Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 30-year-old customer service success manager goes on a roadtrip to Zion National Park with her husband and 9 of their closest friends to run and hike.
For questions, feedback, or if you're interested in tracking your travel expenses during an upcoming trip email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Occupation: Manager of Customer Success
Travel Companion: My husband, T, as well as 8 other friends, who stayed for varying lengths of the trip
Travel Companion's Salary: My husband’s salary is $171,000 and we combine all finances/expenses.
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Trip Location: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, Las Vegas
Trip Length: 8 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 20
Companion’s # of Vacation Days: Unlimited
Costs: T, two friends, and I drove from San Francisco to Zion. Other friends flew to Las Vegas and rented cars, but we weren’t involved in those expenses. This trip was organized around the central element of running a Ragnar, a relay race of about 120-200 miles (some races have 8 runners, some have 12) that teams typically complete in 24-32 hours. This is our third “runcation” in three years with this group of friends. This race was scheduled to be run in Zion on Friday-Saturday, and we planned several days of vacation in the Zion/Bryce/Lake Powell area to enjoy ourselves after the race! We drove from California to Nevada to Utah to Arizona to Nevada back to California.
Costs: Our first night we stayed on the campground, included in race fees. The following night we stayed at an Airbnb in Bryce Canyon, for $133 (for both my husband and I). Then we spent a night at another Airbnb in Page, Arizona for $186.16. We also booked two hotel rooms in Vegas, $33.56.
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending:
- Ragnar race fees: $305 for 2 runners
- Boat rental: $184.79, for our share
- Car maintenance, including tires and brakes: $1089
- Flashlights and AAA batteries: $32
- New running tops (not necessary but I wanted them!): $30
- New swimsuit: $26
- Hat: $14
- Pet sitting: Free; a friend is watching our 2 dogs and 1 cat. We watch his dog when he travels in exchange.
Miscellaneous post-vacation spending:
- $6 in tolls (FastTrak)
5:45 a.m. – My husband wakes up early — he’s going into work early and coming home early, so he can nap before we hit the road tonight. He wakes up the dogs who wake me up; I doze off again until 6:40.
8:00 a.m. – I have a full workday, and a busy one at that, since I’m trying to get everything done or appropriately handed off before I’m out of pocket for five business days.
12:00 p.m. – I sneak in a quick workout over lunch, which will be my last one until the race on Friday! I return to the office just after one and eat lunch at my desk, jumping back into more emails. ($0, work provides lunch).
6p.m.: After sending one thousand emails at the last minute, I am officially OOO! When I get off BART, I stop at the library to pick up a book on hold (I’m bringing 2 physical books, 3 audiobooks, and probably 6 Kindle books, which is definitely overkill, but I like having options). I also stop at the fancy, overpriced grocery store next door for car snacks. I get two apples and some Greek yogurt pretzels, then have the "we have food at home" discussion with myself before I can do any real damage. $5.38
7:00 p.m. – The race director sent out an email about rain, wet trails, and potential lightning holds that might occur during the race. Cool cool cool. Once I'm home, I stress-pack a third pair of running shoes and even more running gear and layers.
11:00 p.m. – Friends are here, car is packed, pet sitter has arrived. I kiss the cat and dogs goodbye, and we hit the road! Our plan is to drive straight from San Francisco to Zion; we’ll rotate drivers and stop for gas and food, but otherwise no long rest stops. We’re taking the slightly longer but more scenic northern route through Reno with a total drive time of about 13 hours.
