Night of Writing Dangerously on a budget, revisited

One of the most common replies I hear when discussing NaNoWriMo’s Night of Writing Dangerously (NOWD) is “I’d love to go one year!” with “one year” meaning “some vague time in the future, likely when they have the money and time to do so”.

While I’ve estimated my budget for my first Night of Writing Dangerously, I thought it’d be fun to revisit the topic with more budget specifics (and for a longer trip). I did my best to save every receipt; where that fails, I have my bank account history and my occasionally unreliable memory.

Want an idea of how much money to set aside for a NOWD San Francisco trip? Keep reading for my experience. Note: All of these prices listed include all applicable taxes.

Or if you want to add to my fundraising page, you can do that right here.

My Own NOWD Contribution

While the 2016 price for getting into NOWD is $300, NaNoWriMo does the ticketing through the fundraising site Classy, where others can contribute to your Night of Writing Dangerously admission. While I might have been able to get away with not adding any of my own funds, I also wanted to take advantage of the early bird discount, so I donated $140 to my own page.

NOWD contribution total: $140


Living in a city with a major airport has its perks: I managed to grab a nonstop round-trip flight between Atlanta and San Francisco, leaving Wednesday morning the 16th (with an early afternoon Pacific Time arrival) and returning Monday evening the 21st (nearly midnight in Atlanta once I got off the plane). My bag was just small enough to fit in the overhead bin, so I didn’t have to check it for an extra fee.

Flight total: $298.70


I stayed in a hostel in downtown San Francisco for five nights. While this meant limited privacy, it was an inexpensive, fun, and central location (although the hostel does have some private rooms and some rooms with private bathrooms if you need more space). If you want a budget option in the future, I recommend Hostelling International Downtown near Union Square. You may see a few other Wrimos around, too.

Lodging total: $253.14

Getting Around

I mostly walked and ran around the city, even on Saturday when it rained buckets. While there are ways to cut back on this cost, the biggest chunks of this total are the expected costs of getting to and from the airports (and maybe skipping the cable cars next time since I’ve done them twice).

  • Getting to and from the Atlanta airport: I took an Uber to the train station ($6.75) on Wednesday morning and took the train the rest of the way to the airport ($2.50). After returning to Atlanta, I took the train to downtown Atlanta ($2.50) and a Lyft ($5.40) back home. Total: $17.15
  • Cable Cars! Note: if you’re staying in San Francisco all day and want to ride the cable cars, it’s worth getting a MUNI day pass, which includes the cable cars. However, MUNI doesn’t include BART travel, and my friends and I were heading into Berkeley to visit the NaNo office that afternoon, making a day pass impractical. Bonus: we got to stand on the outside part of the cable car on the way back downtown! And got a little friendly with a bus! (Not exactly a bonus. We didn’t crash, but we were about a foot away from the bus.) Cost: $14
  • BART: I traveled on BART from SFO to my hostel in downtown San Francisco ($8.95). Right after checking in I went from downtown San Francisco to Walnut Creek to attend a write-in and see family in that area ($5.25). I attended a write-in in the Mission on Thursday ($3.90 round trip). I went to visit the NaNoWriMo office in Berkeley on Friday ($7.70 round trip). And then I traveled from downtown San Francisco to the airport on Monday ($8.95).

Getting Around total: $65.90

Food and Drink

Breakfast was basic but free in the hostel, so I filled up on bagels and apples and bananas. If it weren’t, I would have done what I did when I stayed somewhere without free breakfast: go to Safeway and stock up on similar foods for the trip. It’s also worth noting that I packed some apples and granola bars to eat as snacks throughout the trip so I could spend less on snacks on the way. (In fact, this plus the in-flight cookies and pretzels were all I ate on Wednesday until dinner. Do not recommend, especially when you’re traveling several time zones into the past. However, this meant I spent nothing on Wednesday’s food since my dad’s cousin insisted on paying for my dinner.)

  • Thursday Lunch: Sorabol in the downtown mall’s food court. I may be biased from being an actual Korean, but eh. ($9.73)
  • Thursday Dinner: Sandwich at Boudin Bakery. They didn’t have the bread bowls, but otherwise this was okay. ($9.45)
  • Thursday Write-In: I bought an It’s It ice cream sandwich at Borderlands Cafe for the write-in since I didn’t want caffeine and it was cash only below five bucks. Since I paid in cash and can’t find the receipt, I don’t have the record on my bank account, but let’s go with $4.00 as the total.
  • Friday Starbucks: Right after arriving at Fisherman’s Wharf, we stopped by the Starbucks there (okay, one of the Starbucks there) to caffeinate. I finally got my first peppermint mocha of the season, but it was disappointing. Oh well. ($4.45)
  • Friday Ghirardelli: I put the round of hot chocolates for three of us on my card ($15.22)
  • Friday Lunch: Easy Creole near the NaNo office. Eh. ($10)
  • Friday Dinner: Kichi Grill, again in the mall food court. Not bad. ($11.41)
  • Saturday Impromptu Write-In: Chai latte at Cup A Joe Coffee. Not too bad. ($3.81)
  • Saturday Lunch: Soup at Crave in Russian Hill while en route to a write-in. Overpriced for the small bowl of soup I got. If I had known the write-in venue had huge sandwiches, I would have held out for that. Oh well. ($6.80)
  • Saturday Afternoon Write-In: Tea and cheesecake at Goody Cafe to make up for the lackluster lunch. ($6.50)
  • Saturday Dinner: Burger and fries at the bar hosting the out-of-towner get-together. ($9)
  • Sunday Morning Write-In: What is with me and going to write-ins when traveling? It’s almost like I like to write or something. Anyway, I got a plain coffee at Another Cafe. Really, that’s the name. ($2.25)
  • Sunday Lunch: Wrimo brunch at Lori’s Diner. The checks weren’t split and I had already used all my cash on hand by that point. Since the checks weren’t split, I didn’t have actual cash, and everyone else put in extra, it didn’t matter in the end. In retrospect, I should have offered to put the lunch on my card so I could pay for myself, then take the cash, but oh well.
  • Sunday Dinner: NOWD! No extra cost.
  • Monday Lunch: Spicy chicken bowl (pseudo-Japanese fare) in SFO while writing with a couple of other Wrimos ($12.18)
  • Monday Dinner: The rest of my apples and granola bars. I might have eaten something after getting home, but I don’t remember now. No extra cost.

