When Did My Friends Get So Expensive?

Random Rants

girls drinking and eating at an expensive restaurant

Back in May, as part of our road trip around the western U.S., Daniel and I spent five nights in San Francisco visiting friends and exploring the city. Many of our best friends live in the Bay Area, and we were excited to catch up with them in person.

Two of our good friends are a couple – one a director for a prominent tech company, the other an account manager for a financial services firm – and I suggested that we meet up one night.

“Dinner somewhere?” our friend texted.

“Definitely!” I replied. “We’re unemployed, so something on the more affordable side would be preferred.”

“How about this place? Very good, moderate price.”

“Sounds great,” I replied, not having looked up the restaurant.

From the back seat of our UberPool toward the Financial District, I searched for the menu on the restaurant’s web site.

“Oh, jeez,” I told Daniel, “this place has a Michelin star!”

We had a lovely dinner with our friends. It was fun to see them, and it was great to reminisce and catch up. The restaurant’s rabbit curry ($38) was delicious – and perhaps large enough to satisfy the appetite of a three-year-old. I resisted ordering more than one beer at the $9 per bottle price tag. Ninety minutes and two hundred dollars later, we hugged our friends and said farewell.

“Welp, that was an interesting way to blow a big chunk of our monthly travel budget!” Daniel laughed.

One of our main goals for traveling this year has been more time with our friends and family. Over the past few months, we’ve spent time with dozens of people we wouldn’t normally see, and it’s been one of the most satisfying parts of our experience. We wouldn’t trade it for anything.

But, man, when did time with my friends get so expensive? “Socializing” might be our single largest category of travel spending – maybe even larger than “Places to Sleep.”

In some cases, we’ve expected it. There are certain people in our lives who have very different spending habits from ours. When we’re with them, we’re used to spending more money or suggesting alternative activities. For my cousin and her partner in Los Angeles, for example, walking to the wine shop down the street and spending $100 on a couple bottles is a completely normal weekly affair. In our experience, friends like these still tend to be receptive to a simple reminder that we’re not working right now and would prefer to keep things affordable.

But there’s been a more surprising culprit, too. When traveling with friends and family – even the more frugal types – there’s a huge difference in the way we’re approaching our travels:

They’re on vacation. We’re not.

The mindset of full-time travel is quite different from that of a week’s holiday. We’re far from ultra-frugal, but we’re also not staying in fancy hotels or resorts. We’re not dining at all the finest restaurants. There will be no spa visits or massages. We might not see every single museum or roadside attraction along our route, and that’s fine.

We can’t afford to treat every day like a special occasion.

Even if we could, we wouldn’t want to. “Specialness” wears out pretty quickly when it’s an everyday experience.

Take our week in Utah with Daniel’s parents, for example. For them, it was a rare week away from work, and each night was cause for a celebratory dinner with $25 entrees and a bottle of wine. For us, it was just one of many nice days exploring our National Parks. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that we didn’t greatly enjoy their company. We just can’t afford to treat every day like a special occasion.

More recently, we met my college friends in Istanbul. For them, it was their only real vacation of the year, warranting the occasional upscale hotel, restaurants with sunset views, and an $80 two-hour boat cruise along the Bosphorus. Nothing crazy, but many more splurges than during a typical week at home. For us, it was just one week of many in a beautiful new city. We loved their company, but we can’t treat every day like a special occasion.

We’ve also been traveling at a blistering pace, moving rapidly from site to site to check as many boxes as possible during our friends’ brief holidays. It’s been fun and exciting, but frankly, I’m exhausted.

Our last travel companion flew home from Budapest this morning, so we’re finally traveling solo again. With the exception of a happenstance meet-up with Daniel’s extended family in Slovenia, it will be just us for the next two months – by far our longest period of travel without friends and family in tow. My hope is that we’ll be able to slow down our travels significantly – and more carefully manage our full-time travel spending without the pressure of the vacation mindset.

Are we alone in struggling with frugality when with friends and family, or do you have similar experiences? We’re all ears for your advice.