There may be no job more grueling than Leader of the Free World. U.S. presidents have very full schedules, and occasionally they need vacation time to refresh and reboot. But even those vacations aren’t always that relaxing. As former President Ronald Reagan’s wife Nancy Reagan once acerbically noted, “Presidents don’t get vacations; they just get a change of scenery.”
While we want our presidents to get important downtime, the costs of these vacations add up for the American taxpayer. Keep reading to learn how much money various presidents have racked up in vacation costs — and how much taxpayers have had to fork over to foot the bill. One note: The estimates below are based on analyses from different sources using a range of criteria, and should not be taken as precise figures. Some sources will likely have different figures. Keep reading to learn about the crazy financial perks of being president.
Last updated: Jan. 7, 2021
Donald Trump’s Vacation Costs
- Estimated vacation costs (so far): $154.8 million
President Donald Trump claimed during the 2016 campaign that he wouldn’t take very many days off when he was in office, but a review of this record shows that hasn’t been the case. As of January 2020 — three years into his term — he’d already spent 114 days at his resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, and 75 days at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster in New Jersey, according to the New York Intelligencer. The Intelligencer also reports that during Trump’s first four visits to Mar-a-Lago in 2017, the Secret Service alone spent $1.3 million per visit.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Trump’s travel in 2020, it hasn’t stopped him from flying to Florida or his New Jersey golf course.
A February 2020 HuffPost analysis estimated that Trump’s vacations to Mar-a-Lago — which at the time totaled 29 since he’d been in office — added up to just less than $134 million in Air Force One and Secret Service costs. This was on top of $17 million in costs he accrued in 2019 for 15 trips to his New Jersey golf course, and another $1 million to fly to a Los Angeles resort of his. About $3 million was spent on a two-day trip to Scotland in 2018.
For a president who wasn’t going to take much vacation time, he sure is racking up some pretty steep travel costs.
Donald Trump’s Favorite Vacation Destination: Mar-a-Lago
You can’t talk about Trump’s vacations without talking about Mar-a-Lago, a 20-acre palace featuring more than 100 rooms — private suites for Trump and his family, of course — as well as a beach club, oceanfront pool, six tennis courts, a chip-and-putt golf course, a 20,000-square foot-ballroom, a private beach and seaside cabanas.
To stay there yourself, you’ll have to become a member of the club and pay the $200,000 initiation fee — which doubled immediately following the election of Trump as the 45th U.S. president, reports CNBC — and the $14,000 in annual dues. Of course, if you take your family there, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office won’t have to dole out the estimated $60,000 in daily overtime pay that each Trump visit incurs, as reported by ABC News.
An (Expensive) Passion for Golf
Golf and presidents have a long history that dates back more than a century to William Howard Taft, who was the first golfing president on record.
Trump was a vocal critic of predecessor Barack Obama’s time on the golf course, but he already has Obama beat when it comes to golf outings. CNN reported that as of May 2020, Trump had spent all or part of 248 days at a golf club. That compares to 98 rounds of golf for Obama at the same stage of his presidency.
Barack Obama’s Vacation Costs
- Estimated vacation costs: $105.7 million
After Barack Obama’s two-term presidency ended, watchdog agencies calculated exactly how much his presidential vacation days — travel considered personal or mostly personal — cost American taxpayers.
According to Judicial Watch, a conservative non-profit activist organization, the Obama family vacation bill amounted to $105,662,975.27 (yes, the figure was calculated down to the last penny). That total was based on travel records obtained from the Secret Service in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The $105.7 million averaged out to more than $13 million per year over eight years. In December 2018 the McClatchy DC Bureau reported a lower figure of $85 million in Obama vacation costs over eight years.
Barack Obama’s Favorite Vacation Destination: Hawaii
On his 2015 Christmas vacation, Obama and his family visited Hawaii, reported ABC News. While there they ate at Buzz’s Original Steak House in Lanikai, visited the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, traipsed around Bellows Beach and teed off at the Marine Corp Base Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course.
In fact, Christmas in Hawaii was something of a tradition for the Obama family, since it’s where Barack Obama grew up. By the time he left office, he and his family had spent eight Christmases in the Aloha State for an average two-week stay.
