How To Travel Frugally – Our $387 Three-day Road Trip To Raleigh, NC

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In a previous post, I mentioned that Mr. FAF and I planned to travel to different cities in the US to see which one we’d like to move to in the future.

Below is the list of the cities we’d like to visit and make the next big move (in no particular order):

1. Austin, Texas

2. Raleigh, North Carolina

3. Nashville, Tennessee

4. Denver, Colorado

5. Atlanta, Georgia

6. Pittsburgh, PA (just added)

We used the following 5 criteria to pick the 6 cities above:

1. A hub for software companies

2. Low taxes and low levels of government regulations

3. Low costs of living

4. Moderate temperature

5. Good Asian, especially Chinese, restaurants

Why now

Raleigh was our destination this summer. We decided to make the trip happen in June for four reasons.

First, we originally wanted to go during the July 4 weekend. However, July 4 this year awkwardly fell on a Wednesday, which made the idea of a long weekend impossible unless we took two work days off, which we didn’t want to do.

Second, the prices of lodging and such would increase on national holidays, not to mention all the big crowds of tourists like us.

Third, it will be much hotter in July, and my baby bump would be much bigger, making the trip all the more difficult and exhausting for me.

And lastly, Baby FAF’s daycare closed for a week in June, so we wouldn’t feel bad about pulling him out of daycare for travel.

For all of those reasons, our family embarked on a three day road trip from DC to Raleigh (Fri-Sun) to see it it was a city we wanted to move to in the next few years.

The costs

These are the expenses incurred during the trip:

ItemPrice ($)
For 2 nights
Shenandoah National Park
The park was on the way to Raleigh.
We left the house with maybe 1/3 of a tank of gas and had to buy more on the way.
Lunch at Taipei 101
Top rated Chinese restaurant in Raleigh
Lunch at Asian food court
We went to the food court to try it out.
Lunch at Peter Chang
One of the most popular restaurants in Richmond.
Mr. FAF had some beer fun at the AirBnB.

The drive

I have to give Mr. FAF credit for doing ALL of the driving on the trip. I offered to drive, but he turned it down.

He was probably afraid my driving skills were not good enough and might get us in trouble, which would be problematic since we had a toddler (Baby FAF) and a pregnant women (me) in the car.

Related: The Pros & Cons Of Our Long-distance Marriage


We left home at 9 AM on a Friday morning. It was supposed to be a 5-hour trip from DC to Raleigh.

However, we went to Shenandoah National Park on the way and drove around that huge park for about 3 hours. The scenery was beautiful, and the green trees just seemed endless.

Beautiful view at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

We were thinking of staying at one of these park cabins until we found out the daily rate is $270-300 (ehh). 

We finally got to the AirBnB (which I will write more about in a separate post) at 6 PM. We dropped off our stuff and drove to the highest rated Chinese restaurant in Raleigh to check it out.

Our AirBnB in Raleigh


We spent the whole Saturday driving around Raleigh to visit:

— The downtown area

— The Research Triangle & Google office

— The NC Museum of History and Museum of National Sciences

— University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

— North Carolina State University

— The Farmer Market

— Asian Grand Market

— We went to a local park, but there were no parking slots left, so we just left.

We completed the trip at 3:30 PM and went back to the AirBnB to take a nap. We spent that night relaxing and went to bed early to prepare for the trip home the next day.


Farmer’s market

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


We hit the road at 8:30 AM. We stopped by Richmond to have lunch with our friends and visited their house for a bit.  We also went to a nearby Costco to get some apples, a water melon, and two gallons of milk.

Hello Richmond!

The city

Our overall impression of Raleigh is that it was a very quiet and peaceful city.

We went to the downtown area on Saturday, and there was hardly anyone on the street. There were a couple of cars parked on the sides of the street, but it was definitely not the crowded scene like what we usually see in DC.

Mr. FAF said he really liked that aspect about Raleigh. Everything seemed slow and relaxing. It really reminded us of downtown Atlanta and even Dallas as Mr. FAF said.

There were a lot of trees and farms in Raleigh. When we were driving past those farms, it really reminded me of Mrs. Frugalwoods and her family’s life in Vermont.

