Portland on a budget

I visited my brother in Portland last weekend, and as always, I had a fabulous time. Portland is a great spot for a compact-y vacation.

First of all, it’s a walkable city, and we took a walk every day with my brother’s dog Gracie (pictured here in her winter sweater). The best thing about Gracie (and she possesses many priceless qualities) is that she wakes up happy every day. As an optimist, she’s the perfect match for my self-admitted glass-half-empty brother. According to him, for Gracie, “A new day means a walk, and a cuddle, and maybe a biscuit (her favorite treat, which she occasionally receives at the drive-thru window at the bank).” She’s got a great attitude about the infinite possibilities of each new day.

In addition to a daily walk, sometimes to the dog park (!!), one day we took a longer hike that included a killer hill in Mt. Tabor. It’s a beautiful hike through the trees with a view of Mt. Hood. We were lucky to have a break in the rain, and it wasn’t even cold enough for a hat or mittens.

We also made a mandatory visit to possibly the best bookstore in the world: Powell’s Books, where I put $5.95 into the local economy by purchasing a used book in perfect condition that I’d wanted to read for quite some time. My brother used a $10 gift card to buy two used David Sedaris books.

After Powell’s, we met up with some friends at a brew pub and used a gift card that I’d given my brother for his birthday last year. The modest card bought us a beer sampler, sandwiches, onion rings, and another beer, because it was happy hour all day on Sunday. I’m not a big beer drinker, but Portland has some of the best tasting beer around with all its breweries.

The local Cineplex let us into a movie for free when I showed my Editor’s Guild union card, so we took advantage of it and went to another movie the next day. We saw True Grit and The Fighter, recent releases up for awards, not fare from last summer they’d be showing at the 2nd run theater. I have no idea why Portland would honor this card, but I love them for it. This perk is specific to me, but maybe you have some kind of discount card you can put to use on vacation too. I try to always remember to ask for a AAA discount when I’m traveling.

Instead of going out to eat, my brother and I cooked and had a party at his house for about 15 friends. He made a pork shoulder and I made Mexican crockpot chicken, and with some freshly made tortillas from the local grocery store, we set up a taco bar. Everyone brought beans or rice or guacamole, plus beer and even margaritas. It was delicious, and a lot less expensive than going out to dinner. Plus I got to visit with all of his friends which is harder to do in a restaurant. Don’t get me wrong: I love going out to eat, but this time my brother and I both really needed to be on a tight budget.

Another night we were invited to a friend’s house for drinks and were invited to stay for dinner, but my brother already had some lasagna thawing back at his house. I was just as happy to eat that because he’s a great cook. And to save money he’d made a pan of lasagna and had individually wrapped servings in the freezer, enough for several dinners.

I had just as much fun as I always do in Portland, because it’s beautiful and the people are friendly and there’s so much to do, and the total cost of my trip above the super-cheap plane ticket was half the the party food total ($30) and $5.95 for the book. In my book, that’s a great deal for a 4-day vacation.

What are your favorite activities on a budget vacation? Please leave your thoughts and suggestions in the Comments section.


    • Angela says

      Jenn- I make that all the time at home! It’s become one of our go-to favorites! It’s delicious, and takes only about 5 minutes. Plus for my husband and I, 2 large chicken breasts becomes at least 2, or even 3 meals. Thanks for the awesome recipe! And thanks for making a comment too!

    • Angela says

      Thanks Angela. I love David Sedaris too. He bought Barrel Fever and When You Are Engulfed in Flames. I have bought lots of his books, but I never seem to have them. I think they get loaned out. :)
      Thanks for making a comment!

      • Angela says

        That happens to me, too. I call it the book loan hemorrhage. I never care to keep track of to whom I loan the books. Oh well. It is just stuff.

        Me Talk Pretty One Day is one of my favorites. The Easter and French Christmas stories were the best.

        I’ve been reading your blog for a year. I love it.

        • Angela says

          Angela- My favorites are Holidays on Ice (especially the audio) and Me Talk Pretty One Day. That made me laugh until I was crying.

          I’m so glad you love my blog, and thanks for telling me! That is so nice to hear.

  1. says

    Hi Angela! I love this post. So true about a dog’s perspective – they do so enjoy life’s free and frugal delights: a leisurely stroll, the reassuring touch of another, a yummy treat (I’m sure they’re not worrying about those calories like humans are!) Our dog gets treats too from the bank teller.

    Portland sounds wonderful. We enjoying staying at reasonable B&Bs and get the most out of breakfast,, picnic for lunch from foods at a local market; and bring a reusable water bottle. We also get our travel guides from the library.

    • Angela says

      Hi Catherine! Yes, Portland really is wonderful. My husband and I also like B&Bs, especially when they have a good breakfast! And a picnic lunch is my favorite. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Katie says

    Aaahh! Gracie is so cute! She looks like she’s thinking “Why are you taking my picture? Can’t you see that I have my sweater on? Let’s go outside!”

    I had a friend here to visit this long weekend, and while we did splurge on a show down in New York and a hotel for the evening, we balanced that out with some other fun-but-free activities. We went walking in one of our nearby state parks, and then checked out the State Museum in Albany. I like being a tourist in my own town, doing the kinds of things that don’t usually occur to you to do when you live someplace.

    We also have a bunch of awesome local blogs which regularly feature things to do in the area. (http://alloveralbany.com/tags/stufftodo, http://www.nippertown.com/) The next time I’m visiting someplace, I’ll try looking for blogs like these focused on that area – a nice way to find events that are out-of-the-ordinary and often inexpensive or free!

    • Angela says

      Katie- Your long weekend sounds fantastic. One of my favorite things is to mix “city” and “country” in one vacation, or even one day. Going out to a show, and then walking in a park- it sounds perfect. And I agree that it’s fun to be a tourist in your own city, we did that recently when a friend came to visit. It’s a great excuse to get out and do those things you’ve been meaning to do.

      That’s a great idea about checking out blogs for that info. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 25 years (mostly), and I still hear about fun new things to do all the time!

      thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Deb says

    Hey, I’m a Portlander, and it IS great! In fact, it’s awesome!

    Thank you for giving Powell’s a shout out, it is a Portland treasure but unfortunately is suffering from the economy/online bookstore/ereader competition. Just laid off 31 people and may close a satellite store. So good of people to support Powell’s!

    Another great way to eat cheap in Portland is at the food carts. It has some of the best food carts in the world, and they are virtually everywhere. Happy hours are also a great deal as they are required to sale lots of cheap eats, and many places have really good food choices for just a few bucks.

    Lots of free natural attractions as well, and beautiful parks and green spaces that one can get to via public transport.

    Viva Portland! So glad you had a grea time!

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