I have to admit, outside of NOWD, nothing really stood out in the food department, unlike in 2013 when I visited all the tea places. Next year may be the year I explore all the food.

Food and Drink Total: $104.80

Fun Stuff

I didn’t spend too much on tourist attractions, primarily because I live in another major city (so I really don’t need to see the zoo or aquarium or most things that Atlanta also has) and have already been to some touristy stuff in San Francisco. I also visited the Cable Car Museum and ran through Golden Gate Park, but those were free.

  • Japanese Tea Gardens: Located in Golden Gate Park, this Japanese garden is lovely and quiet, especially on weekday mornings. It also gave me a good chance to split up my 11ish-mile run into two parts and change my phone battery (because Pokemon Go). $8 admission.
  • Out-of-Towner Get-Together: This is the event for Wrimos who have come from out of town for Night of Writing Dangerously. I added $10 to the cost of the appetizers.

No Alcatraz again. Tickets sold out for the times I could go before I could buy them. Fifth time’s the charm, right?

Fun Stuff Total: $18.00


This section is for the shopping things I did (and not for stuff I forgot to bring).

  • David’s Tea: I know it’s basically Canadian Teavana, but the closest DT to me is 500 miles away (compared to having multiple Teavana stores in Atlanta), I’ve had far better experiences at DT than at Teavana, and you can buy tea in smaller sizes at DT. This year I bought the advent calendar and a bunch of sample sizes. ($61.73)
  • Ghirardelli Square: I’ve been here before, but my friends hadn’t, so I tagged along with them on Friday because chocolate. I crammed over a pound of chocolate into the small plastic container. Thanks to the 10% off coupon on the back of my cable car pass, this cost went down to $14.09.

Shopping Total: $75.82

Unrelated Expenses

These are the most avoidable expenses that you probably won’t encounter. Well, I was late mailing my NaNo tea swap package, but I stuck it in my bag to mail from San Francisco. Since I was mailing internationally, this cost $13.50. (Fun story: I left my debit card in my running belt that morning. Thankfully I had enough cash in my wallet to cover the cost.)

I also arrived in San Francisco and discovered that I had left my pajama pants at home. As I was staying in a hostel, sleeping pantsless would be, well, a little awkward, and sleeping in my running shorts after breaking out a sweat would just make me feel gross. So I headed over to Ross on Thursday morning and bought a pair of pajama pants. I needed a new pair anyway. ($7.60)

Thanks to the post office adventure, I didn’t have cash for future outings in the city, including the out-of-towner get-together. I bought some silly burger candies in Walgreens on the way to the get-together and got the cash for the out-of-towner get-together. ($2.69)

At least I didn’t forget my laptop charger like I did in 2013.

Unrelated Expenses Total: $23.79

Grand Total

Drumroll, please.

Without the unrelated expenses, the grand total spent on my 2016 Night of Writing Dangerously trip is… $956.36.

Once the unrelated expenses are included, the grand total rises to $980.15. That’s for a Wednesday through Monday trip across the US, including my own contributions to my NOWD fundraising page.

Additional Notes

First of all, there is a lot of variation in the cost of going to Night of Writing Dangerously. Travel, lodging, and the NOWD admission itself are the biggest factors; depending on your situation, these can be what makes or breaks your trip. I know they were big factors in my not attending in 2012 (when I was flat broke) and 2015 (when travel costs had gone way up by the time I had the funds to go).

I get it. This post is just describing my experience. This year I was fortunate to worry about money and spending a little less than I did in, say, 2011 or 2014. I’m also fortunate to have a strong supportive circle of friends and acquaintances who are able to contribute to my fundraising in some way.

There isn’t too much to do to get around travel costs since this is often tied to where you live. Lodging, however, can be flexible, especially if you know someone in the area with a couch or extra room, or choose to stay in a hostel like I did. (Anyone in San Francisco have a couch I can sleep on next year? I’m sure the aforementioned relatives would, but they also live an hour out of the city.)

While I stayed in San Francisco for five nights, one way of cutting back on expenses is shortening your trip. The practicality of this depends on how far you’re traveling and the savings of increasing or decreasing your trip by a day (for instance, I don’t want to fly across the country on Sunday and then do it again Monday). This time, traveling from Wednesday through Monday was the most practical trip length with the least expensive flight, especially since I didn’t have to be up ridiculously early the day after NOWD. (This is a first.)

Do you want to go to Night of Writing Dangerously? Are you planning on going this year? Let’s talk!

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