Budget travel“Wealth buys leisure, but not wisdom.” – William George Plunkett

So last weekend it was my birthday. Sound the trumpets! Actually, they sounded last year when I turned forty. Since we spent a small fortune on that party and then on Jeanine’s fortieth in March, we decided to scale back and be a bit more low-key with this one.

Jeanine suggested a weekend in Big Sur but I didn’t want to drive that far and take off Friday from work. So we started looking around Southern California at some of our favorite get-a-way spots. Santa Barbara, the Santa Ynez Valley, Ojai, Palm Springs, Palm Desert and a few places in between.

But as we were planning this last minute jaunt all the hotel rooms either had a two night minimum, were in the $400 – $1000 range or sold out. When on god’s green earth did all the hotel rooms become so expensive? Pre-9/11, I remember many a weekend for less than $200 a night in places all over Southern Cal.

Those days are gone. Where did they go? And what could possibly be worth spending $500 per night plus tax and fees? Oh yeah, and don’t forget the tips.

Here is where we looked:

Our favorite hideaway in Palm Springs is a place called the Korakia and here rooms still run between $179 and $299. Good luck ever finding availability. We didn’t last weekend. What we did find was a 1940’s era boutique hotel called the Mojave Resort. We stayed there five years ago when it was still hip and new. Last weekend, we found the property a bit tired but it hit the budget spot at only $199.

Jeanine called on Friday afternoon and since they had availability, we were able to drive out for the one night. So we checked in early on Saturday and spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool. It’s just what we needed and wanted but had it been twice the expense, I would have elected to stay home in Newport Beach… even during this gray period of June Gloom.

The crazy rates are not just in Southern California. I’m trying to find a place right now in Tucson for a girl’s spa weekend with friends and no such luck for under $400 a night. Of course, we could always splurge for the famed Canyon Ranch, but that will set us back thousands.

By the way, the east coast isn’t immune from these kinds of prices. Why? According to The New York Times, it’s about supply and demand. Jeez… I thought we were experiencing a recession. Apparently not:

As if the sagging dollar and soaring oil costs weren’t enough to dent travel budgets, hotel room rates are expected to surge in the coming year. From New York to Asia, and just about every desirable destination in between, the prices of rooms — especially at hotels and resorts favored by luxury and business travelers — are expected to rise significantly, sometimes in the double digits, analysts say.

A shortage of rooms is to blame. “Supply is simply not keeping up with demand,” said Jan D. Freitag, vice president for global development at Smith Travel Research in Nashville. “So hotels can — and do — command premiums for any rooms they can sell.”

And they’re selling out indeed. But who is buying? Are you? We’re not. Seriously, who can spend this kind of money? And with the summer travel season just around the corner, what are you doing for your vacation this year? I’m interested in hearing your comments below.

Looking for some alternatives? Click here to learn more about these three ideas:

1. Be a tourist at home.
2. Still need to get the hell out of Dodge? Ever heard of house swapping?
3. Think camping!

Yeah, well I won’t be doing any camping this summer… but knock yourself out all you camping lesbians.