See My Trip Budgeting Tool In Action: Planning for our San Fran Trip

With long, steep hills rising above a glistening bay, San Francisco is one of the most iconic cities in the world. And for a good reason – there may be no other city on the planet as gorgeous year-round as “The City by the Bay.”

Steep hill rise high out of San Francisco Bay

Steep hill rise high out of San Francisco Bay

In less than two weeks my boyfriend Derek and I are headed to SF for six days to visit his brother Matt, who recently relocated to the Bay area for his job in finance.

Needless to say, we won’t be alone. Among the ever-growing number of young professionals calling San Francisco home, the city hosts an estimated 16 MILLION tourists each year! That’s double the population of New York City visiting annually!

The Golden Gate Bridge hiding in the SF Skyline - Dec 2010

The Golden Gate Bridge hiding in the SF Skyline – Dec 2010

With that said, the only other time I’ve been to San Francisco was in December 2010 for a long weekend – and my boyfriend has never been before. Having visited in early winter last time, my strongest memories are of thick, slow to disperse fog, as well as temperatures that barely cracked 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fog Clearing Over San Francisco - Dec 2010

Fog Clearing Over San Francisco – Dec 2010

This time we will be going in mid-May, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for sunshine and mild, mid-60’s temperatures.

With my expectation for beautiful weather in tow, this past week I began using my trip planning tool that I discussed in my last post to craft a daily touring schedule. I thought it would be important to plan our days and calculate roughly how much money our “extra-long weekend trip” will cost (dun…dun…dun…).

As usual, I broke out our transportation, lodging, activities, and food expenses by day. I filled in the costs of what we already booked, and then inserted estimates for anything unplanned at this point (i.e. food allowances, vineyard tasting fees, etc.). Here’s what the schedule and costs currently look like in my planning spreadsheet:

San Francisco Budget

As you can see, even though we are staying with Derek’s brother for three of the five nights, our long weekend in SF WILL NOT be cheap.

The cost of living in the Bay area is one of the highest in the United States, and the cost of being a tourist proves no different. Downtown hotels are constantly in high demand. Restaurant menus are comparable to NYC pricing.  AND if you’re taking a full-day wine tour to Napa or Sonoma counties (like we are) – ohhhhh man – the cost per person that day may completely blow your food and activity budget for the trip.

With that said, when visiting San Francisco, careful planning is essential to be able to immerse yourself in the city’s finest offerings. I used TripAdvisor and recommendations from friends to sculpt our itinerary, while keeping in mind our personal travel style.

We like wine. We like history. We like nature.

We don’t like crowded, kitschy, tourist-filled hotspots.

Tourists waiting in line to ride the only National Monument that moves - the San Francisco trolley car

Tourists waiting in line to ride the only National Monument that moves – the San Francisco trolley car

So, after discussing together what will be most important to the two of us during our limited number of days in the city, we decided to de-prioritize some of the most common destinations – Alcatraz, Chinatown, and Pier 39. We figured they just aren’t our cup of tea.

The gate to SF's Chinatown district - Dec 2010

The gate to SF’s Chinatown district – Dec 2010

Wild seals relaxing by the docks at Pier 39 - Dec 2010

Wild seals relaxing by the docks at Pier 39 – Dec 2010

Instead, we pinpointed that we want to see The Presidio (with the Golden Gate Bridge backdrop), the Mission District, the Ghirardelli Factory, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the other destinations listed in my spreadsheet above.  By talking to my travel companion in advance about our expectations and priorities, we were not only able to estimate how much money we will spend in our activity budget each day, but I feel we have the flexible itinerary in place to optimize each day of our trip.

Outside the Ghirardelli Factory in downtown SF - Dec 2010

Outside the Ghirardelli Factory in downtown SF – Dec 2010

While some people enjoy spontaneity on their vacations, I always recommend traveling with some general idea of what you will do upon your arrival as well as how much money you plan to spend. In this way, you will avoid two types of regrets – spending over your budget and not seeing everything you wanted to see.

I hope this post provides a helpful example of how my trip budgeting tool can be applied in real life, as well as how you can replicate it for one of your upcoming trips!

For your reference, feel free to download my SF trip planning spreadsheet (seen in the above spreadsheet screenshot) from my MeansToTravel google docs. From there, you can make and save changes that apply to your own upcoming trips!

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