Mini-Vacation Financials: Madison, WI for a Wedding

We traveled to Madison, WI from July 4 to July 7 for a wedding and to see some friends.  This trip was very different from the ones we usually take (like our recent trip to Boston) and really made me appreciate both styles of travel.  I really liked downtown Madison, probably mostly because it’s summer – great weather and not so many college kids!


Usually when we travel for events like weddings we couch-surf and try to minimize our cash expenditures as much as possible.  We love to stay with friends and family because that means we get more time to see them, but it’s also a bit exhausting to be “on” nearly all the time and to try to be a good guest.  We also generally rely on local friends for driving transportation, which is great for us but means there is a lot of coordination and planning and dependence.  Our hosts often spot us our treat us to meals as well, which saves us a lot of money on food.


This time around we had a rental car, stayed in a hotel, and went out for every meal.  We slept as late as we wanted and basically went wherever we wanted to whenever.  It was awesome to have so much freedom to be spontaneous!  But because we weren’t pushing ourselves, we didn’t do as much during this trip as we might have if we were staying with friends.


The price is a big, big difference, though.  We spent a lot more money on this trip than a typical one, even though Madison isn’t an expensive place to visit.  Transportation was the huge category, as you’ll see.  Paying for all of the aspects of the trip made us enormously appreciative of the ways our friends and family often help us eliminate expenses, sometimes at cost to themselves.  So thank you, everyone!




Transportation ($989.85)


This was by far the most expensive category.  Not only did we fly but our rental car was crazy expensive.




We used our normal methods for buying flights, but we waited a bit longer than usual and only booked about 5 weeks in advance.  We were having trouble deciding whether to fly directly to Madison or to go to another somewhat nearby airport and drive in.  We ultimately decided to fly to Chicago and rent a car to drive to Madison because: 1) there were a lot more flight options to get to Chicago and the flights to Madison weren’t at very convenient times and 2) we thought we could use our few hours passing through Chicago to see some friends.




We also booked the rental car through (affiliate link – thanks for using!) and we got the cheapest car we could.  We noticed, though, that booking it at Midway was about $5-10/day more expensive than at O’Hare!  This was the biggest surprise expense.


Since we drove up from Chicago we also paid for gas and tolls, plus we paid for parking at RDU and several times in Madison.


Lodging ($149.16)


Kyle and I booked our hotel through – we didn’t bid but we got one of their promotional deals.  We normally would go for a cheap motel like Motel 6, but because Madison is so inexpensive we decided to splurge for a three-star hotel.  We thought it would be awesome to have an exercise room and pool available to us – but of course we didn’t use them even once!  We definitely could have gotten by with a smaller/cheaper room but it wasn’t very much money overall.


The one little downside here was that we didn’t realize until we arrived that we hadn’t specified what size bed we wanted, and our room had two full beds instead of one queen or king as we usually get.


me: It won’t be too bad to share a full…

Kyle: I get my own bed!


hotel beds




We spent no money on entertainment and yet had a wonderful time!  Of course we had wedding activities and seeing friends, which took up a good chunk of time, but we also went to the zoo, the Terrace (twice), the State Capitol, and the farmer’s market and we watched some fireworks for the 4th.  That’s quite a lot, actually!


madison entertainment collage


Food ($130.24)


For eating out for every meal, we actually didn’t spend as much on food as I expected, probably because we only ate about twice per day (plus snacks for Kyle).



breakfast: at home, before our flight

lunch: from a co-op (bought by our friend)

snack: brats, ice cream

dinner: at an Afghan restaurant with our friend



brunch: Chinese take-out in our hotel room while watching Wimbledon :)!!!!!

dinner: wedding event

dessert: gelato


breakfast in bed



brunch: from the farmer’s market with vouchers given to us by the bride and groom

dinner: wedding


farmer's market



brunch: at a restaurant that overlooked an airport

snack: hot chocolate (bought by our friend)

dinner: pizza with Cash Rebel




That’s right!  We met up with Ross from Cash Rebel in Chicago.  We actually talked about normal-people stuff for almost the whole meal, not so much PF or blogging.  Surprisingly, Kyle and Ross did most of the talking!  It was wonderful to meet him after being friends on the internet for many months.  I think it’s very different meeting in person than just getting to know someone online.  If any local people or visiting bloggers want to meet us we are certainly open to it!


Our total expenditure on this trip was $1,269.25.  I can’t believe we spent 80% just on transportation!  We actually didn’t budget this trip at all (gasp!) so we didn’t have a good idea when we RSVP’d of how much we would spend.  We basically had the big expenses we paid in advance (flights, hotel, rental car) and then the small discretionary stuff once we got there (car incidentals, food).  We didn’t try to keep our spending down but just naturally didn’t do anything extravagant.


madison costs


Do you prefer to stay with family/friends or in a hotel when you travel?  Have you ever chosen to fly to a major city and drive to your destination to make a compound trip?  Have you met other bloggers?


