So I went to Portland

In case you somehow missed the many Instagram photos, last week I made it to the west coast for the first time in my life (I previously hadn’t gotten further west than Vegas despite a massive west coast to-visit list). I went to Portland to visit my friend T, who was one of the people in my study abroad program in Chile, and who became my first post-college roommate. This was a group reunion though—my friend K and I both live in DC and took the same flights to Portland, and our friend R flew in from Michigan to join us. It was a party!

The three of them all met while doing AmeriCorps, and R moved to DC the same time T came back here/became my roommate so I met R then (the three of us hung out a lot, usually in my apartment since conveniently two of us lived here). K moved to DC a month before both T and R moved away for school last year, so K conveniently took T’s place in my apartment and was my roommate until a few months ago. So actually three of the four of us have lived in my apartment and the fourth of us spent quite a few nights crashing on the couch!

Long story short, the west coast is beautiful (I can’t get over how different the forests look there. I’m kinda obsessed with the big, tall trees and how incredibly green everything is), and the trip was a ton of fun. Can I quit my job yet so I can spend months just traveling around the west coast and seeing everything? I’ve got a national parks pass that is dying to be used somewhere other than Shenandoah!


Because this is a personal finance blog, I can’t talk about anything without numbers! So here’s a breakdown of how this trip went for me (aka more expensive than if I’d been traveling on my own. Which I knew in advance and planned for):


Prepaid back in June so I’m not counting that $207 in the total. When K and I bought the very cheap tickets, the timing for everything was just about perfect (minus the red eye back Monday night. That was unavoidable). We both had Monday off, so the original itinerary would’ve allowed us to not have to take any time off from work: we would’ve left DC at 6:30pm on Friday (okay, maybe we would’ve left work an hour or two early), arrived in Denver at 8:30, left at 10, and arrived in Portland around midnight. Then we would’ve left Portland at 6:30pm on Monday, arrived in Denver at 10:30, left at midnight, and gotten back to DC at 5:30am.

Two weeks after we bought the tickets, Frontier changed those flights on us multiple times and majorly, enough so that K and I seriously considered scrapping the trip (which wouldn’t have cost us because the time difference in flights was so significant). When the dust settled, we both decided to take Friday off of work so we could leave Thursday night and get to Portland Friday afternoon (the alternative was leaving Friday night/arriving Saturday afternoon which wouldn’t have been enough time to make the trip worth it. Plus Saturday morning was prime hiking time!).

So we left DC at 9pm on Thursday, arrived in Denver at 11, had an overnight layover, thanks Frontier, left Denver at 9:30am, and arrived in Portland at 11:30am. Our flights back to DC got changed to a 3pm departure time from PDX, which put us in Denver at 6:30, at which point we had to run to make our connecting flight. No, just kidding, we didn’t leave Denver until midnight (that was the one flight that didn’t change) so we had 5.5 hours to kill in the airport!

I’m really glad we decided to put up with the schedule changes and go on this trip anyway, but good lord, I will not be flying Frontier again anytime soon. You get what you pay for, I guess.

A national park I didn’t know I’d be visiting. Some kid’s got an awesome collection


$25: K paid $50 to check a bag both directions because Frontier only includes a personal item free and it was cheaper to check a suitcase than to pay for the carry-on (??). I am working on becoming a more minimalist packer but I’m certainly not there yet, and I was struggling for this trip. It didn’t help that I packed everything in my soft-sided old backpack from school, which was technically over the size specifications for personal items but could squish down (and therefore things don’t pack quite as neatly into it). I thought about packing everything into my Osprey carry-on but that’s also two inches over the size limit and isn’t as squishable/looks bigger.

I was bound and determined to pack everything in my one bag, but alas, I ultimately succumbed to K’s offer to share her suitcase. The day before we left was stressful, the day we left more so, and I decided I wasn’t going to kill myself trying to make everything fit into my school backpack (and then stress about how to get everything back in for the way back. Honestly it’s amazing how much more flexibility you have when you can also take a purse/other bag on the plane). So I said fuck it, threw my clothing packing cube and my hiking boots into her suitcase, and paid K half of the cost.

Pines and fall foliage! I definitely needed my hiking boots for this


I spent $22.91 on food in the airport. This was for a breakfast sandwich (mmmm) before our flight from Denver to PDX Friday morning, and then dinner and a cup of chamomile tea in the Denver airport Monday night/Tuesday morning depending on what time zone you’re going with. Fun fact: Dunkin Donuts actually has decent chamomile tea!