Daily Total: $5.38
1:30 a.m. – I'm half asleep and half awake when we stop for gas. $ 32.18
3:30 a.m. – My husband stops to stretch his legs and top off gas. $ 10.47
7:00 a.m. – Everyone's awake now. We stop for gas ($16.25), coffee ($1.79), and breakfast at The Mitzpah Hotel in Tonopah, NV ($27.64). It's my turn to drive, which means the whole car gets to listen to My Favorite Murder and This Podcast Will Kill You. $45.68
10:30 a.m. – More gas ($12.58). We also get a small haul of groceries for lunch and snacks when we get to camp: a wrap for my husband, a 12-pack of La Croix, Babybel cheeses, fruit, an RX bar, and a single cookie ($24.50). I hand over driving duties to my friend J, whose podcasts of choice are The Daily and Reply All. We call one of the other cars, who just landed in Vegas, and they will pick up groceries for camp. We pay our share later via Splitwise ($54.80). $91.88
1:30 p.m. – Once we pass the Utah State line, the group text reminds us that we need booze! We stop at a state liquor store for beer and bourbon ($18.22 for our share). We also top off gas ($13.81) and I get another coffee ($1.27). $33.30
3:00 p.m. – Finally arrive at Zion! It costs money to get in, but our friend decides to buy an annual park pass, so we don’t have to pay. When we get to camp, it costs $20 ($10 our share) to park at the runners' camp. We meet up with two more of our team members and start to set up camp. It's pouring, and we all get completely soaked and freezing. My rain jacket is apparently not waterproof, neat. $10
7:30 p.m. – After changing into dry clothes and waiting out the rain with some beers under our canopy, we walk/slide around the muddy campground and head to the café. I get a black bean burrito and my husband gets a pork burrito. We trudge back to the campsite, which is getting muddier by the minute. $17
9:00 p.m. – A mass text goes out to all the runners that the race is cancelled! We’re all honestly pretty relieved, as the conditions are SO terrible. E likens the conditions to WWI trench warfare, and he’s not entirely wrong. The mud situation is out of control, and the trails have already washed out – they definitely couldn’t handle 4000 runners. The group texts updated the friends who aren’t yet arrived the update, then after some discussion, we decide to camp here for the night and leave in the morning. I use my Hilton app to book 3 rooms in nearby Springdale for tomorrow night. Shortly after, we settle our cold, damp selves into our tents and go to sleep. $133
Daily Total: $373.51
7:30 a.m. – It rains again overnight, but when we wake up, it’s stopped. We send two people to the shuttles to get the cars, and the rest of us pack up our sad, soggy camp. My friend A gets extra coffee and breakfast burritos to share, but he never adds them to Splitwise (as I write this in retrospect, I feel bad!).
10:00 a.m. – After using the real bathrooms, which were probably designated for actual cabin residents, we make our slow way out. We stop back in Zion for a short-ish hike to an overlook point to see the view – it’s amazing, looking over the valley and across to other Zion peaks – and of course to take pictures, some of which end up on Instagram with news about the race cancellation immediately.
11:45 a.m. – We get to the hotel early and can’t check in, but we picnic on the lawn with some of our camp food. It’s beer time!
12:30 p.m. – Two more friends arrive, and our group of now-eight goes back into Zion park for another hike on the Watchman trail. It’s a moderately easy three-mile hike near the park’s South entrance and offers views of both the town of Springdale and Zion park.
3:00p.m. – When we get back, we can check into the hotel. We were supposed to be extreme-racing today, and I feel a little bad for taking yesterday off since we now aren’t running, so I go to the hotel gym while the boys hit the hot tub or nap.
7:00 p.m. – Our last two friends arrive. Now is probably a good time to mention that it’s me and nine men on this vacation. Bar hopping in Springdale, Utah is not really a thing (3.2% Utah beer), but we sort of give it a shot. We get drinks at a bar patio ($18.22), then more beer and pizza for dinner ($42.26), and, finally, ice cream.($3). $63.48
10:00 p.m. – Back at the hotel, most of us head out to a balcony to play Code Names.
Daily Total: $63.48
8:00 a.m. – Wake up and head to breakfast, included with the hotel. After eating, checking out, sunscreening, and packing snacks, we take a shuttle into Zion.
