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The upfront costs of vacations are predictable. It’s the little things—airport snacks, cocktails before dinner, tipping a tour guide—that can throw even the most well-planned vacation budget off track. In this new series, we’ll look at the spending patterns of real travelers in popular destinations, so you can estimate what you’ll actually spend. (Thanks for the inspiration, Refinery29!)
For this installment, a group of six friends head to Saratoga for an August weekend of horse racing, quality food, and fun nightlife in the summer capital of horse racing.
Accommodation: Hotels in Saratoga during racing season are ridiculously expensive, so we decided to opt for a three-bedroom house with VRBO.com instead. Most house rentals in town are three-night minimums and this was no different. Unfortunately our schedule only allowed us to do two nights, but we paid for three. Cost: $1,850 or $616.67 per couple
Transportation: Living in New York City doesn’t afford us the luxury to own a car, so we needed to find a way to get up to Saratoga. One couple was coming from Connecticut, so the other four of us were on our own. The train was an option, but renting a car gave us more flexibility and the drive was projected to be under three hours. Thankfully one of us had discounted rates available through work. Cost: $298.82 or $149.41 per couple
Size of Group: 6 (3 couples)Continue to 2 of 4 below.
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8:30 a.m. To make preparing for the racetrack on Saturday morning easy on ourselves, I stop by Tal Bagels in New York City to grab breakfast items for the group. A half-dozen bagels and some cream cheese would’ve done just fine, but I pick up a chocolate babka instead because as every Seinfeld fan knows, chocolate babka is the best. Cost: 14.69 or $4.90 per couple
3 p.m. All of us get out of work early on Summer Fridays, so we load up the rental car and head on our way. We stop about halfway for a bathroom break and some snacks because every road trip needs some snacks. Cost: 14.21 or $7.11 per couple
5 p.m. We arrive at the house and are happy with our accommodation choice — each bedroom has at least a queen size bed, so it works out well for each of the three couples. The house is conveniently located between Saratoga Race Course and downtown, which allows us to walk to either location in under 15 minutes.
At this point we make moves to stock the house up with the necessary food and beverage for the weekend plus whatever we'll need at the track tomorrow. Our first stop is the supermarket for cases of water, beer, cheese & crackers, pretzels, chips, some fruit, ice and other essentials. We clearly are not going to starve this weekend. We also didn’t pack any coolers, so we grab a couple disposable ones to keep everything cold. Cost: $139.92 or $46.44 per couple
5:15 p.m. Few things start a day at the track off better than a Bloody Mary, so we stop at the liquor store as well. We pick up the supplies for our morning cocktail as well as some sweet tea vodka to enjoy at the track. Glass bottles aren't allowed inside the track, so we'll transfer the goods into plastic bottles later. Cost: $50.32 or $16.77 per couple.
7:15 p.m. Now that we're fully prepared for the weekend, it's time to get the party started. Mexican Connection is a past favorite of our group as it offers an enjoyable casual atmosphere with above-average Mexican food and quality margaritas. We order some guacamole for the table, a few cocktails each, and some classic Mexican dishes. I’m a sucker for burritos, so I fill mine up with shredded pork. Cost: $225.06 or $75.02 per couple
9:15 p.m. The Horseshoe Inn is known for being one of Saratoga's two main after-track bars. It's not as classy as Siro’s, the other after-track bar, but it makes for a nice way to kick the weekend off. It’s busy without being too crowded and has some great people watching. The music alternates between cover bands and DJs and usually keeps going until around 11 p.m. We throw back a few drinks before turning in for the night in preparation for an early wake-up call. Cost: $54 per coupleContinue to 3 of 4 below.
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6 a.m. You might wonder why I woke up this early on a Saturday—the gates to Saratoga Race Course open at 7 a.m. and the crowd lines up well beforehand. At this time, the picnic tables around the track's grounds are nabbed by early birds on a first-come, first-serve basis—all you need to do is throw down a few blankets or sheets on your respective table(s). On most weekends, the line starts earlier than 6:00 a.m. and gets even crazier on Travers Stakes weekend! Three of us agree to the duty and arrive 6:20 a.m. to find the line about 200 people long. Once the gates open, it turns into a free-for-all and thankfully I still have some wheels. I secure a picnic table in our favorite spot to the left of the entrance near where the horses start trotting through the picnic area. Then we head back to the house and I try muster a little extra sleep. Cost: 1.5 hours of sleep
11 a.m. After enjoying an extra hour or so of sleep, we wake up to scarf down the aforementioned bagels and cream cheese before getting ready for the day. Horse racing at Saratoga isn’t like anywhere else — you need to dress the part with summer suits, party dresses, and fancy hats. After spending an hour getting ready and dressing to the nines, we’re finally ready to head over to the track, and we need to hurry: there’s an unwritten rule that you need to get to the race by the end of the second race or risk losing your picnic table. Racing usually starts around noon, and we make it there in good time. We head in through General Admission to enter the track (access to the Clubhouse area costs a few extra dollars). Cost: $36 or $12 per couple
2 p.m. We get to work on our Bloody Marys before analyzing the program to pick some winners. The good thing about setting up shop in the picnic area is that you have a place to hang out and relax in the sun, but you can also take the short five-minute walk to the grandstand area and enjoy the horse racing along the rail. We bounce back and forth for a couple hours and work up an appetite via a couple of games of corn hole. The fried chicken at Hattie’s is a local staple and luckily they have a location by the carousel. Cost: $20 per couple
5 p.m. The beauty of horse racing is you can bet as much or as little as you want—the minimum bet on each race is $2. Thankfully, the racing gods aren’t too hard on us and we're able to keep our shirts. Cost: $26 per couple
6 p.m. We pack up our stuff after the last race of the day and drop it off at the house. From there it's off to Siro’s, the legendary after-track bar and restaurant. The patio area is always bouncing with life as the cover band generally plays hits from the 80s and 90s. It’s slightly upscale, so we fit right in since we dressed up for the track. We hang out for a while and enjoy a few more drinks and some dancing. Cost: $54 per couple
8:30 p.m. At this point, it's time to think about the rest of our night. We want to relax at the house for a little bit before showering and heading out again, but we need some food as well. The natural resolution? Order some pizza. There’s no dominant location in town, but a little research leads us to Marino’s. Cost: $40.74 or $13.58 per couple
10 p.m. After freshening up, we stroll downtown for the evening. Taxis are sometimes a problem in Saratoga, so we're happy we can make the walk. There are many spots to bounce around on Caroline Street—we start at Dangos Fitzgerald, which has an outdoor patio with a cover band. We then wander up the street to Caroline St. Pub, where there's another cover band playing. We wrap things up on the patio at Gaffney’s, one of the liveliest places on Caroline Street. Cost: $72 per coupleContinue to 4 of 4 below.
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10:30 a.m. We sleep in after Saturday’s extremely fun, yet tiring day. We have to clean up the house before leaving, but that's pretty easy since we haven't spent much time in it. We thought ahead and made a reservation at Max London’s for brunch—we pass on cocktails because we had our share yesterday, but we indulge ourselves with plenty of good brunch options. The breakfast calzone is always my favorite, but my fiancée’s French toast is pretty impressive too. Cost: $137.82 or $45.94 per couple
2:30 p.m. We could’ve gone back to the track for a few more races, but we decide to hit the road in case there's any Sunday traffic. It’s hard to pass through a rest stop without treating ourselves—we decide to finish strong with some ice cream. It's still the weekend, after all. Cost: $7.21 per couple
Grand Total: $1214.03 per couple