Here’s the huge frugality fail: essentially all weekend we ate too much and drank too much (oh and also went on two hikes, which did not do much of anything to combat the excessive eating and drinking). We got a whirlwind tour of a bunch of breweries in Portland and ate like there was no tomorrow. At a couple of places we’d split flights between two or three of us (all the better to try more beers), and I convinced them to let me put that on my credit card and have them Venmo me what they owed so that I could rack up points.

Normally I’d suggest maybe not eating every meal out (so much food, so few veggies omg) especially because that’s expensive! But there were four of us, so honestly it was easier to go with the flow instead of being that person who’s mad about going to the famous brunch place for breakfast. And I wasn’t mad about having a tasty breakfast! I was there to see Portland and spend time with friends, not to make a big deal about spending more money than I normally would! But oof next time maybe some yogurt and granola one morning would be a better option, for both our wallets and our bodies. $142.97

This only burned off some of the beer we drank over the weekend


I spent $3 buying loose tea at a fancy tea place K and I went to two days in a row (and where I tried my first and second glasses of kombucha. I feel like that was a very Portland thing to do, although it would’ve been better if I’d been wearing a plaid flannel shirt and a beanie*). We were killing time before our flight to Denver (which got delayed because of snow. That’s okay, we went from a 5.5 hour layover in Denver to a 4 hour layover…) and started smelling all of the teas on offer, and I fell prey to a lychee-flavored black tea and bought some of it. Whatever, tea is amazing.

$4.29: earplugs in the airport. I carry a bag of assorted painkillers/vitamins/Tums/bandaids/etc around with me everywhere because I like to be prepared. I joke that I’m always the mom of the group, but honestly I’d rather be prepared because you never know when you or someone you’re with will get a headache, or maybe cramps out of the blue (and no one having Midol on them is THE WORST #ladyproblems). On the rare occasions I’m out for dinner, I wouldn’t remember to bring my vitamins with me, so I just carry around a few. Anyway, I somehow neglected to remove that bag from my purse and pack it, which was a pain. Both because it meant I didn’t have ibuprofen handy for the plane-induced dehydration and sleep deprivation headache and because I sleep with earplugs (world’s lightest sleeper? It’s me) and had thrown a pair in that bag.

I knew I needed to sleep as much as possible on the way back since jetlag and sleep deprivation were going to combine to make going work on Tuesday horrendous and I wanted to make it as not-horrendous as possible. It was a doomed mission from the start, but I was going to do my best, dammit. I broke down and decided to buy some earplugs from one of those travel convenience stores in a desperate attempt to get as much sleep as possible.

They were shit earplugs that didn’t do much to block out the incredibly loud announcements that seemed to happen every minute. I didn’t get much sleep in the airport or on the plane at all and yes, Tuesday was absolute hell. So that purchase wasn’t worth it, but oh well, I tried.

We had an amazing sunset our second night


The three of us sent $15 in gas money to T as a thank you for driving us around/letting us take over her apartment for the weekend.

Also we went out to breakfast Monday morning before our flights but she had class and couldn’t join. We ordered way too much good food and brought the leftovers home for her to eat. The “just got home, so hungry. Y’all rule *heart-eyes emojis*” text she sent us at 9 pm Portland time was excellent and I’m glad my extra French toast was well-appreciated!

$7.16 split Lyft ride from Dulles. Remember how I said Dulles is in the middle of fucking nowhere and a pain in the ass to get to? Yeah, same for when you land at 5 am and are trying to get home as quickly as possible for the longest nap possible before having to go to work. Neither of the bus/shuttle options were running when we left at 5:30, so a Lyft to the nearest metro station was the only option. Turned out K had some promo so splitting it was cheaper than taking the $7.50 airport express bus to the metro (#win).

Also I’m never again flying out of Dulles unless it is my ONLY option.

There was already some snow at the top of the mountain. Also Mt Hood is somewhere behind all those clouds

Things I did not pay for

No thanks to Frontier, I didn’t pay for my non-airport overnight accommodations in Denver on the way to Portland because I have an aunt and uncle who were generous enough to host K and me for the night. I also didn’t pay for either of the trips between the airport and their house (which were lengthy because the Denver airport is worse than Dulles in terms of being in the middle of fucking nowhere), which was unexpected since we’d talked about taking the light rail back to the airport in the morning to miss potential rush hour traffic.

(My uncle drove us that morning and my aunt had told me the night before that the car they bought to replace his old one, which was destroyed by an awful hailstorm a few months ago, is a stickshift and he really enjoys just sitting in the car and driving. So it wasn’t a totally altruistic offer to drive us to the airport!)

I have a great aunt and uncle who live in Portland who offered to give us rides to/and from PDX as well (bonus: emissions-free rides in their new Chevy Volt, charged by the solar panels they just installed on their house. My great uncle is such a tree-hugging hippie and I love it). They also took us out for lunch after picking us up from the airport and wouldn’t let us pay for it. Thank you, family! We were super busy all weekend so I unfortunately didn’t get to spend more time with them, which I would’ve liked to have done. Next trip to Portland.