10:00 a.m. – We’re hiking up Angel’s Landing, which is a long uphill hike to the point, after which it’s a crowded and slightly terrifying precarious rock scramble situation that only five of us decide to complete. The view at the top — 360 degrees around the whole park — is breathtaking (literally, it’s hard to breathe because it’s also kind of terrifying!) We all make it out alive, meet up with our friends who waited, then hike a little further before turning around.
3:00 p.m. – Hike complete and back on the shuttle. We’re ready to eat around 4:00 p.m., but very few places are open. We decide on a Mexican place that is a little pricey, but pretty good. I’m a little miffed that the check gets split 10 ways evenly rather than by each person’s order, since it’s widely variable, but it’s vacation and friends, and I deal $71.80.
5:00 p.m. – We lose one friend who’s headed home, and the other nine of us head toward Bryce Canyon in three cars. Our car listens to Planet Money, and makes a pit stop for my husband to fly his drone. This drive takes about 90 minutes.
7:00 p.m. – Check into our Airbnb in Tropic, Utah. The Airbnb is enormous – almost weirdly so. Even though the layout and decor kind of leaves something to be desired, it definitely comfortably sleeps the nine of us and has a large open concept kitchen/living room, so it works just fine. I put in a load of laundry (yay)! Tropic can hardly be considered a town – it’s basically a tiny cluster of residences but it is conveniently located at the base of Bryce Canyon, where we’re headed tomorrow.
8:00 p.m. – There’s nowhere to go “out,” so instead we hang out in our weirdly enormous and spacious house and play The Gayme (I guess now is a good time to clarify that my nine other travel companions are all men and also that my husband is the only straight person here) and more Code Names. The Gayme is a very casual conversation-starter party game consisting of tons of cards that each have a question that everyone is meant to answer. The questions are sort of “never have I ever”-eque but all queer-themed (Gayme=“the gay game”). Code Names is one of my favorite games (highly recommend!) where two teams compete to give and decipher word clues to solve the board first.
12:45 a.m. – After playing and winding down with my book, I go to sleep.
Daily Total: $71.80
8:20 a.m. – Awake! Coffee and breakfast and repacking are all happening. Our plan for the day is to head into Bryce Canyon National Park for a hike. One couple is flying out tonight, so they’re heading straight from Bryce to the airport in Las Vegas, and the rest of us will continue on to ultimately land at our next destination in Page, Arizona.
10:00 a.m. – We depart just before 10 for Bryce Canyon (entrance fee paid for by J’s annual pass), where we first stop at the Visitors’ Center. J & T speak with a ranger, who recommends a hike for us that starts at Bryce Point. We take a free park shuttle there, stop at the overlook, and then hike 5.5 miles down, through, and back up the canyon.
Like Zion, Bryce is full of red rocks, but they are very different in shape and composition. Bryce Canyon is full of “hoodoos,” spire-like rocks that range from shorter than me to enormously tall. The hike is pretty moderate, but unlike most hikes that start uphill and end downhill, we descend into the canyon first, enjoy a flat trail for a few miles, then end going up the other side of the canyon, where we’re rewarded with another stunning view of everything we just walked through.
Everyone takes about a hundred pictures (they all get added to the shared Google Photos album every time we get back on Wifi). Back at the visitors' center, we find our ranger friend again and ask for hike recommendations for the next leg of our journey (mainly, if or how to get into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, where the main entrance is closed for a few more days), but unfortunately her knowledge is quite specialized and she directs us to pick up pamphlets or speak with someone closer to our destination.
1:30 p.m. – Two more friends have to depart for home. We’re down to seven friends and two cars. We stop at a general store, where I get a coffee and a donut ($3.87). We continue driving, stop for gas ($18.83) and to take a picture with a “Ho-Made Pies” sign. Someone buys my husband a McChicken sandwich that never got added to Splitwise, and I buy an iced coffee ($1.73). $24.43
4:00 p.m. – We leave Kanab, Utah (where we stopped for lunch). One couple, L and O, decide to head straight to the Airbnb in Page, AZ, and the other five of us drive for about 40 minutes and then stop in Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument to hike the Toadstools, which are rocks that absolutely look uncannily like toadstools. I feel like I’m in Star Wars.