A quiet Saturday in Raleigh

The food

I didn’t buy any snacks or drinks for the trip. I just packed whatever snacks we had left in our pantry to save money and declutter: seasoned seaweed, pistachios, fish snacks, waffles, matcha Pocky sticks, popcorn, and cereal.

Mr. FAF and I rarely snack, so the trip was a perfect opportunity to get rid of all the odds and ends that had been sitting in the pantry for who knows how long (but not expired yet).

Our overflowing pantry

Below is basically what we ate on the trip and in Raleigh. In total, we spent $147 on food and drinks for three days for two adults and one toddler (less than $50/day for the whole family).

Dinner leftovers
Airbnb food
Airbnb food
Dinner leftovers
Asian food court ($20)
Peter Chang ($45)
Taipei 101 ($71)
Taipei 101 leftovers
Home-cooked meal$71
8-pack Bud Light for Mr. FAF ($11)
Total$82$20$45$149.87 or $50/day

Breakfast was provided by our AirBnB host. I was very pleased with the wide variety of breakfast options that we had: cereal, bagels, English muffins, grits, oatmeal, bananas, yogurt, and frozen pastry.

Our AirBnB kitchenette 

We were not particularly impressed with the Chinese food that we had in Raleigh.

The dinner at Taipei 101 was fine. Mr. FAF said it was slightly cheaper than comparable Chinese restaurants in DC, but the quality wasn’t as great.

Twice cooked pork with leek

Sweet and sour pork ribs

Beef pancakes, beef soup & spicy beef

The lunch at the Asian food court (Grand Asia Market) was a bit of a disappointment. A lunch box with three sides and rice there was $7.85 while it is only $5.99 at Good Fortune in Falls Church, VA.

I was expecting the price to be $4.99 in Raleigh, so it was a bit of a shock to see such a big price difference. Even the bubble tea was $3.99 at the Asian market, which is almost the same as in DC (maybe $1 cheaper depending on the size).

$7.85 lunch box at Grand Asia Market (compared to $5.99 at Good Fortune in Virginia)

Roasted duck & BBQ pork. It looked great but tasted ok. 

Groceries were about 10-20% cheaper than in DC, depending on the item. For example, eggplant was $0.99 in Raleigh but $1.25 in DC. Pork belly was $4.99 in DC but only $3.99 in Raleigh.

Grand Asia market opened only a year ago in Raleigh. 

Mr. FAF ended up buying a huge can of sesame oil and two huge bags of green beans and soy beans, a pack of Chinese sesame noodles, and leeks for $40 since he said those items were cheaper in Raleigh.

Related: Our 2017 Monthly Food Expense Reports

The job market

The job market was something both Mr. FAF and I were particularly interested in. We checked out the Research Triangle and the Google office.

I know I can’t judge a book by its cover. But I was a bit disappointed when I saw the Research Triangle. I think it’s mainly because we visited during the weekend, so there was literally no one and virtually no car there.

I think part of it might be that I’m used to seeing tall buildings with lots of people walking around and a myriad of restaurants and shops in DC. Seeing that the RT was so quiet with no restaurant or shop in sight made me feel a bit depressed.

Mr. FAF also said Google’s Raleigh office is a satellite office, so there aren’t any engineers there. We drove by the office and agreed it looked a bit small.

Related: How Fearing Lay-offs Affects Our Financial Decisions

Google office in Raleigh

An office building at the Research Triangle

Public transit

I didn’t see any buses or train in Raleigh. I know the city does have a public transit system, so it was probably because of the weekend.

I think if we move to Raleigh, we will need to buy a second car, which will definitely become a sizable expense on our budget.

Feelings, emotions, and decision

Both Mr. FAF and I agreed that Raleigh might be an ideal place for us to move to when we are close to retirement or if both of us get really good jobs there.

When we retire, we might buy a farm here and enjoy nature more. Right now, we still love the vibrancy and the job opportunity a big city like DC can bring us.

Good jobs are great opportunities and shouldn’t be easily dismissed. We will happily move to Raleigh if career opportunities present themselves.

As I was exploring Raleigh, I couldn’t help but thinking maybe DC is expensive for a reason. There are many more fun activities, tourist attractions, free museums, historical sites, good Chinese restaurants and Asian grocery stores in the DC area.

