Budget Travel

Sedona On A Budget: It’s Possible!

Sedona Sunset

The lovely people at Visit Sedona are not going to like this post. Because here’s the thing: had I visited Sedona on a press trip, I’d be writing all about how amazing the helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon is and how epic the Pink Jeep tours are and giving advice about staying at Enchantment Resort and dining at…well, I’m assuming also at Enchantment Resort because I’d be staying there and I’d not have a car and that’s where I’d have to eat or I’d not eat at all. Also it would all be free because I’d be on a press trip.

But this trip wasn’t free. I planned and paid for it myself, and I’m pretty darn broke* right now. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me, and neither should you.

Thus, here’s the secret for how to enjoy Sedona on a budget: don’t do the expensive things.

There. Wasn’t that easy?

I didn’t take a helicopter tour.  I didn’t stay at a resort with a pool and a bar. I didn’t get a massage, or have my chakras cleansed (at least not by a professional chakra…cleanser…person?) I didn’t take a jeep tour or have a fancy sunset dinner somewhere with a great view and mediocre food.

*I’m not broke like car being repossessed broke. But we did overdraw our checking account last month because it’s the slow season at my work (I’m a consultant and thus do not make money when I do not work and I failed to save for slow season.) So that is how I define broke as a middle class definitely-privileged person.

So what did I do? I had a wonderful, peaceful, restorative trip for very little money.  Read on to find out exactly what that looked like.

Lodging

Because every press-trip-post begins with a detailed review of the amazing (sponsored) hotel, I’ll start with lodging as well. Ahem…

For my five-night stay in Sedona, I lived in someone’s converted two-car garage. But wait! Before you are like ‘yeah never mind’, hear me out. It was really nice. Like really, really nice. If I could rent this place by the month, I’d be moving to Sedona. The photo at the top of this section is the front garden area, which is the view from the double french doors of your own private entrance. And here’s the inside:

Sedona AirBnB

Sedona AirBnb

See? Isn’t that really, really nice? And as of the time of this writing, it was less than $80/night*. This is in a town where the cheapest motel room I could find was over $200/night.

This stay was my first AirBnB experience. And I’m not going to lie: I was nervous about it. I love privacy. I love privacy so much that I actually enjoy dull mid-level business class hotels (there’s a Courtyard Marriott in Sedona but I couldn’t afford it for this trip. Not even in points. Did I mention that Sedona is expensive?) But I had nothing to fear, because this studio was totally, 100% private. And lovely and comfortable and clean. And dare I say…it had a really good vibe. Ok there. I used the word vibe. I’m not sorry.

*I do not promise this specific rental will stay this inexpensive, because honestly, for the life of me I can’t figure out why she’s not charging more. But even if it’s not, and even if it isn’t available when you want to visit (you know, because I’m totally going back there as often as possible), do check out AirBnB. I’m a convert.

Total savings on lodging: I saved around $110/night compared to the cheapest motel (after you factor in AirBnB cleaning fee), or $550 over the course of a five-night stay.

Activities

Things to do Sedona

Every single person who heard I was going to Sedona was like ‘OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO GO ON THE PINK JEEP TOURS THEY ARE SO AMAZING OHMYGODDDDD’. They seriously said it like that. And then I went to the Pink Jeep Tours website, learned that a two-hour tour was over $100/per person (and could possibly contain a large family with multiple loud children) and was like ‘yeah no’. And then I asked on an online travel forum if I’d regret not-doing said Pink Jeep tour and was given this advice from a local Sedona resident:

If you don’t go on the Pink Jeep Tour, you will never know what you missed. 

That’s literally all he wrote. And I read it and was like hmmm. That sounds threatening. But then I thought about it the other way for a moment and I was like: he’s right. I will not know what I missed. So I won’t be sad, because I won’t know. So who cares?

I also did not rent a 4-wheeler or take a trail ride or go on a train (I believe there’s a train) or really do anything else which cost money. So what did I do? I hiked. A lot. And I window shopped. I took a day trip on my own to the Grand Canyon. And I spent my evenings in my inexpensive studio reading the Eckhart Tolle book my host left on the bookshelf. It was my own personal retreat. Here’s the cost breakdown:

Weekly Red Rocks Parking Pass: $15

Parking at one location which did not accept above pass: $10

Entrance to the Grand Canyon: $30

Gas to Grand Canyon and back: $15

Total: $70

A guided trip to the Grand Canyon from Sedona will run you anywhere from $80-$300 depending upon how you get there and what you do. I spent $70 for all activities over the course of five days, and in case I didn’t mention it, I had an amazing time. So can you. Here’s what my activities looked like:

Airport Mesa Loop Trail

Airport Mesa

Sedona hike Vista Vortex

Sedona hike

Please note: the above numbers are for one person. However, the parking pass, as well as additional parking fees cover up to FIVE people per vehicle. This is also the case for the entrance to the Grand Canyon. So even if you have three kids, you will still only spend $70.  

Total savings on activities: it’s hard to say. I would argue that one could easily spend $100/day on activities and tours in Sedona, so given my $70/5 days expenditure, I saved $430.

Food

During my five days in Sedona, I had three meals in restaurants, one of which I ate half of and took the other half to go. I spent a total of $75 on these three meals, which I think we can all agree is a lot, especially considering one meal was breakfast. The rest of the time I ate back in my studio, having done some brief shopping at the Whole Foods in West Sedona upon arrival. If you want to save even more money, you could certainly shop at the Safeway, also in West Sedona.

