Fly.  There was a western being shot, but we couldn’t know the name of it because of their nondisclosure agreement.

After the studio tour, we had lunch at a buffet. The food was average and included in our ticket. After lunch, our tour guide gave us VIP access to the rides which meant we didn’t have to stand in line. We got to to see the Water World show. I was glad I was able to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I tried some Butterbeer which was really sweet and a nice drink to help cool off. Our tour guide stayed with us for most of the day. Our last ride was the Minion ride, which is cute and at the end you get turned into a minion. After that, we went to the special effects show, which I really enjoyed. Then, it was time for us to go on the our airbnb experience, the Hollywood hike.

Hollywood Hike

The hike was another experience I found on Airbnb and I was nervous to do it. My host from the photo tour said there is a lot of dirt and it was going to be hard. She made it seem really intense and that I was going to die without hiking boots. The host did not recommend it for anyone who is afraid of heights. I almost didn’t do it. On top of that, I was nervous because we were walking around all day at Universal. But I chose to do it anyway.

If there is something you really want to do, do it for yourself and do not let negativity stop you from doing it. I enjoyed the hike and met two new friends. One of the girls I met was from the middle east, what are the odds of that? Getting to the top was worth it. It was a basic hike and not half as hard as others tried to make it.


When traveling on a budget hiking is something you can do for free with proper research and planning. Paying for this activity was good for me for two reasons. First, I am not good with directions. Second, I didn’t take the time to plan for a hike. It was better for me in this instance to pay someone. Our tour guide also gave us some history of the Hollywood sign that I didn’t know about.

Take Aways

Traveling on a budget is not possible if you are bougie. At the same time budget does not mean cheap. With proper planning you can have everything you want without emptying your bank account. I spent way too much money that summer because of the idea that I had money. I was in debt and I was still paying off my student loans. The only reason I thought I had money was because I was not paying rent or utilities as a teacher in Kuwait. When you are in debt you may have money in your account, but technically you don’t really have it.

The best way to travel on a budget is to save and plan well in advance. You can have a travel fund in additional to your regular 3-6 month savings. Of course this is only for those who like to take trips. No one has to travel to enjoy life. Here is a list of of my take aways.

  1. Airbnb’s and hostels are budget friendly alternatives to hotels. However, there are some expensive Airbnb’s and you have to be sure to research the location.
  2. Being on a budget doesn’t mean everything needs to be free or cheap.
  3. Public transportation is only convenient when you are close to the city.
  4. Don’t sacrifice convenience where it matters most.
  5. Planning is key.

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