How to plan a cheap trip to Lake Tahoe if you’re broke

How to plan a cheap trip to Lake Tahoe if you’re broke

Back in March I was itching to go somewhere that wasn’t here but would still be different enough of a place to be an experience. Problem was: I also didn’t want to spend too much money (raise your hand if you’re a cheapskate like me). So I settled on the idea of traveling somewhere that was in the States but still in the West Coast so that transportation wouldn’t be too pricey. After countless google searches on “places to go for cheap” plus ten other variations of that search phrase, I asked two of my friends about joining me on this adventure with Andrew and I to Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe fit all of the above criteria, and best of all, it ended up costing me about $250! Here’s how our budget looked like while taking into account all the main factors in planning a trip lasting from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.

Transportation

Before my friend and her boyfriend entered the picture, Andrew and I were considering taking one of those coach shuttle buses that take a group of skiers to the ski resorts. Luckily my friend’s boyfriend offered to drive, so all we had to worry about was securing a rental car and gas.

The rental car service we used was from Hertz because my friend had a discount code from her university. If you’re currently in college or recently graduated, look into whether or not your school has some kind of existing partnership with a rental car service. Usually they offer discounts to the school’s students. Or you can look for discount codes online or check if they have any special promotions for first time users. Ya never know.

At first we were going to go with a good old compact car of some sort. But a few of my coworkers who went to Tahoe before had mentioned that they had to bring snow chains for their tires since it was snowing heavily. If you didn’t have snow chains on, you would get stopped at checkpoints and wouldn’t be allowed to drive any further. Plus it could lead to accidents on the road.

We didn’t want to invest in a couple of snow chains for a one-time trip because they costed $60-$100, but we also didn’t want to risk our safety either. After digging around a little more, we found out that Lake Tahoe allows vehicles to pass through any checkpoints so long as your vehicle is a four wheel drive. If you’re thinking: “what the hell is a four wheel drive”, well that makes two of us.

According to the internet, a four wheel drive has a transmission system which provides power directly to all four wheels of a vehicle. Essentially it allows you to gain more traction on the road, which prevents your car from slipping or sliding around on the icy road.

At this point of the year when we were considering to go, it wasn’t snowing as heavily anymore, so to compromise we just upgraded our rental car to a four-wheel drive (basically any Ford or SUV really) for a couple extra dollars. Our total car rental cost was $212. Gas ended up costing a total of $57.

Lodging

Initially we looked at booking Airbnbs to spend the nights but we waited a little too long and all the Airbnbs we were looking at were either booked already, or were way too out of our price range (think $150+ a night). There also just aren’t that many cheap Airbnbs in Lake Tahoe — they get filled FAST.

We turned to motels and inns in the area and it turns out a lot of them are actually cheaper than the Airbnbs! If you don’t mind missing out on the typical sipping on hot cocoa by the fireplace aesthetic, then I’d highly recommend looking into these as a cheap alternative.

We ended up booking a room at Motel 6 since they seemed to have one of the cheapest rates at $88/night (this was back in March, 2019 for reference). My total cost after taxes and fees for two nights was $219. We reserved a room with two double beds to fit one couple per bed. They’re fine for just a place to sleep. Plus, you’ll be out most of the day exploring Lake Tahoe!

The only con is that they don’t provide shampoo, body wash, and conditioner so make sure to bring your own travel bottles.

Activities

For the weekend at Lake Tahoe, our main activities were skiing (of course lol because otherwise did you even go to Tahoe). We bought our ski lift ticket at a ski resort called Sierra at Tahoe. If you buy your tickets ahead of time online, I believe it’s a little cheaper than purchasing them at the entrance. It’s also cheaper if you classify as a “Young Adult” aka ages 13-22 for $73, which is about a $10 difference with the regular “Adult” ticket fare. I barely made the cut off at 22. I guess being 22 has its perks.

To be honest, I actually didn’t enjoy skiing very much. I didn’t like how tightly the shoes strapped to my ankles and after about the 50th time falling, I was very much over it haha. But it did have its fun moments when I whizzed down the slopes at a speed of 60 miles per hour (out of my control admittedly).

We went to Snowshoe Thompson’s Ski and Snowboard Rentals for the ski gear. It has one of the cheapest equipment rentals in town and the staff there are extremely nice. I was struggling to put on my ski boots for me and one of the staff helped me put mine on without making me feel embarrassed. Super sweet guy. We rented the ski package with the ski boots (only $25), and a helmet (only $5). They also had snowboards for rent along with snow/water-proof clothing, boots, and souvenirs. Not to mention they have the cutest storefront ever. You know when you’ve arrived because the outside of the store is decorated with wooden carvings of standing bears greeting you. Makes for a cute photo op too.

What I really loved though was sledding/tubing. It was SO FREAKING FUN. We went tubing the next day after renting a two-seater tube from the same rental store for only $8. It’s around the same price to buy it on Amazon or a retail store, so if you plan ahead, I’d just buy it so you can reuse it if you plan to visit Lake Tahoe or similar snowy places for a trip again.

We found a really tall snowy hill that some families were tubing at and had a blast competing against each other. We did this for a good half hour before we got kicked off the hill by the popo. Apparently we were on private property. Oops.

We tried finding other public places where we could go to tube again, but couldn’t find anything. We liked sledding so much, we drove into Nevada to a nearby park that locals said had hills that kids could go sledding on (lol we’re kids now, yes).

If you don’t want your sledding experience to be disrupted like ours, I’d recommend buying a ticket to access a sledding hill. Usually ski resorts have smaller hills nearby reserved just for sledders/tubers. From what I remember seeing online, these tickets were around $15-20.

Food

Since eating out every single meal can add up real quick, we tried to save money in this aspect by buying one of our lunches and breakfasts from a nearby grocery store. We mainly bought fruits, bread, and sandwich goods, which totaled to about $5 for both the lunch and breakfast together, which otherwise would’ve been at least $15 each normally if we had eaten out.

Our trip lasted from Friday night to Sunday afternoon. We ate out Friday night at Habit for some cheap burgers; on Saturday we had had fruits and protein bars for breakfast, a homemade sandwich for lunch, and dinner out; and Sunday we had brunch out. I did bring a whole bag of snacks from home though to munch on during the ride there and back so make sure to bring some if you’re a snackish person like moi.

All in all it was a wonderful trip. Throughout the whole weekend we had plenty of snowball fights and made a snowman (or really, a snowwoman). It was the perfect amount of time for a sweet and simple getaway. It was everything I pictured in my snow-adventure fantasies and I didn’t have to break the bank for it.

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