I mostly ate from the salad bar for dinners, but also bought things like salsa and chips (see photo of my lunch, above) and cheese and crackers, which worked for breakfasts and lunches, as well as a bag of banana chips for hiking snacks. Minus the beer and wine I also purchased, I spent around $45 on Whole Foods food for five days.

But wait, you are saying. Food is important to me and eating in almost every meal defeats the purpose of travel! I hear you. And I’d agree with you nine times out of ten. But that tenth time is in locations like Sedona. Locations which are expensive, touristy, and not really known for any specific cuisine. Because in places like this, you will pay A LOT for a mediocre meal, and A CRAP TON for a medium-good meal. And you will have to sell a kidney for a really great meal somewhere with big windows or a deck. Thus, I feel like I missed out on nothing by enjoying my Whole Foods falafel and raspberries.

Total savings on food: Over the course of five days, I ate 12 meals at ‘home’. Assuming an average of $25/meal at a restaurant, I saved $255. And that’s for one person. This is another added benefit of renting a space that has a kitchen or kitchenette.

Spa Time

Spa-ing is big business in Sedona, and it was another frequent suggestion I was given when I decided to visit. Spa it up, everyone said. And then I looked into the most-basic spa treatment options, all of which (unsurprisingly) cost approximately ‘a lot’. A 90-minute massage, sans oils or energy balancing or hot stones, will run you around $200.

I did not have $200. And anyway, my AirBnB room did not come with an attached spa, so the temptation was not there. Heck, my rental it didn’t even have a pool (the sacrifices I make for budget travel, I know.) So I improvised. May I present to you, my spa day in Sedona:

Oak Creek DIY spa day

Yup. That’s me, low-budget spa-ing it up waist deep in Oak Creek. It actually worked out really well. What you do is alternate between floating (or sitting) in the cold, clear waters of Oak Creek and then climbing out onto the rocks on the banks to bask in the sun. The combination of bobbing in cold water and lounging on hot stones was absolutely spa-like, and because I visited early in the day–and walked a bit from where all the kids were playing on the rocky beach–I had the whole area to myself for a good portion of my visit.

Oak Creek Spa Day how to: drive out Red Rock Loop Road and follow the signs to the Crescent Moon Picnic Site ($10 to park). Take the paved path toward the creek, then turn left as soon as you hear screaming children. Follow this sandy path until it opens up to a huge expanse of empty rock with Oak Creek burbling through it, spread out a towel, and enjoy.

Note: if you continue walking beyond this area, you will come to yet another beach called Buddha Beach, which is even more lovely. There’s a rock in the middle of the creek upon which you can lounge.

But Wait! There’s More!

Another spa-like activity in Sedona is even more groovy–the omnipresent spiritual (or pseudo-spiritual) offerings all around town. You can have your chakras cleansed, your aura photographed, and your chi balanced. I am not making any of this up. And none of that is cheap.

But if you are on a budget, you still have some excellent options in the realm of spirit. Namely, a visit to either The Chapel of the Holy Cross or a walk around the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park. I visited both because my spirit is more lacking than most.

Total savings on spa-ing: at least $190, assuming the least amount of money spent on spa-ing possible.

Shopping

Sedona shopping

I walked around Tlaquepaque Craft Village and looked at all the things I could not afford and appreciated the lovely architecture (pictured above). And then I purchased a plastic beaded necklace from a local woman at one of the side-of-the-road stands with hand painted signs reading PLEASE BUY DIRECT and felt very happy with my decision. I didn’t even haggle, because the price was so reasonable and plastic though it may be, it reminded me of a beaded necklace my father wore when I was a child (but if anyone wants to buy me a real navajo heishi necklace, I’d love one.)

Total savings on shopping: so much. Like hundreds to thousands of dollars*.

*This savings is not included in total savings for the trip, below, as it is not quantifiable.

Transportation

Sedona on a budgetOk. This is the one category where I can’t help you. Honestly, I was kind of hoping you’d give up and stop reading by now. But here you are.

Because here’s the thing: if you do not live within driving distance of Sedona, getting there will be a bit pricey. First, you need to get to Sedona. I flew into Phoenix*, which I have never found to be an inexpensive destination. Additionally, you need a car both to get to Sedona and to enjoy Sedona. I can’t help you save money on that. I can tell you that I booked my car rental though AAA with Hertz, and that did save me around $100. But it was still $220 for the five days. So I guess–be happy that you saved so much on lodging, food, and activities?

*More full disclosure: I was in the Phoenix area for a work-related conference, and thus my airfare was covered. Which is the only way I made this trip happen at this point in my life. But I will find a way to get back there. I’m kind of hoping our conference is in Scottsdale again next year. Hint hint work, if you are reading this.

And there you have it, folks! An annoyingly-detailed overview of how to enjoy one of the most beautiful–if expensive–destinations in the US. And because math is fun, here’s how much I saved over all…

Total Trip Savings: $1,425

Wait–WHAT? That can’t be right. Let me do the math over again, this time with a calculator.

Nope. That’s accurate. Wow. It’s a good thing I made this a budget trip, because I most definitely do not have an extra $1400 sitting around. And if you’re reading this, you may not either. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy Sedona.

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