7:00 p.m. – After about another hour of driving, we meet L and O at a tavern in Page for drinks and dinner ($49.70), then we all make a group stop at Safeway for beer, food, and drinks for tomorrow ($31 but I think someone forgot to add their expenses to Splitwise). When we get back to the Airbnb, we all shower then settle in for the latest Game of Thrones episode - E and O had to find a Walmart to purchase an HDMI cord, but they make it happen. $ 80.70
12:00 a.m. – What an episode! At this Airbnb, my husband and I get a private little casita adjacent to the house. I read a little, then go to sleep.
Daily Total: $105.13
6:30 a.m. – Can you believe you have to wake up this early on vacation to have some fun around here? Team coffee & breakfast in the kitchen before packing the coolers & heading out. It’s party boat day!
9:00 a.m. – We’re headed to Lake Powell. This is apparently a pretty popular spot to go boating (I think the research on the boat outing was a J and my husband combo mostly). I’m literally just along for the ride. After an hour at the marina, we’re finally on the boat! It’s definitely not too early to start drinking. We spend an amazing day on the water, slowly boating through canyons, drinking, listening to O’s amazing playlist, using the boat’s slide (YES A SLIDE) to jump into the water, and also playing Heads Up on the ride back. I put on sunscreen 100 times, as I’ve learned this lesson before.
5:30 p.m. – Boat day is over :( :( :( My husband refuels the boat while we all start to pack up. $38.78
6:30 p.m. – L & O head back, and the rest of us take a short detour to Horseshoe Bend for a quick hike/walk to see the sunset. It’s pretty crowded, but for good reason. We’re high up on the rim of the canyon, looking over the river that runs through the predictably horseshoe-shaped canyon far below. We pay for parking, but the views (and all the pictures in portrait mode) are priceless. $4
8:00 p.m. – The boys get takeout BBQ, and I decide on Mexican nearby as it’s more veggie-friendly. We eat at the Airbnb and continue to discuss GoT, and for some reason, re-watch an old episode from season two. $27.36
Daily Total: $70.14
7:47 a.m. – Team breakfast again, and our last Airbnb day. We try to eat everything we can. My husband, spatial reasoning skills extraordinaire, packs our car to somehow fit five people and five people’s stuff. L and O head to the airport, and the last five survivors drive to Cathedral Wash for one last canyon hike, which, while not super strenuous, is technically difficult: It’s more like a climb than a hike in spots, requiring some careful footwork and supporting hand action to go from one level of the canyon to another, and the path is very narrow in places. No one falls, and we’re rewarded with the rushing Colorado River at the bottom.
2:00 p.m. – We missed the opening of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon by literally one day, which is disappointing – the north end of the park is closed for winter from November through mid-May. The South Rim is open year-round but much too far for us to make in a day. Because we organized this entire trip around the race and not the other stops on the way, this unfortunately couldn’t be avoided. We stop at Jacob Lake for gas ($7.85). I get a coffee and an amazing cookie ($1.98); the rest of lunch is incredibly sad cooler leftovers. From Jacob Lake, we head straight for Vegas, which is about a 3.5 hour drive. We listen to Sapiens the audiobook on the drive to Vegas and stop for gas again ($20.60). $30.43
6:00 p.m. – We get to Vegas and only have an hour to get ready for our one night “on the town.” I check into the hotel while my husband runs over to the MGM to get tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s Ka show. All five of us manage to shower and drink beer left in our coolers. $155.80
7:00 p.m. – Showtime! I haven’t seen a Cirque show since I was a kid, and definitely didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Cirque du Soleil shows are an incredible combination of circus styles from around the world, dancing, and acrobatics. Although we’re in seats in the way back, it’s still an amazing show. I feel like I only sort of follow the plot, but I’m absolutely captivated by the dancers, costumes, and gorgeous sets.