We live in Fairfax County, which boasts one of the best public education systems in the country. Mr. FAF still dreams about our son going to Thomas Jefferson High School one day.

The housing prices in DC might be high, but the appreciation rate is also better. If we do want to do rental, it will be easier to find both short-term and long-term tenants due to the huge number of professionals in DC.

But I have to be honest to say that it still hurts a little when I see brand-new single-family homes on sale for the low 200,000s in Raleigh. It’s just impossible in the DC area.

At the end of the trip, we just couldn’t wait to get home and enjoy the comfort of our house. I think that’s how we usually feel after we travel for a couple of days: East or West, home is the best.

We will continue to explore other cities on our list. But after longing to move out of DC for the longest time ever, we gradually realized and began to appreciate the benefits this big city has to offer to us more.

And before we make any big move in the future, we will also try to live in the presence and cherish what we already have in the capital city of the nation.


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19 thoughts on “How To Travel Frugally – Our $387 Three-day Road Trip To Raleigh, NC”

  • You were here and didn’t say hi??? Waahhh… free is cheaper than air bnb! 😉
    Though we are in Durham and not Raleigh… and you didn’t mention Duke!
    You’re right that the public transit is not the best thing ever. But there’s SO MUCH to do here, it just may be spread out. Super family friendly everywhere. There’s always a festival or event or live music or bottomless mimosas or a farmers market. Let me know if you come back and I’ll take you to the best Chinese restaurant in the state of NC!

    • Oh no sorry about that >_< I'll def hit you up next time we go to Durham. We didn't go to visit Duke. That's why I didn't mention it. We just had Saturday to explore the city, so we wanted to stay really local. I think Mr. FAF also got exhausted from driving. Glad to hear that there's so much more to NC than meets the eyes! 😀

  • Hi, Mrs. FAF!
    Glad you got to make the trek to Raleigh — it’s a great city! One of my best friends recently moved there for a new job with Cisco. It’s crazy how fast that area is growing! Raleigh is cool because the infrastructure seems set up for expansion (which is definitely not true about my sweet city of Charleston!) which may be a good long-term play. Excited to hear where y’all end up!

    • I think Raleigh has a lot of potential for extension too. There’s so much land there! I’m curious to see what it will look like in a couple of years 🙂

  • That’s a very affordable road trip. My brother is moving to Raleigh soon and I’ll have a chance to spend more time there. It looks neat to me. I’m getting tired of the big city. Portland is jarring after Iceland. It feels like the city is under sieged by homeless people with mental problem. It’s out of control. Does DC have a big homeless problem?

    • I know that feeling when you get tired of all the traffic and high prices. You should check out Raleigh sometime. I think it’s a great place for people who enjoy a more peaceful and quiet environment (maybe with land to do gardening and farming).

      I haven’t seen any homeless people where we live. But I know there are certain areas in DC (i.e. Judiciary Square) where homeless people congregate, set up tents, and hang out every day. I’m not a big fan of those scenes. I mean I feel bad for them, but I wouldn’t want to live in those areas either >_<

  • I’ve never seen an Airbnb where you get breakfast included–nice find! Sounds like the whole scouting trip was pretty frugal. I’ve been curious about Atlanta myself, so I wonder if you’ll like it there. Also, I can’t remember if I asked you this before, but does Mr. FAF drive to work? I’m always curious about city folks who have cars. In NYC, you have to move the car every other day because of street cleaning. It’s a huge hassle, but so many people still have cars!

    • Oh really? I thought almost every AirBnB includes breakfast #airbnbnewb

      I actually lived in Atlanta before. It has a great Asian food scene on Buford Highway. It’s super hot in the summer and has a crazy high pollen count in the spring though. The public education system there is not that great unless you live in an expensive neighborhood like Alpheretta or Mariatta. I had a hard time finding a job or an internship there, which is totally different from DC.

      Mr. FAf does drive to work every day. His parking is paid for by his employer. I think they have their own garage or something 😀

  • Woah! $71 for lunch at Taipei 101 and it is slightly cheaper than restaurants in DC? Chinese food on the East Coast is very expensive.