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39 Responses to "Mini-Vacation Financials: Madison, WI for a Wedding"

  1. Lucas says:

    We are going to be in WI in August as well. My wifes family live in Milwaukee and Madison so we are there about once a year. We generally stay with family on trips, both to save money but also just to spend more time with them. And yes I do understand it is tiring to be “on” all the time. I find this is less so with family then with friends though.

    We are actually considering renting a car just to drive out there this summer. Plane tickets would make sence if it was just the 2 of us, but with 5 of us now needing tickets driving makes more sence. But if i look at the cost of putting 2500 miles (driving to Saint Louis then WI, then back to DC) on my car (I estimate ~$0.30 a mile = $750), it is very or worse then renting ($300 rental + $400 gas = $700). Got to look into this one a bit more though 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      I agree staying with family is a bit easier than staying with friends. My parents are such servants (my dad’s love language is acts of service) that they do a lot for and give a lot to us while we’re there. But staying with friends is more fun. 🙂

      Driving is definitely worth considering though it would be a long trip! We’ve never considered renting a car for a road trip, though.

  2. CashRebel says:

    Wow, they really get you on transportation. Have you done the math on what it would have cost in time/money to drive. Probably not doable, but you never know.

    It was great to meet you guys in real life. I’ll definitely let you know next time life brings be down to NC.
    CashRebel recently posted..How Much Does It Cost To Hike The Appalachian Trail: Part II

    1. Emily says:

      It would have been a very different trip if we drove – certainly a lot cheaper. We wouldn’t have taken extra off work so we would only have been in Madison on Friday and Saturday – because my friend had Thursday off work we wouldn’t have been able to see her. It would have been much less relaxing. Basically, since we had the money in our travel account we were OK with flying. Often when we do a long-distance drive, like when we went to Chicago last year, it’s because we simply don’t have the cash to fly so it’s driving or nothing. In this case we had a choice.

      I don’t really want to go back and second-guess ourselves on the choice of airport and rental car, but it may have been a better idea to pay more for the flight to Madison (even at a worse time) and rent a car there, or stay right downtown and get by without one. But if we had done that we wouldn’t have gotten to see YOU and our other Chicago friends so I’ve got to say it’s worth it!

  3. Matt Becker says:

    We travel to Pensacola pretty regularly to see my wife’s family and the plane tickets definitely add up. Luckily we can stay with them when we’re there and save a lot in terms of lodging. We’ll see how that works when our family expands. Very cool that you met up with Ross. It’s shocking to hear that there are actually real people behind these blogs, haha!
    Matt Becker recently posted..A Money Lesson For Me and My Niece

    1. Emily says:

      How often do you make that trip? We fly to see Kyle’s parents (and do other things in that area) 2x/year on average or maybe a bit more. It is crazy expensive but like you said at least we don’t have to pay for lodging.

      I think it helps a lot when bloggers use pictures of their faces like you do!

      1. Matt Becker says:

        We probably go 4-5 times per year. Occasionally it’s just my wife though. It’s a big expense but worth it for us. And it’s something we’ll have to live with forever because my parents are here in Boston and aren’t moving, so no matter where we are we’ll have to travel.
        Matt Becker recently posted..A Money Lesson For Me and My Niece

        1. Emily says:

          Haha I don’t know if we even see my parents 5x/year and they only live a 4-hr drive away!! I may be exaggerating but not much. Does either set of parents ever travel to you?

  4. Which we prefer depends on where we’re going. Since we’re a family of four, couch-surfing isn’t really an option, but most of our visits are to family with spare-rooms. We combine a lot of travel with conferences, and for those the hotel room is either paid or we only have to spend a little extra to pay for the rest of the family.

    Lots of places we go to don’t have airports, so we frequently fly into a major city and then drive to the destination.

    We’ve met up with Wandering Scientist, but no other bloggers.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Ask the grumpies: Present for a new TT prof?

    1. Emily says:

      Oh man, spare rooms… I can’t wait until we get to that life stage! Only our parents and a small number of friends have them. 🙂 I really should apply to more conferences to get the extra travel benefits. 🙂 I know it’s important but I also feel like I just want to FOCUS on work.

      Have you not met up with bloggers because you’re more protective of your identities, or just aren’t much interested?

      1. Where would we meet up with bloggers? We live in the middle of nowhere!
        nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Facts, opinions, empirical questions

        1. Emily says:

          Well I don’t know where you are so I don’t know who would be near you! 🙂 But I’m not one to talk because I’ve only met 1 local blogger of several potentials. Have you looked at this map?

          1. That’s a cool map. Our two middle of nowheres are not represented. Nobody on it is near us. I could drive two hours to hit a person (but won’t), but #2 would have to drive forever.
            nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Ask the grumpies: Present for a new TT prof?

  5. Mrs PoP says:

    I have to ask – what is that picture above the heading “Transportation” of? I zoomed in and am just not getting it! =).

    Glad you guys had a great time, and that you were able to squeeze in a get together with Ross! Too cool. =). I’m really looking forward to putting more faces with Internet persona at fin con this fall! =)
    Mrs PoP recently posted..Looking For A Home? Don’t Ignore Small Houses!