As former First Lady Michelle Obama explained in a Christian Science Monitor article, visiting Hawaii over Christmas is “such an important tradition, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.”
The Obamas didn’t just hit Hawaii, though. They also vacationed in places as diverse as French Polynesia, the Caribbean and Bali. But for the most part, the Obama family tended to spend their summers in Martha’s Vineyard, according to Travel + Leisure magazine.
An Historic Trip
Travel + Leisure reports that President Obama clocked 445 trips to 56 different countries on Air Force One during his eight years in office, though these were almost all work-related. He was the first sitting president in 88 years to visit Cuba. Obama traveled to Cuba with Michelle and their daughters Malia and Sasha. While there, they toured Colonial-era neighborhoods and visited Havana’s 18th-century cathedral. But the president was also there to work.
Trips like the one to Cuba might have cost taxpayers money, but from the standpoint of repairing political relationships between the two countries, many observers considered it money well spent.
George W. Bush’s Vacation Costs
- Estimated vacation costs: About $124.7 million in travel costs to Texas ranch
The Washington Post reported that former President George W. Bush took a total of 879 vacation days, including 77 visits to his privately-owned Texas ranch, as well as additional visits to his family home in Kennebunkport, Maine. While some presidents take advantage of fancy travel and fine dining, Bush seemed happiest at his ranch, where he spent 490 of his 2,922 days in office, according to Business Insider.
There isn’t an exact figure to sum up Bush’s total expenses because available estimates don’t include Secret Service costs. But you can come up with a rough estimate by beginning with the estimated cost of Air Force One operation at the time — roughly $179,750 per hour. When you multiply that by the nine-hour round trip from Washington, D.C. to Crawford, Texas, and then multiply that total by 77 ranch trips, the total Air Force One cost for those trips alone comes to about $124. 7 million.
George W. Bush’s Favorite Vacation Destination: Prairie Chapel Ranch
Surely, the fact that Bush owned his primary vacation spot, the 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch just outside of Crawford, Texas, helped reduce the taxpayer burden, as did his low-key vacation activities. Bush mostly liked to spend his time fishing, playing with his dogs and doing chores.
You can’t check into the ranch yourself, so if you plan to visit Crawford you might have to make do with hotels that tend to range from $75 to $150 per night. You can even rent out your own version of Prairie Chapel in the form of the 18-bedroom Gathering Oaks Retreat, which costs about $800 per night.
Bill Clinton’s Vacation Costs
- Estimated vacation costs: At least $7.8 million
Former President Bill Clinton spent 345 days on vacation over eight years, according to CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller — 171 days at Camp David, and 174 other days on vacation. This includes four trips to Martha’s Vineyard and another to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, according to PolitiFact.
Clinton’s total expenses haven’t been collected publicly, but comparing his Vineyard-related travels to data collected by Judicial Watch on Obama’s 2015 Vineyard trip can provide a rough estimate. Over 17 days, Obama’s family spent $465,420 in Secret Service expenses, not to mention round-trip Air Force One flights at approximately $179,750 per hour.
Dividing those Secret Service expenses by the day — about $27,377 — and factoring in Clinton’s five summer flights gives a ballpark cost of about $7,639,598. Remember, this is using Obama’s 21st-century rates rather than Clinton’s 1990s costs. The Clintons also saved a lot of money by staying for free at the private residence of Democratic fundraiser Richard Friedman, and they didn’t travel nearly as far as the Obamas did.
Bill Clinton’s Favorite Vacation Destination: Martha’s Vineyard
Clinton much preferred Martha’s Vineyard, where he golfed at Farm Neck Golf Club, bought plenty of books at Bickerton & Ripley Books (since renamed Edgartown Books) and Bunch of Grapes, sipped coffee at Espresso Love and rode bikes, according to Boston magazine. In fact, the Clintons are known to still hold fundraisers and other events on Martha’s Vineyard. You can party like a Clinton with a Martha’s Vineyard Airbnb for about $300 to $800 per night.
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Dan Ketchum contributed to the reporting for this article.