Traveling to Providence on a budget? Here's how to save.
And I was more than a little skeptical myself. This challenge was a last minute addition to a pre-existing trip. I had only a few days to plan, research, and build lists, a sharp contrast to my usual long planning marathons. And while Providence isn't an outrageously expensive city, I worried that true budget travel opportunities would be few and far between. I was sure the trip would be fun, but I didn't know if it would be easy.
So how did we do and, more importantly, did we stay on budget? Here's how our weekend went down.
(A word about pricing: Past $200 Challenges have been in Canadian funds. Given the fluctuation in currency rates, it seemed easiest to work with US funds for this particular challenge.)
In order to find a hotel that fit within our budget, we had to look outside the city and towards the suburb of Warwick. Staying in Warwick turned out to be an excellent decision. Welcome to the nicest hotel we've ever had on a $200 Challenge!
Everything about the Extended Stay America went above and beyond our expectations and it was such a treat from our usual budget lodgings. We're no strangers to campgrounds and hostels and rather unremarkable 2 star hotels so this was definitely a step up.
We had excellent intentions of making the most of our kitchen, from storing and reheating pizza (find out why that didn't work below) to preparing a full evening meal. But truth be told, we got lazy. Using the kitchen was a great idea in theory but it just didn't work out in practice for this particular trip.
It was hard to find much fault with our room, especially considering the price point, but if I had to nitpick I would point out that the bed's quilt drove us to distraction. The slippery material (cue our hysterical late night jokes about "slip" covers) was likely designed to repel dirt but was in fact so slippery it didn't really stay in place once you were under the covers. It kinda.... slipped right off the bed. It was annoying and it made for a disjointed sleep on our first night. By the second night, we formulated a plan which involved sourcing extra blankets from housekeeping and we were much happier.
A second annoyance was the toilet paper. I think this is officially the first time I've ever reported on toilet paper but it was just..... wait for it.... crappy. Pun intended! It was ultra thin and unpleasant and could very well be the worst toilet paper I've ever used. But for an inexpensive budget hotel, I consider myself lucky that these were my only two concerns.
Our room cost about $65 a night - a significant portion of our budget but a price point that represented great value. It's worth noting that Extended Stay Hotels charge extra for daily housekeeping services, an option we declined. There's a good selection of similarly ranked and hotels around Warwick and it's reasonable to assume you could find accommodations in a similar price range. In fact, we could have saved an extra $12 a night by staying at a nearby Knight's Inn (which would undoubtedly have more basic rooms), so those on the tightest of budgets will have options.
Accommodation costs (total) $130.00
BTW...... Want to know more about what we look for in our accommodations?Read on here!
Tour the Rhode Island State House.
While I enjoyed soaking in the sumptuous surroundings, my favourite room was the slightly more humble library. With it's tiny, twisting corner staircases and multiple levels of antique books, it felt like something straight from a movie set (maybe Harry Potter?) but it's a real public space that anyone can use for research purposes.
Visit the John Brown House Museum
The staff and volunteers at the Brown House tackle this issue head on. A portion of the house is dedicated to a special exhibit of the harrowing tale of a Brown brothers-owned slave trade vessel called the Sally and the staff are trying to determine if the team of servants who were once responsible for maintaining the property also included slave labor. The tour also begins with an in depth explanation of how Brown passionately committed himself to being a slave trader and also how Brown University and much of Providence benefited (and continue to benefit) from slavery through Brown's financial patronage.
Cost: $20 (Parking is free on site.)
Tour the Providence Atheneaum
Cost: Free (But I also bought a $20 T-shirt!)
Visit the RISD Museum
I knew the $12 regular admission fee would stretch our budget but I checked out their website all the same to confirm some information. I was in for a happy surprise! The museum is FREE every Sunday (and on the third Thursday evening of the month). Lesson learned: always, always, alwayscheck the website! And as an added bonus, they also listed discounted parking spots. This is visitor information done right. (PS: Military members and their families can visit for free at any time).
But the best was yet to come.....
Cost: Free (and priceless!)
Providence's Best (Worst?) Budget Meals
Dinner #1 - Disaster!
THIS was the review that convinced us to try Sicillia's. Boy, did we ever make a mistake!