9:30 p.m. – We get a quick dinner at Pieology at the MGM ($35.59 for two pizzas and a beer). We then tram and walk around the strip, where my husband and E decide to play blackjack for a while. Gambling stresses me out, so I just watch (which also stresses me out). My husband ends the night only a few dollars down and one beer up - not so bad ($16). We head to bed around 1:00 a.m. $51.59
Daily Total: $237.81
7:30 a.m. – Last day of vacation and it’s basically just a travel day. Noooooo! We stop for breakfast, then hit the road. Destination: home to San Francisco. This time, we’re taking the more direct but less pretty route through Southern California. $37.99
12:00 p.m. – Back in the state of California. We stop in Barstow for gas ($10) and the restroom. A buys hazelnut-filled M&Ms and shares. I eat my leftover pizza and succumb to starting a work email triage while my husband drives. We stop again for gas ($26.41), and I also buy a coffee ($1.69) for my husband and I to share. $38.10
4:00 p.m. – We play Contact – best driving game ever. Final gas and bathroom stop in Livermore before we hit rush hour traffic getting back into the city ($ 24.30).
7:00 p.m. – Finally home! Our dogs are the most excited. We unpack the car, and J and A are on their way. I am sad to bid them and my vacation goodbye.
8:00 p.m. – After cleaning the house a little (my parents are visiting us from across the country tomorrow! terrible timing!), I head to the basement to run on the treadmill, re-dye my hair, which has faded from all the sun and water, shower, and join my husband and dogs in bed way too late. We sleepily recap how great the trip and our friends are before reading a little and finally going to sleep.
Daily Total: $100.39
How did you prepare for this trip?
We originally built the trip around the race, which obviously unfortunately got cancelled after we arrived. The rest of the itinerary we built from a combination of research (not mine, my husband and our friends. I’m not a great planner but lucky to have travel companions who are!), common knowledge about big attractions in the area, and AllTrails.com. We also took advantage of speaking with park rangers during the trip, who made good recommendations for hikes based on our desired level of activity and the time we had. Overall, we knew where we’d be each day, but sometimes didn’t choose exact hikes until the day before or day of.
Did you use credit card points or miles to pay for parts of this trip?
I used hotel points for one night.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
It’s hard to choose, but the pontoon boat day on Lake Powell I think was a favorite.
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
Not really! By virtue of going to really popular places like Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, you’re going to be around a ton of people – they are touristy and popular for a reason. However, once you start to select more difficult hikes, you separate out from a lot of the crowd pretty quickly. Angel’s Landing was absolutely packed, but I think it was worth it.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Definitely purchase the annual National Parks pass the first time you encounter a fee area. This got us into so many more places than we thought it would, including nearly all the parks but also places like the marina. You’ll be paying way more in park fees if you don’t have the pass.
Would you stay at those same hotels and Airbnb’s again?
Yes, definitely! The hotel I booked at the last minute in Zion was just a Hampton Inn, but it was worth every penny for location and convenience. The Airbnb’s were all great! It can be hard to find lodging for that many people. Having a kitchen and laundry and common areas for the group to spend time together was great.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
Yes, I wish we’d had time to go to Antelope Canyon, and also the Grand Canyon, had the timing worked out.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time?
I think we stayed for a good amount of time. Of course, vacation could always be longer! Had it not been for the race, we probably would not have chosen Wednesday through Wednesday dates and used the weekends more to our advantage, and also would have adjusted our dates to make the Grand Canyon possible.
Travel Diaries is meant to reflect individual women's experiences and does not necessarily reflect Refinery29's point of view. Refinery29 in no way encourages illegal activity or harmful behavior.
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?