The Backpackers’ Guide to Las Vegas

I suppose this post could also be called, “The poor man’s Vegas,” because that’s pretty much what it was. As it happened, David and I had already decided to drive to Los Angeles to fly out of LAX for our trip to Central America, and since his birthday was just a few days prior, I decided to surprise him with a trip to Vegas, which is roughly in that direction. (And by roughly I mean in vaguely southward). Though we had but little budget and two big backpacks, we managed to have a really great time–combining here a few tips and tricks for those similarly financially limited.

1. Don’t believe in the wristbands.
Almost everyone on the street in Vegas is a tourist, but those who aren’t are, between the hours of 5 p.m. and 2 a.m., trying heartily to give away as many wristbands as humanly possible. The wristbands seem like a great a deal at first, offering free drinks all night, or no cover with the purchase of one drink. We quickly found out that these were scammy promises used to lure you the velvet-roped lines, where you learned that “one drink” will run you about $25, or that “all night” meant until 3 a.m., and only for ladies. Of course for some, those prices or conditions might be completely reasonable. But this is a budget-angled blog post, and to save cash, we opted to head to a bar that had its own DJ, no cover, and 2-for-1 specials (thanks to coupons hawked by the same girl trying to give us a wristband for another place). We had plenty to drink for the same price it would have cost one of us to get into the fancier club, and still got to dance and be part of the scene. Bottom line? You don’t need a nightclub experience to enjoy the nightlife.

*For those who do want the nightclub experience, don’t be shy about haggling. Friends of ours who had a little more cash to spend wound up talking the doormen into significantly reducing the cover, and got a few free drinks out of the deal on top. Can’t hurt to try!

2. First time gamblers, bring cash.
We wanted to try our luck (because who doesn’t in Vegas?), but quickly ran short of the few bucks we happened to have on hand. Bally’s had a ton of ATMs around, so we figured it’d be an easy way to quickly grab a few more dollars to play with. Bad news: the ATMs all added a $6 surcharge to any withdrawal, on top of your bank’s fees. So next time we’ll be bringing some more cash to start with.

3. Find food you can split.
As evidenced by the fact that every celebrity chef you’ve ever heard of has a restaurant there, Vegas is a big foodie scene. If you’re staying on the Strip, try to get a buffet included in your room booking. A lot of times they’ll be thrown in for incentives, and they can be great way to try a bunch of food without having to pay too much. We also tried to share meals whenever possible–our favorite shared plates were a margherita pizza from 800 Degrees (right below the Monte Carlo) and a GINORMOUS plate of nachos from Tequila Bar (inside Bally’s) that could have easily fed two more. In fact, we had so much leftover that we ate some for lunch the following day.

4. Save your feet–take the tram.
We took the tram a lot, both to save our feet and to beat the heat. But we were surprised to find few of our fellow vacationers doing the same thing. While it’s true that on one side of the Strip it does cost money to ride the monorail, the series of trams on the opposite side of the street are completely free (if a little hard to find within the sprawling casinos). Best of all, since they run until 2 a.m., they can even save you a few bucks on a cab at the end of the night (provided you’re of the right mind to find them!).

5. Catch a free show where you can.
Big spenders in Vegas can drop quite a few dollars on a big name show, but for those with smaller wallets, there’s plenty of free entertainment to be found. The Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, Monte Carlo, and the Mirage all have some form of free entertainment–whether it’s a parade, mock battle, or a short play performed by Carnival actors. It may be short on time, but it’s got all the drama, flair, and flamboyance you’d expect from one of the bigger venues.

(Sorry for the dearth of photos! We’re in Colombia on the second leg of our journey, and WordPress for iPad is proving way more temperamental that I’d thought.)