K got quite a lot of exposure to my extended family on this trip haha. Good thing my family is awesome and I love them dearly!

I also did not spend any money on books. Normally this wouldn’t be notable, but T took us to the Powell’s Books flagship store (we had to wait 45 minutes to get a seat for dinner that night and Powell’s happened to be a block away from where we were eating) and it was heaven. I’m usually very good about not spending money on books/borrowing from the library instead, but oh wow have you seen that place? It’s huge! So many books for the buying! But I was good and just wrote down a pretty extensive list of titles I want to see if I can get from the library.

Some on-brand graffiti at the so-called “Witch’s Castle” in Forest Park

The damage

My total spent on the trip (airfare excluded) came to $220.33. When I first bought the tickets and made a Qapital savings goal for the trip, my original budget was $200. After I thought about it some more and realized that we’d likely be eating every meal out and going to a lot of breweries (hey, we did that!), I got scared that $200 wasn’t a big enough budget, so I changed my Tip Yourself goal to another $200 for the trip because why not. Since I only barely went over the original budget (yay!), I’ve got an extra $180 I saved but didn’t use. I’ll be throwing that at my credit card debt!

Sadly my vacation days are at a premium right now since I need to use them for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so this is likely my last non-family/holiday trip for a while. Hope you all enjoyed the pictures as much as I enjoyed being there to take them!

[*]The day we went hiking around Mount Hood, on the way back to the trailhead we saw a group of three people all wearing flannel plaid shirts (they must’ve been freezing because it was a pretty chilly and windy day) and beanies headed up the trail. All four of us struggled to hold our laughter in because they looked like the perfect portrayal of a stereotype, all three of them. You cannot make this shit up.

8 Replies to “So I went to Portland”

  1. Portland has been on my list for awhile but we haven’t made it happen yet. Sounds like you had a great trip though, and cheap!
    I would love to make the drive from here (Edmonton) out to the coast and then down to Portland. It’s supposed to be a beautiful road trip. And that would eliminate flight costs, but we would be paying for hotels/airbnb the whole way.

    1. I bet that would be an amazingly gorgeous drive! How long would it take you, and could you possibly camp/car camp to save on hotel costs? (Not that I’m one for sleeping in anything that’s not a real bed for more than a night or two in a row…)

  2. Your pictures are beautiful! I wish Portland wasn’t halfway around the world for me so I could visit it a bit more easily. I don’t think your spending is too bad. It’s great that you didn’t have to pay for accommodation, that saves a lot of money! I just came back from a weekend in Edinburgh and the hotel was half of the cost of our trip.

    1. It can’t happen all the time, but it is always nice when I’m going somewhere and can stay with people I know!

      Ahhh I was in Edinburgh for a few days way back in 2006 and loved it! Hope you enjoyed your trip.

  3. I’ve always wanted to visit the PNW (I think I was in Seattle for about three hours). It looks like you had such a lovely trip! In addition to Frontier, in the future you should also avoid Spirit airlines which has the gall to charge $10 to print a boarding pass at the airport.

    1. It was so beautiful and Seattle is definitely on my list!

      It’s really amazing what the budget airlines can get away with charging for EVERYTHING. I saw something about Frontier charging for changes made over the phone, but luckily they didn’t try to hit me with that one since the flight changes were their fault (I would’ve argued the hell out of that one if they had).

  4. Beautiful photos! I’m shocked that your trip was so cheap. My BF just came back from a 3-week trip in the Portland area, and his flight alone was $400 (through United). Luckily he had a travel voucher to pay for it, but it also sounds like you got the bottom of the barrel from Frontier. He loved his trip, though. His general feedback was “imagine Virginia, but everything is stretched up high to the sky”. I’m definitely going with him next time.
    It seems like I’m in the minority, but Dulles is actually my DC area airport of choice ?
    My parents live 20min away from that airport though. BWI is the airport I hate with a passion. The traffic alone getting there and back is INSANE.

    1. “Imagine Virginia, but everything is stretched up high to the sky” is the perfect way to describe it! I could not believe how tall the trees were and I’m glad my Portland friend pointed out Mt. Hood when we got glimpses of it through the clouds because I wouldn’t have been looking up high enough to see it otherwise.

      Haha I’d hate Dulles less if I knew someone who lived 20 minutes away from there! I’ve never flown out of BWI (it also never occurs to me to see if flights are that much cheaper. Reagan’s just the easy, close default for me) but I’m pretty sure if I ever do, I’ll be taking the train and hoping that’s at least slightly faster than sitting in traffic…

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