Wander or Bust: Las Vegas, Nevada

By Erin Kelly

My Name: Erin Kelly

What I Do: I’m a student, physical therapy aide, and freelance writer

Where I Live: Berkeley, California

Where I Went: Las Vegas, Nevada

Purpose of trip: Destination half marathon! I was invited by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series to participate in their annual race weekend that takes place on the famous Las Vegas strip. They have varying race distances from 5K to the full marathon to choose from, so there’s a race option for everyone. My friend Chris decided to fly in from New York City and run the marathon, making the weekend way more fun — and a chance to catch up with an old friend!

How Long I Stayed: 2 days, 2 nights

My Spending Style: When in Rome! At home, I keep myself on a super strict budget, but I decided to splurge more than usual for this trip to take advantage of the short time I had in Vegas.

Where I Got My Recommendations: The Rock ‘n’ Roll event series had plenty of activities planned and recommendations for racers in town, which made it easy to find stuff to do. Browsing through Expedia’s things to do section was also incredibly helpful. Lastly, my boyfriend told me if I didn’t eat at The Wicked Spoon buffet while I was in town, I would regret it forever. I wish I had more time to explore (and eat at more restaurants!), but I fit in as much as I could.

Preferred Payment Method: Credit card. I hate carrying cash with me, and plus, I like to get flight points using my credit card.

Luggage Type: Carry on! Whenever I can, I try to avoid checking bags because I’m incredibly paranoid about losing my luggage. There’s no way I was going to risk my running shoes not arriving in Vegas with me.

What Shoes I Brought: Running sneakers and stacked heel sandals

What Skincare/Beauty Essentials I Don’t Travel Without: I never travel without SPF face moisturizer, sunscreen, and a hat because I burn easily. That’s about it!

Mode of Transport: Airplane

Price of transport: $300.97

Extra Costs: Traveling to and from the airport cost me about $50 total, both ways.

Transport Total: $350.97

Accommodation: The Cosmopolitan Hotel

Location: Downtown — literally on the strip!

Price: $360/night

Extra Costs: Resort fee ($40) and taxes ($45). I also paid $9 for an energy drink from the mini bar (I know, I know. I don’t usually drink energy drinks, but I didn’t want to wind up going to bed early and missing out on anything).

Would I Recommend It To Someone Else: If you want a centrally located, luxury place to stay so you can feel fancy while taking advantage of the proximity to casinos, great buffets, and the strip, then yes! But if you’re on a budget, you might want to find somewhere a little further away from the strip. If you’re trying to keep costs low and booking anything last minute, check out Last-Minute Deals on Expedia — it has some really nice places for much cheaper than you'd think.

Accommodation Total: $814

Brunch Cost: $40/day

I was up pretty late both nights, and on Sunday I didn’t want to eat too close to the 4:30 p.m. race, so instead of waking up early for breakfast I indulged in a later brunch both mornings.

Dinner Cost: $40/day

I didn’t order any drinks with dinner (again, because of the race), so that kept prices down significantly.

Snacks: $15/day

I packed a bunch of snacks to keep myself from going hungry in between meals, but I still splurged on extras.

Average Total Cost: $95/day

Tip Situation: Tipping is standard in Vegas — I tipped my usual 18 to 20 percent.

Food Situation: There are so many restaurants in Vegas, from unique luxury dining experiences to kitschy chain spots to grab-and-go fast food, so there's really something for everyone. The buffet scene is pretty popular for tourists — every buffet I saw had a line out the door!

Favorite Restaurant: The Wicked Spoon

Favorite Dish: The Wicked Spoon is a world-renowned buffet, so the number of food options was incredible (and overwhelming, TBH). While more exciting dishes like poke, stir fry, and Eggs Benedict were enticing, I went carb-heavy to fuel for my half marathon. I chose pumpkin pancakes, waffles, fresh fruit, chicken sausage, bacon, a yogurt parfait with granola, and fried chicken strips (I panicked?). I wanted to go back for more, but quickly realized I was already full. I made sure to grab a cookie from the dessert bar before I left, though.

An eclectic brunch at The Wicked Spoon

Location: Inside the Cosmopolitan Hotel

Price: $36 for brunch for adults on the weekends, which includes an all-you-can-eat buffet. Score!

Honorable Mentions: The Henry (also in The Cosmopolitan) where I indulged in a race day omelette, and Trattoria Regganio in the Venetian, where I had my pre-race pasta dinner.

Pasta for days at Trattoria Reggiano

Food Total: $190

Nightlife Situation: The nightlife scene is huge in Vegas — entertainment options include clubbing, sightseeing, lavish dinners, concerts, cabarets, magic shows, burlesque performances, gambling, and more. Since I was running a half marathon on Sunday, I wasn’t incredibly interested in going out and partying. Luckily, you can do literally whatever you want in Vegas and nobody will bat an eye — plus you’ll likely find entertainment just people watching!

Since I arrived late on Friday night, I got a glass of champagne from the casino bar and just walked around the casino taking in the sights. On Saturday night, Chris and I went to a concert at Festival Grounds Las Vegas (part of the race weekend festivities!) before heading to The High Roller Observation Wheel (more on that later).

What People Wear Out: Anything goes — but you get bonus points if you wear something with sequins!

Average Cost Of A Drink: $11 for a beer, $20 for a cocktail.

Local Drink Of Choice: Anything with bubbles.