    1. Emily says:

      It’s a table centerpiece at the wedding! A Chinese lantern.

      Are you going to FinCon?

      1. We are planning on going to FinCon this year – we have never been before, so hope it’ll be neat!
        Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..Looking For A Home? Don’t Ignore Small Houses!

        1. Emily says:

          Have a good time! I didn’t want to go this year but maybe next. I’d like to be able to cover the cost of the trip and our earnings are nowhere near that!

      2. That thing looks cute and creative. I’ve seen some Chinese lanterns before but they were in different colors. Love them.
        Marissa @ Thirty Six Months recently posted..Think Like a RockStar

        1. Emily says:

          I don’t think they were homemade or anything but they were a very nice touch!

  6. Leigh says:

    Wow, I’m totally jealous that you guys met up with Cash Rebel!!

    I was also traveling for a friend’s wedding July 4-7. I did the complete opposite trip that you guys did. I’ll probably write a post about it at some point, once I’ve done the final tally of my expenses. It looks like I spent just under $430 including transportation, which I am SO stoked about!

    I way prefer to stay with family/friends when traveling. You get so much quality time with them. The friend I stayed with the first two nights is the person who got the most one on one time with me the whole trip since it was pretty whirlwind. I was planning on meeting up with another blogger, but the logistics just didn’t work out with how short my trip was. I guess I sort of flew into a major city and drove to my destination, but it was < 100 miles away.
    Leigh recently posted..Reflections on Home Ownership: 12 Months In

    1. Emily says:

      Leeeeeeigh shouldn’t you be jealous that CR got to meet us? 🙂 You and I have known one another way longer than he’s been on the scene! 😉

      That’s cool that you were able to make an inexpensive trip in which you got a lot of time with your friend. I really love that quality time like you mentioned. It’s too bad you weren’t able to meet up with that blogger.

      1. Leigh says:

        Well you guys were the ones traveling. If Cash Rebel had gone to your city and met up with you guys, I would have said to him “I’m totally jealous that you met up with Emily and Kyle!”

        So I’m jealous that Cash Rebel got to _meet_ you guys, but I’m jealous that you guys _met up_ with Cash Rebel. I like words 🙂
        Leigh recently posted..Reflections on Home Ownership: 12 Months In

        1. Emily says:

          Hahah OK I rescind my objection!

  7. That’s pretty cool that you guys got to meet up. Sounds like a great trip.

    I know what you mean about having to be “on” when you stay with friends, and I think it’s true for them, too. I generally feel a few days is fine but when it gets longer than that, I welcome a change of scenery (or just another friend’s guest bedroom).
    Done by Forty recently posted..Why We…Take Navy Showers

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, it’s true for the host but I think more so for the guest. Isn’t the adage “fish and visitors begin to smell after 3 days”? I think it’s maybe 2 days for us in either position.

  8. SarahN says:

    Definitely stay with people when I travel internationally (US, Canada mainly, not really stayed with many people when I’ve been in Europe). When I travel for weddings (which has only started in the last year) I do stay in hotels, just to keep the pressure off. If I knew someone else at the destination well enough I would try to stay with them, but it’s hard with weddings when you might get home late and all that.

    I’ve never rented a car, always feel like there’ll be additional expenses to pay that I don’t expect. And I wasn’t a hotel girl til it was me + someone, prior to that, I was happy in hostels! Actually just this last weekend I was away (one night) for a wedding. It was $181 for accom and $83 for petrol, $15 for coffees, and everything else was self catered – I blogged about my mammoth food haul!
    SarahN recently posted..Random Round Up

    1. Emily says:

      I think with wedding travel, the night after the event we always stay with family or another guest of the wedding. It is hard to predict what time you’ll be back!

      Kyle and I didn’t realize that hostels existed in the US until after we were married; we have stayed in a few but always in a private room, which makes them less expensive than hotels but certainly nowhere near the group room rate.

      I hope you had a wonderful time at the wedding last weekend!

  9. I’m actually going to be writing about it next week, but we are saving about $150 by flying into a smaller airport in Delaware instead of the major hub in Philadelphia for our upcoming trip. Rental car was in the budget anyway, so an extra half hour of driving isn’t a big deal.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Beware the Cone Zone

    1. Emily says:

      We had a trip last fall that worked out that way, too… We flew into an airport about 1 hour away from our final destination and it was much cheaper than the airport that was right in the same city. That rental car was well worth it! I like that most search engines can include nearby airports, but I wish it were even more inclusive as I’d be open to driving on many trips like you did.

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  13. I always budget my trip ’cause I want to make sure I am not spending too much. But would love to try to not budget one next time – looks like it’s fun.

    1. Emily says:

      I think part of the reason this worked was that so much of the expense of the trip was wrapped up in stuff we booked ahead of time/fixed expenses. I think it would be a very different experience to go into a trip having spent no money up front and having no budget!

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