Re: “How is it financially viable to live out of Marriott hotel rooms for half a year?”

I’ve had a lot of positive feedback regarding my decision to become homeless for half a year and roam around the country. The general consensus is that people are happy I’m finally taking time to myself (as opposed to constantly grinding work), and many are keeping up with my travel blog posts and liv­ing vicariously through me.

There have been a few people, though, who think this is a terrible idea, and most of them believe this for financial reasons. I’ve had one person point out that I must be “filthy rich at this point that [I] don’t even know what to do with all my money,” while another has more bluntly stated that I’m a hyp­o­crite for pushing theories of financial responsibility and then proceeding to go do something as “reckless” as this.

I thought a great way to address this and explain just how it’s actually financially viable for me to do something like this is to do a breakdown of how much money I am and would be spending in each of the two living situations.

As a precursor to this, I want to point out that, no, I am not actually filthy rich. I am satisfied with the volume of my various income sources and I am much better off than an overwhelming majority of Americans, but I am in no way considered “rich.”

Also note that I am only 29 years old, and have a Bachelor’s degree and half of an incomplete Master’s degree. This means:

  1. I’ve only been in the workforce for a handful of years, not only because I’m still fairly young, but also because I spent a lot of years in school;
  2. I entered the workforce with an overwhelming amount of student loan debt, a lot of which had relatively high interest rates that I wanted to pay off as soon as possible; and
  3. I’m still busy saving up for retirement, as I want to get as much of that as possible taken care of now so I don’t have to worry about it later.

With that being said, let’s start with a breakdown of what my housing expenses would be had I stayed in Las Vegas. I was originally planning on moving to a studio in the Veer Towers, an all-residential high-rise condominium complex at CityCenter. The main reason I ended up not going this route is be­cause I had some lease agreement conflicts with the property management company and ended up walking away from the contract. But, for this ex­am­ple, we can pre­tend like this lease went through.

For the past year, real estate in Las Vegas has been absolutely insane—prices have been climbing faster than they’ve ever gone up before. Many rich Cal­i­fornians came into town as a result of work-from-home arrangements during the pandemic, and even though Las Vegas cost of living is still much cheap­er than California, it is nowhere near as cheap as it used to be when I moved to Las Vegas in 2018.

The list price for the studio I was looking at was US$1,600.00 per month in rent, which was reasonable relative to the going market rate. I was able to get a small discount off that price, down to $1,550. Note that there is extremely low inventory right now, so I consider that discount to be unreasonably luck­y, but I’m still using the discounted rate, seeing as I managed to secure it.

These luxury high-rises on the Strip all have homeowners’ associations, and the HOA dues paid by the owner/landlord cover most utilities. The only ad­di­tion­al expenses I would have on top of that would be ~$50/mo. in electricity and ~$100/mo. in Internet service.

Thus, my monthly housing expenses would total $1,700, which averages out to $56.67 per day.

Next, my Marriott hotel situation.

To begin, I want to clarify that Marriott is a massive brand. Marriott is the largest hospitality provider in the world; if you narrow it down to the United States, they’re the hotel chain with the second most locations, just behind Wyndham. With this many properties, there is quite a noticeable range of op­tions when you take a look at all their hotels.

When I say I’m staying at Marriotts across the country, I do not mean I’m staying at places like the Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, or even the JW Marriott. In­stead, I’m staying almost entirely at brands like the Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, and Residence Inn. Marriott’s luxury hotels are designed to pamper you with amenities and give you a vacation experience you’ll never forget. Marriott’s “select” collection, as they call it, is designed to give you bare­bones lodg­ing at an affordable price that still meets the Marriott standard of quality, cleanliness, and safety.

Obviously, the nightly rate can vary substantially depending on where and when I’m staying. If I snag a spot with a promotion and/or an extended stay discount, I could get a room as low as $50 per night. On the other hand, if it’s the weekend and I’m passing through a tourist destination or just happen to be unlucky and am caught in the middle of a big event or convention, sometimes the cheapest I can get is $150 per night.

With all things being con­sid­ered, I would say that a fairly liberal estimate for an average cost of a night’s stay at a hotel is $75. If I scale that up to a 30-day month, the e­quiv­a­lent rate is $2,250. (Note that this is an all-inclusive rate that already includes taxes and fees, and obviously, there are no extra u­til­i­ty charges at a hotel.)

However, there are two extra things to account for here, the first being percentage-based rewards that functionally act as a discount.

Although you generally cannot pay rent with a credit card (or if you do, you incur an extra processing fee), it is commonplace and often highly en­cour­aged to pay for hotel stays with a credit card. I have a Chase Sapphire Reserve, a card geared specifically towards rewarding those who travel. The Sap­phire Reserve gives you 3 reward points for every $1 you spend on travel, and each reward point can be redeemed for 1.5¢ cash value using the new “Pay Yourself Back” promotion. Even outside of the promotion, you can still get a redemption rate of 1.5¢ per point if you redeem your rewards on even more travel. This functionally acts as a 4.5% discount.