Extra Costs To Know About: You may end up paying more for transportation than you anticipate, especially if you're relying on rideshares. Most of the hotels and casinos have designated pickup locations for rideshare programs that are far away from their taxi and valet locations. Several times we ended up taking a taxi instead of a cheaper rideshare option after realizing the designated rideshare area was on the opposite side of the hotel (which tend to be massive). Taxis were usually $5 to $10 more expensive than rideshare options, which is annoying (but not the end of the world).

Pro Traveler Tip: I realized this too late, but traveling via Las Vegas’s monorail mass transit system, which goes up and down the strip, is a convenient (and much cheaper!) option than taking taxis and rideshares — and you can get discounted day-passes through the Expedia mobile app. A three-day pass is just $29.

Last Call Is At: Literally never. I saw people going out at all times of the day, night, and morning!

Average Total Cost Of A Night Out: It really depends on what you want to do — you could easily spend $100 on show tickets or on a few drinks at a bar. And if you’re planning on gambling, that’s a different story altogether.

tl;dr: It’s easy to spend money in Vegas!

Going Out Total: $85 total, including a few drinks here and there, and all the cars I took to get around.

Most Interesting Thing I Learned About My Destination: The Las Vegas Strip only closes down twice a year: On New Year’s Eve so people can roam the strip traffic-free, and for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series weekend. That means Chris and I (and 35,000 other runners) got to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of running down a completely crowd- and car-free strip. Very cool!

Best Excursion I Went On: Since the race wasn’t until Sunday evening, Chris and I looked for activities with minimal walking and high reward. We ended up booking discounted tickets for The High Roller Observation Wheel through the Expedia mobile app ($27.20 for a nighttime ride). The High Roller is the world’s tallest observation wheel, providing spectacular 360-degree views of the Las Vegas strip and the surrounding valley from 550 feet in the air. It was pretty surreal to be so high above the rest of the city, and it was a nice break from being amidst the hustle and bustle of the strip. Since the observation pods accommodate up to 40 people but usually don’t fill up (we only had about 10 people in ours), it’s also a nice opportunity to walk around and mingle with other tourists if you’re into meeting new people!

Unbeatable view from The High Roller

Most Interesting 'Historical' Site I Saw: On a sightseeing kick, Chris and I got discounted tickets for the Eiffel Tower Viewing Deck through the Expedia mobile app ($11) on Sunday before the race. Though the iconic attraction is only a half-scale replica of the Paris landmark, it was pretty cool to look down at the busy strip and know that in just a few hours it would be completely closed, and we’d be running down it!

Enjoying epic views from the 'Eiffel Tower'

Excursions/Culture Total: $38.20

What I Spent A Lot On That Was Totally Worth It: The cost of the hotel room was not budget-friendly, but the terrace had a spectacular view of the strip below, including the Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio fountains. Taking in the scene at night and getting to watch the Bellagio Fountains uninterrupted from above was hands-down one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced!

Can't get any better than this view from my hotel balcony

What I Spent A Lot of On That Was Totally Not Worth It: Taking taxis everywhere was unkind to my wallet and my patience (because OMG, the traffic!). Next time, I’m getting the monorail day pass.

What I Spent Little Or No Money On That Was Awesome: This might be cheesy, but having a fun weekend in Vegas with my friend was totally priceless. Plus, it felt great to not spend a ton of money on alcohol or return home completely hungover and stressed before another long week.

Cheese!

Favorite Thing I Did, Regardless Of Cost: Running the half marathon along a completely car-free strip at night surrounded by the lights and sounds of the city was a truly amazing experience.

Favorite Hidden Gem I Found: The canals of the Venetian Hotel may not exactly be hidden, but the way the interior is designed to look like the canals of Venice is incredible! Plus, you really do get the feeling that you’re outdoors in daylight hours — so at midnight or 1 a.m., it’s a pretty trippy experience!

'Venice' after dark

Favorite View(s) I Saw: Along with the view from my hotel room’s terrace, I loved the view from atop the Eiffel Tower Viewing Deck during the day because you could see the craziness of the strip below and the serene mountains surrounding the valley at once.

Best Las Vegas City Hack: Most casinos serve complimentary drinks to guests, so if you’re into gambling, you can get free drinks as you (hopefully) win big!

Advice For Anyone Traveling To My Destination: Honestly, you’re only in Vegas once. So splurge a little! And know that you don’t need to drink or gamble a ton to have fun: I only had a couple drinks the entire time I was there, and going home without a hangover was amazing.

What I Wish I Knew Before I Went: The entire strip is very smokey despite being outdoors, and it’s still considered OK to smoke inside at some casinos. Check ahead of time to see if where you’re staying or planning to go allows smoking indoors, and if you’re sensitive to smoke, consider altering your plans.

I also wish I knew about some of the day trip excursions available from Las Vegas, like exploring the Grand Canyon! Had I realized that earlier, I would have tried to stay a few extra days to explore beyond the strip.

Total Trip Cost: $1,478.17

Worth It? Why? Totally. Even though it was a whirlwind of activity, travel, and pricey for just a weekend getaway, I realized while I was there that I definitely deserved a break from school and work to live lavishly for a few days. I mean, don’t we all?

Plus, running the half marathon reminded me how much I’ve missed racing since I started grad school (it’s been almost a year since I’ve run a race!) so it gave me the kick-in-the-pants I needed to start planning my next one.

This post is sponsored by Expedia.