A Warfighter’s Guide To Not Going Broke In Vegas

In this May 4, 2015, file photo, pedestrians pass by the 60-year-old Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun via AP, file

It's party time! Maybe you've just gotten promoted or have a bachelor or bachelorette party to attend. Perhaps your eccentric great uncle died and left you a small fortune and his haunted manor. Or you just got back from a deployment with a fat wad of hazard pay burning a hole through your pockets.

Whatever the reason to celebrate, there's no place to party like that celebrated oasis of good times built on mobster's dreams and Frank Sinatra's drinking: Las Vegas, Nevada. There's nothing quite like drinking a yard of strawberry daiquiri under the scorching desert sun, surrounded by tourists with buckets of quarters and off-brand Transformers demanding five bucks for a photo with them.

It's a magical place to be sure, but much like other places of wonder and joy, a trip there can get pretty pricey. Whether it's the overpriced drinks, the 8,000 different Cirque du Soleil shows, or the fact that “Casino Royale” didn't teach you as much about poker as you thought, there are plenty of ways your money can dry up. But you can escape coming home broke if you just use your head. Or, better yet, follow these few rules so you don't have to.

Stationed in Twentynine Palms, I spent a great deal of time training to fight in the unforgiving Mojave. But I spent even more time, and way more effort, living it up in Las Vegas on the weekends. These are my personal tips for getting through a trip that will inevitably turn into marathon of debauchery without breaking the bank.

Avoid the strip clubs.

Let's clear this up right off the bat: That old trope of going to Vegas to pay homage to the classic nudie bars there is just a terrible idea. Utterly idiotic. First of all, every jackass in the universe has that same idea so the clubs are always packed to the gills so tight, you'll be lucky to actually see a stripper. They're all off the Strip, so they're a pain in the ass to get to, the drinks are absurdly priced, and they are an absolute black hole for money. If you really, really want to see people naked, it's Vegas. That's not a difficult thing to find.

Walk if you can.

Come on, I know it's hot as balls out, and you're full to the gills with cheap rum and 5-hour Energy shots, but suck it up. The Strip is designed for you to stumble along easily between drinking destinations, so make good use of it. There are also no open container laws for pedestrians, so the sidewalk itself is a drinking location, and that's pretty damn fun. Unless time is a real issue for you, but why? Aren't you on vacation? Save yourself the expensive cab fares and take a stroll.

Set gambling limits.

Obviously the biggest drain on one's wallet in Sin City is the gambling. While the truly savvy of us out there know how to enjoy the hell out of Vegas without betting dollar one, I know most folks consider it one of the key highlights of going. Your best bet to keep it from getting too painful is to set a maximum amount you're willing to lose before you go. After you've lost all your allotted money, walk away and leave the tables behind. Find something else to do and the temptation will fade.

Find boozy buffets.

Buffets are already a solid bargain and the food at them ranges from “edible” to “surprisingly delicious.” But do some research before you pick which one to eat through your hangover at because not all of them have booze included and those that don't tend to jack up the prices on basic beers. I'm talking Manhattan bar prices. Nine-dollar Bud Lites add up fast.

Seriously, I can’t overstate the need to avoid strip clubs.

Can't stress this enough. However fun it may seem when you're hammered, it never goes well. You'll wake up the next day with either your credit cards maxed out or a wedding ring on your finger. Both if you really screw up.

Cirque du Soleil? Try Cirque du No Way.

I know all those crazy shows are popular, but I have to be honest: I don’t like them, not in the slightest. The only show I saw bored the hell out of me and dragged on forever. It lasted so long I was practically sober by the time it ended. Sure the performers are all incredibly talented and perform acts of physical prowess beyond anything I could do in a million years. But just because something's impressive doesn't make it interesting to watch, and it’s certainly not worth the money. That's why most people don't buy tickets to watch heart transplants. Save the cash. You can watch Cirque du Soleil on YouTube for free.

Bottle service is definitely a maybe.

Bottle service at a club is on the pricey side of things to splurge on, but it can be worth it if you're with a group. Split enough ways, a small table can be cheaper than everybody paying cover charges. Plus it will actually give you a place to sit down and get the hell out of the horrific crowds that fill a Vegas club on any given night. What’s more, individual drinks at a club really aren't exactly a bargain over paying for a bottle or two of booze to share. So splitting up front can potentially prevent you from spending many smaller chunks of cash throughout the evening. Also — if you're visiting Vegas alone, that's just depressing. And I should know, I've done it at least … dozens of times.

Stock up on supplies before you go.

Before you hit the road, be sure to stock up. A few bottles of booze and an armful of snacks purchased at duty-free PX prices will save you a buttload of cash over buying the same stuff after you check in to a casino on the Strip.

Never pick up the hotel phone.

Chances are you're going to wake up hurting one way or another most mornings, afternoons, and evenings in Vegas. The temptation then is to dial room service or the hotel spa and have order a platter of food or a quick massage to get you back in fighting condition. They're counting on that. The hotel staff lives to tack on whatever fees they can to pad your bill. Suck it up, and take the ten minutes to get a sandwich or mosey down to the masseuse on your own.

Are you schmucks even listening? I’ll say it one more time. No goddamn strip clubs!

You people are friggin' exhausting. You know what? Fine. Go spend $3,000 on cheap champagne and some nude broad you'll be too blackout drunk to remember. See if I care.

Let's be clear: A trip to Vegas is still going to cost you, just like any vacation would. But stick to the above points and it will hurt far, far less. Whatever money you do end up spending will be worth it for all the haze and alcohol-diluted memories and shame that will enshroud your every waking moment there. So have fun, cheers, and make sure to try the lobster roll stand at the Planet Hollywood casino. It's pretty good. Just stay away from the strip clubs, okay?

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