I am also a member of Marriott Bonvoy, Marriott’s loyalty program. Through this program, you get reward points derived from how much you spend on Marriott hotel rooms and services (excluding taxes). For each stay, I get a base number of reward points, plus an additional percentage-based bonus due to my high loyalty tier qualification. This, again, can depend on where I stay and what tier of status I happen to be at the time of the stay, but overall, this can functionally translate to being about a 10% discount, as a conservative estimate.

Combining the two rewards programs, I get back a­bout 14.5% of the cost of the hotel room. Using the previous estimate of $75 per night, I get back a­bout $10.88 of value per night, resulting in an effective nightly rate of $64.12, or an effective monthly equivalent rate of $1,923.75.

But it doesn’t end there. The second thing to account for here is that I am not spending the entire seven months, from June 1 to December 31, in hotel rooms. If I’m traveling for work or staying with friends and family, I have to keep paying rent if I’m committed to a residential lease agreement, but for hotel rooms, I simply stop paying for hotel rooms during that period.

During the seven-month period, I will be spending a total of about a month and a half at Tempo‘s company headquarters, spread out in intervals of a week or two. I generally make a routine visit every month or two, and will continue to do so during my travels. While I am in Southern California, I will stay at the residential sector of our offices and will not need to pay for hotel rooms out-of-pocket.

I will also be spending a total of about a month and a half with my parents at their house in the Chicagoland suburbs where I grew up.

As for staying with other friends and family, although I anticipate spending about a month or so with “free” lodging, I will still be purchasing them gro­cer­ies, restaurant meals, and/or gifts throughout my stay in order to show my appreciation for them hosting me at their home, and I anticipate the cost of this to be comparable to staying at a hotel room. As such, I will not be deducting any expenses for staying with friends or non-parental family mem­bers.

If I account for the free lodging at my company headquarters and with my parents, I subtract three months of lodging expenses from the seven months of travel. That calculates out to each night costing 4/7th of its rate, which brings the $64.12 down to $36.64 per night.

We’re almost done, but there’s one more thing to factor in. I’m driving my personal pickup truck to each destination, and there is an additional cost to op­er­ate my vehicle beyond what I normally would just by staying put in Las Vegas. I’m not going to count the mileage of going out and getting food or going on tours, but I will count the mileage of going from city to city.

After mapping out my tentative road trip route, I think I am going to drive approximately 7,000 extra miles (11,265 kilometers) over the span of the sev­en months. According to the IRS standard mileage rate, it costs an average of 56¢ per mile to op­er­ate the average vehicle (which includes things like fuel, maintenance, and depreciation).

Although my pickup truck is a mid-size model with a tonneau cover for improved fuel economy and is more efficient than the average pickup truck, it is still slightly more costly than the average vehicle. On the other hand, the standard mileage rate includes stuff like insurance, which I would’ve had to pay for anyway. I’m going to consider those factors as balancing themselves out, and just stick with the standard mileage rate.

The cost to operate a vehicle 7,000 miles is approximately $3,920. Dividing that by 7, we get a monthly rate of $560. Divide that again, this time by 30, and we get a daily rate of $18.67. This needs to be added to the $36.64 nightly rate, bringing it up to $55.31.

And before we come to the final conclusion, I want to address two more miscellaneous points.

First is my food situation. Yes, I won’t be able to cook while I’m on the road… except I haven’t really been cooking much lately anyway. Ever since the pan­demic happened and I got a lot of relief funding from the government, I’ve been going out of my way to ensure I support local businesses and res­tau­rants. Ever since March 2020, I have been eating almost exclusively at family-owned local res­tau­rants (as opposed to going grocery shopping and cook­ing for myself). I will continue to do so during my travels, and the cost of that will be net-neutral relative to pre-travel.

Second is the time it will take me to get from city to city, and the opportunity cost associated with that time. I did not factor this into the calculation be­cause I feel like I am putting in my time and effort of driving in exchange for receiving amazing experiences visiting new cities across the country. On top of that, driving, to some extent, is therapeutic to me, so I don’t mind sitting in my truck for a few hours at a time just listening to music and ob­serv­ing the scenery.

So the final verdict.

Renting a place in Las Vegas and living a “normal” life would cost me ~$56.67 per day, $1,700.00 per month, or $11,900.00 for the full seven-month period. Traveling the country and being a nomad would cost me approximately $55.31 per day, $1,659.20 per month, or $11,615.00 for the full seven-month period. (The num­bers don’t line up perfectly to their fractional counterparts due to rounding and decimals.)

Yes, in my unique situation, I am literally saving a tiny bit of money by doing things the way I am.

If you truly thought I didn’t account for the financial implications and consequences of my decision, then you don’t know me very well.