    If you ever venture out to Southern California, I can take you to some good Chinese restaurants with lunch specials as low as $5 a dish. Very authentic, and very, very good. We have a lot of Vietnamese restaurants down here too 🙂

    • There is definitely cheaper, good tasting Chinese food in the DC area, at least in the ‘burbs. My friends 2 friends and I just had our favorite dim sum at A&J in Rockville and I think it was only $45 for the 3 of us.

      • Oh yes, the Rockville area has lots of Chinese residents and good Chinese restaurants for sure. Shady Grove!

    • We usually don’t spend that much on lunch. Maybe half? Mr. FAF wanted to try lots of dishes there to have a fair judgement of the restaurant. We also saved half for dinner the next day, so it was more like a $35 dinner for the three of us hehe. Lunch specials at $5? I’m down 😀

  • Hey, you’re visiting my neck of the woods! Sorry the Chinese food wasn’t better. I’ve never heard of Taipei 101 so it might be one of those “fancy for white Americans but not that great” kind of places. We have a TON of those places. If you saw a ton of Chinese people eating in there and not speaking English and ordering off the real Chinese menu then that’s usually a sign that it’s authentic.

    Grand Asia Market was the first Asian store I ever visited. More than 30 years ago! It used to be located across the road and I grew up in the neighborhood right behind there. I would ride my bike over to the Grand Asia market (when it was tiny!) with my half-Japanese friend and we would buy Asian candy like haw flakes.

    You’re right about Research Triangle Park being very quiet. On weekends it’s dead when no one is working there. I really wish they had more housing and retail within the Park so people could actually live, shop, and work there. Sadly you have to commute in there. Mrs. Root of Good did that every day for 10 years!

    That Google office is nothing much at all. I think it’s their Google Fiber office – a retail storefront for selling the fiber internet service and pick up/drop off the router and modem equipment. I don’t think Google has an actual development office in Raleigh but there are tons of other tech giants in town (both downtown and in the RTP).

    I love our downtown – still quiet and accessible. We happen to live on a major bus route so we can take the bus 10 minutes to downtown. However we always drive because parking is free and plentiful even on a weekday if you don’t mind walking a few blocks max. It’s nothing like downtown DC 🙂

    • That’s what Mr. FAF said about the Google office too. It’s just a satellite office. We were so excited in the beginning *sigh*

      I’m glad we weren’t too biased about the Research Triangle. It was just SO quiet it was unbelievable! You’re totally right about parking in DC. Expensive and hard to find on weekdays. Free but still limited on the weekends. One time we drove to downtown to see the Xmas light show and had to drive home because we couldn’t find parking anywhere! @_@

  • Woahh I’m surprised the Airbnbs there provide breakfast. People tell me it’s awesome I have snacks because most Airbnbs don’t provide anything. We don’t even have a toaster oven or anything! Maybe I need to step up our Airbnb game 🙂

    I didn’t think the Chinese food would be good there but Asian markets are a good sign of growing Asian community.

    • I’m such an AirBnB noob. I thought most AirBnBs provide breakfast @_@ If I did AirBnB, I think I’d provide oatmeal or some food that doesn’t good bad fast. I heard that most people don’t really eat breakfast at the AirBnB. I know you offer muffins! 😉

  • I lived in Pittsburgh for close to 5 years and from your criteria list, I would say it is a strong contender. It’s also only about 4 hours drive from DC so it will be a quick and very scenic trip! It is definitely growing as a software hub, thanks to CMU. The Google office there definitely has engineers. Chinese food is surprisingly pretty good, probably to cater to a lot of the Chinese students living there. No sales tax for clothes. house prices used to be low when I lived there 5 years ago but due to the increase of tech jobs recently I think it’s been going up, although it’s probably still a lot cheaper than DC. Wish I had the money to invest in a property back then lol. The weather is similar to DC so I’m not sure I would call that “moderate.” If you decide to visit Pittsburgh, feel free to email me for suggestions.

  • My parents live outside of Raleigh and it’s always tempting to want to move down there but the salaries are so much lower in my field I would be taking close to a 30% salary cut and I don’t know if the cost of living would really compensate for that.

    I will say that Raleigh has any amazing Children’s Museum (it continually irks me that DC has a million museums but no Children’s museum) and if I lived down there I would buy season passes in a heartbeat.

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