Let me back up a bit. Based on all I've read, Providence has a great food scene and the Federal Hill neighbourhood sounded just like Ottawa's Preston Street - an authentic Little Italy with old fashioned classics done right. While there were several affordable restaurants to chose from, I knew a full Italian meal would still push our budget. But pizza? We could handle pizza.
We read tons of recommendations and we settled on Sicillia's once we read the review above. Things started out well. Our waitress was friendly and helpful and everything smelled delicious. But things quickly went downhill. It took nearly an hour for our deep dish pizza to arrive. When it did, the crust was rock hard - not merely thick and sturdy, rock hard. And curiously, the bottom crust was also soggy. In fact, everything seemed soggy. The mushrooms in the pizza were causing a huge watery mess. It just..... didn't taste good. And as many people have pointed out to us on social media, sauce-on-top is a dish deep pizza red flag! And our waitress? She was a ghost by this point.
Our stomachs grumbling, having skipped lunch, we managed to choke down a few pieces but we left the rest behind. This is officially the only time we've left pizza behind, ever! Not only was our meal disappointing, leaving the leftovers meant no midnight snack for us (something we were counting on since we had an early dinner). So that meant an unexpected expenditure for late night second dinner (Though we give full credit to Fu Ming's take out for having extremely generous portions, with their plates-for-one easily being big enough to share, and for putting huge chunks of real chicken in their chicken fried rice).
SO! We definitely cannot recommend Sicillia's but we still feel confident that homemade pizza is a great choice for dinner in Providence. Some alternatives to try include Nice Slice, Figidini Wood Fire Eatery, Fellini Pizzeria and Bob & Timmy's Legendary Grilled Pizza. (Keep in mind that serving sizes in the US are BIG - if you live elsewhere, order one size smaller than usual.)
Dinner cost: $25 (Plus another $20 for 'second dinner')
Lunch #1 - Bargain!
Ryan's breakfast potatoes were some of the best I've ever had - I wish I had asked for them with my club! Don't get me wrong, the Seaplane's fries were good but those were some MIGHTY fine breakfast potatoes. Honestly, just looking at the pictures now makes me crave them!
Our dishes were among the more expensive on the menu. There are a lot of breakfast and lunch options for $6 - and some for less than $5. If you're careful and on a strict budget, two people could have a meal here for $15 but $22 is more realistic.
Lunch cost: $22
Dinner #2 - Cool deal.
For a slightly more robust meal, you could split one of their hearty sandwiches (which come with a side of kettle chips) for about $8, share a flavored, stuffed pretzel, (Ryan loved Asiago and Parmesan for $4, while I had cheddar and jalapeno for $5), and maybe finish with a root beer float (featuring homemade local root beer!) for $5. And maybe have a few pints of the regular stuff too... The possibilities really are endless but for a realistic budget dinner, count on spending $25. If you easily fall into temptation, keep an eye on your wallet. You could easily spend much, much more here!
Dinner cost: $25
Lunch #2 - Out of town misadventure.
Plan B was quickly hatched to stop halfway between Providence and Portsmouth in the small town of Peabody, Massachusetts to visit the place you see above, the Little Depot Diner. HOW CUTE IS IT? Apparently it seats just 13 people!!
But it was closed. NOOOOOO!
Time for Plan C! Just around the corner from the Little Depot is Mike and Lill's Black Sheep Pub. At this point we were so hungry we basically ordered the biggest things on the menu. So that meant more corned beef hash for Ryan and the Hungry Ram platter for me - which turned out to be TWO plates of food (the two photos below on the left). Yep, I ate it all. No shame.
For those who are less glutenous than Ryan and I, you could easily have a filling lunch here (or at any diner) for around $10 a person - or even a few dollars less.
So How Did We Do?
But alas! I don't consider this a complete disaster as we still had a very full, very value packed, very affordable weekend. And I truly believe that the $200 goal is attainable. With less expensive accommodation choices (likely possible) and less expensive menu options (totally possible), I think it's reasonable that the cost of $243 would be much closer to $200.
And as for the emergency late night Chinese food take out? Well, what can I say? Happens to the best of us!
Do you have any tips for saving money in expensive destinations?
If you enjoyed this article, check out our other $200 Challenges HERE.