How to budget a Miami vacation & not feel like a loser

betty ming liu Travel 8 Comments

My daughter and I recently discovered Miami and can’t wait to go back. This crazy, seaside metropolis delivered excellent surf, shopping and dining on a budget. The trip left us rich in memories from our first mother-daughter vacation in three years.

That’s right. Three. Whole. Years. Between her doing her thing and me doing mine, our priorities and schedules just didn’t match up.

But this past January, the cold and nasty winter finally wore us down. By the middle of the month, we looked at each other and said, we gotta get outta here. That’s when we took off for Miami.

Ahhh. We spent five days and four nights walking around the beach like it was summer. Total price tag per person: $1,000. For that amount, we covered our comfortable JetBlue flight, Hertz rental car and Airbnb lodgings, fabulous meals and three shopping bags filled with retail therapy purchases.

By the way, I’m sure  we could’ve done this trip for $650 per person or less — if we went for a cheap flight and cheap food. But we decided to splurge, a little!

Miami Beach scenes

Miami has everything from ridiculous luxury to grit and sleaze. The Magic City, aka the Repo Riviera, is also rather nuts. I mean, really. It’s one thing to post a surfside sign warning people not to booze or bring their cars. But in Miami Beach, people must be told not to pack their guns. Really?

No guns at the beach

Okay. So this is how we managed a relatively affordable mini-vacation:

Step 1. Cheap airfare is a must. Flying to Florida was our biggest expense. It ate up nearly 25 percent of our budget. Spirit Airlines had the best prices. But the Yelp.com user reviews scared me to death (“worst airline ever,” uncomfy,” “they charge extra for everything.”) Instead, we opted for JetBlue out of LaGuardia to Fort Lauderdale, which was so civilized and pleasant. That’s another tip: Save money by flying to a city outside of Miami proper. Roundtrip per person: $277.98.

Step 2. Shop for a good deal on a rental car. Rental rates are tricky and require patient comparison shopping. The best deal on this trip was Hertz: $307.09. We also were delighted by an unexpected upgrade upon check-in. Having wheels set us free to roam throughout the Miami area. No need for taxis or tour buses.

Step 3. Airbnb is better than a hotel. For $392, we stayed four nights in North Miami — an unbeatable $98 a night! We were in a safe residential neighborhood with easy street parking, located two blocks from the beach. Our clean second floor studio apartment had one full bed and one twin bed, a kitchenette and great wifi. The building was somewhat rundown, which was mildly depressing. But the thoughtful host tried hard, leaving us snacks and toiletries. Yes, I would stay here again. If I had to.

budget700Step 4. Shop smart!  Miami Beach offers retail fun at every price point. My daughter and I love Goodwill stores. That’s where we found the $5 blouses pictured in the photo above. Our total haul: $44.94, which included one nearly-new handbag. With 2,900 stores nationwide, we shop Goodwill where ever we travel. Goodwill resells donated items and uses the money to help millions of needy folks with work and educational programs.

We also found a fantastic thrift shop. Lotus House is on the edge of a gentrifying industrial block (217 NW 15th St.) Sales benefit the Lotus House Women’s Shelter. The clothes were funky, fabulous and a bit pricier; I splurged on a $15 shirt and my daughter snapped up a few dresses in the $10-$20 range.

Step 5. Get dining ideas from Yelp.com. With the Yelp app installed on my smartphone, I could stand anywhere and instantly pull up a list of well-rated dining spots nearby and the occasional dining deal. For instance, George’s Italian Restaurant got us in the door by offering Yelpers a discount on the first meal. But we went back and spent $83.24 on a dinner because the food was so good.

Other favorite spots included La Sandwicherie on South Beach, which has the best grilled croissant and regular grilled cheese sandwiches. Another find was Blue Collar Restaurant, an artisanal hipster dive in Lemon City. For $64.92, we enjoyed a brunch  that won us over with its take on two Southern classics: Key Lime pie and green fried tomatoes.

And we adored Chef Creole, a local chain of five restaurants. Prices are great. For $30, we enjoyed a whole snapper with rice and beans, plus a shrimp dish.

For more on Miami dining, check out my Yelp reviews. A word of warning, though. Remember that Miami is a state of mind — that can be bizarre. Some places that local Yelpers raved about disappointed us. Athens Juice Bar was an overprice ripoff. We also couldn’t figure out why Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine merited four stars.

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Step 6. Some of the best sightseeing is free. Miami has tremendous diversity. The art scene is unbelievable. Check out Wynwood Walls, a warehouse district turned grafitti  art scene with galleries and outdoor murals galore.

Wynwood

If you want to window shop and people watch in the world of the .1 percenters, visit Miami’s Design District. All the top designer stores are there — Gucci, Louis Vuitton, etc. Plus an endless parade of pricey art galleries. There’s also street valet parking.

But to make new friends, go to The Little Haiti Cultural Complex.  There are monthly free music concerts, a gift shop filled with reasonably-priced crafts, art exhibitions and more. The organization’s mission is to showcase South Florida’s Afro-Caribbean culture in a renovated, multi-million complex.

I could go on forever but you get the idea. Viva Miami, and mother-daughter vacations!

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Comments 8

  1. Hola, Betty!
    These pics and details are treasures!
    I’m so glad that you and your daughter had a great time and shared the debts with us! I have family in Miami that I really miss and your info is a relief! We can spend time with loved ones w/o spending too much money. Your spending tips are cool and smart. I shared your Paris tips years ago with friends who were traveling there. This post is just for me…to plan some R&R time in Miami in the future, and consider smarter options for domestic and international travel.

    The grilled cheese sandwiches and food from Cafe Creole:)

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      Author

      Skye, I thought of you while doing this post. Didn’t know you had family there. But figured you’d vibe with the Caribe angle. I really enjoyed Miami. Hope you get to go there soon.

  2. I just read your Yelp reviews…mmm:)
    The cole slaw you had is called ”pickliz” (I love it!) and the special order drink you were curious about is called “cremas” or “kremas.” Many Haitian families insist on having it for holidays, especially in the winter.

    Sorry the Las Vegas restaurant’s Cuban food wasn’t as appetizing:(
    Yikes!

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      Author

      Yes, that sounds exactly like what people were calling it. I couldn’t figure out the spelling for pickliz. Everyone said it was a must for the meal. But too spicy for me! I’ll have to get a cremas another time. Thanks for checking out my Yelp reviews!

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  3. Betty! I loved that you got to go out there and experience Haitian culture! Yippee! Vive Ayiti!!! I also love to see you doing your thing! – Frantzie

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      Author

      Frantzie, great to hear from you! A decade ago, I was sent to Haiti to cover a story. What an extraordinary place. I’ve been interested in Haitian culture ever since. Would definitely go back to the cultural center. These folks do a monthly free street concert that sounds like a real party! Hope you’re well. xo

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