My “Creative” Vacation

By Mac Fife

Yes, I’m jealous.  Every time I see a picture of Bora Bora or Waikiki or even The Magic Kingdom, I’m jealous as heck, because I think my family is YEARS from affording a traditional vacation!  Not only is our budget limited, but with my children’s grandparents spread 8 hours each in opposite directions, a great deal of our “vacation” time should really be spent with them.  With no time and no money, what’s a girl to do?  I’ll just have to become my own travel agent!

“Staycations” seem like a wonderful alternative to me, because, as Claire Dunphy once said, “I’m a mom traveling with kids.  For me this is not a vacation.  It’s a business trip.”  But it’s trickier to feel like you‘re “escaping” from real life when still in your house, with the same lawn that needs mowed, the same closet you’ve meant to organize, the same friends and family calling in and stopping by, and the same problems at work just a short drive away.

But this year, I’ve decided to treat our regular visits to family as vacation opportunities!  Even if your extended family lives two doors down, when a reason to travel DOES present itself, why not pounce on it?  In fact, did you know some companies allow families to “buy in” on their employee’s business trips and conferences?  Yeah, it’s not quite the ideal, but it is ONE way to get away a lot cheaper.  Even if it’s just a few days to lounge beside a hotel swimming pool, a getaway is a getaway!

So, how does a person vacation “creatively” like this, without busting the budget?  Let’s start with the travel costs:  How much will you spend on gasoline or airfare?  Check out the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator.  (You don’t have to be a member to use it.)  It allows you to choose major cities you will be traveling between, and the make, model, and year of your car.  Calculating totals for both one way and round trip, I love that their price averages are up to the minute, and reflect the specific regions you will be passing through!  It’s nice to have those sorts of questions answered, particularly when fuel prices have risen so drastically this year!

Now lets conquer the second big budget buster… FOOD!  Rather than eating out, we’ve tried stocking a big cooler with sandwiches and snacks for the road.  Unfortunately, when I see how many bags of Bacon Cheddar Combos get mindlessly munched in highway hypnosis, it seems like we aren’t even saving over McDonalds!  I‘m determined this trip will be different.  I’ve mapped out highway rest stops for fancy picnics (http://www.interstaterestareas.com/), and I’m prepping special treats in individual sized servings to distribute periodically, flight attendant style!  No more cases of, “What happened to the rest of those Cheetos?!”

For more fun as the new “road trip attendant,” I’m dreaming up all kinds of little toys and surprises to sneak to my family in the car!  I should probably also check our library for audio books, or even DVDs we can enjoy.  (By the way, if you do DVDs, please choose something that won’t tempt the driver’s eyes away from the road.  We like stand up comedy, but dialog-heavy sitcoms might also work.)

Take into account when you may want to spring for a restaurant, such as meet ups with old friends, or the Cracker Barrel stop you just can’t go without!  There’s no guilt when its set as part of the budget!  But, if you’re not staying with family, what can you do about meals at your destination?  You may be surprised at what can be planned and prepared from a hotel room!  I recently listened to the story of a woman who did just that!  First, she prepared an entire week’s worth of entrees and froze them solid in flat zippered bags.  With her cooler stocked and her slow cooker in tow, they were careful to book only hotels that offered continental breakfasts and microwaves.   (Rotating ice buckets kept the contents of her cooler frozen.)  Each day’s entrée would be thawed to simmer in the crock pot, and “Steamfresh” style sides were prepped in the microwave.  There were always enough leftovers for lunch, and continental breakfasts took care of, well, breakfast!  That’s an extreme example, but it goes to show that with a bit of ingenuity, a person CAN feed their family well (and healthfully) on the road, without spending much more than they would have at home!

Now I’m planning on ENJOYING my stay!  I’ll double check area websites for alerts to free local events.  We’ve planned some “southern Illinois” themed souvenirs.  We even let family and friends know this IS our vacation this year, and they’ve surprised us with how enthusiastically they’re “playing along”!  Planning with the same attention to detail (or LACK thereof!) I’d use for a “real” vacation helps me relish our countdown to departure!  I won’t forget to take lots of pictures, and may even send a postcard or two!  I’m bringing a few easy reads, and a new book of Sudoku!  Nothing says vacation like…

Well, what says “vacation” to you?

UPDATE:  I put this piece together a couple weeks ago, while I was still preparing to leave.  I’m back now and it was WONDERFUL!  I don’t care where you visit, not even Disney can compete with the love and affection of doting grandparents and the extended family that miss you so much!  We came home feeling truly rested and refreshed!

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Categories: Family, Food, Money, Travel, Whimsey | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “My “Creative” Vacation

  1. How did the individual treat size bags work out? Just wondering, cause I’m pretty sure my husband would demand several at a time. He doesn’t like being told that’s all for now.

  2. laura

    here’s what we do: we have a credit card through choice hotels. we only use it for big purchases…car repairs, expensive gifts, whatever else we drop $100 or more on. (it gets paid off immediately…no sinking into debt for our family!) our purchases earn us points that we save up and then redeem for free nights at a motel. last november we took the kids to pigeon forge…it’s close enough that we don’t have an annoying road trip with whining and fussing and snacks and fuel stops. we stayed two nights, didn’t pay a thing for our room, and used our dollywood passes one of those days to spend a day of already-paid-for fun with the kids. we never paid for breakfast since all choice hotels have continental breakfast, so we just dined out for the other meals. we didn’t do a whole lot else, stopped at a store or two to do a tiny bit of christmas shopping but otherwise we just were lazy! the indoor pool was still a bit cold for us, but we braved it for a few goose-bumpy minutes, haha!

    it’s no grand getaway, but it was nice to just be away from home. i know as the kids get older, we’ll do more of the traditional vacation stuff. but for now, it’s enough work just getting stuff together for a baby and a preschooler! my family is 11 hours away and jonathan’s family is out of the country, so we definitely tend to save up all his vaca time off for being with them, which is why a little mini-trip is just the ticket! i can’t wait til a couple more years and he earns another week or so of vacation time. two weeks gets used up in a jiffy!

  3. MacisMessy

    Steph, my individual sized snacks were actually pretty huge. About the size of a bag of combos for each of us. And I tried to plan things out so that I had a new snack to offer every two hours. It also helps that my husband is trying to watch his figure and learn better portion control on his own. Maybe make Steve a double portion of whatever trail mix or road trip goodie you’ve concockted. Dads should be allowed to have their own Dad sized snacks.

    I did have to give in to Marcus’ plea for a bag of Combos and an energy drink on the way. Turns out he looks forward to those things much more than I realized. But the cost of getting him his small fix of gas station goodies was much less than what it would have been, because he was mostly satisfied with what we had packed, and I didn’t crave any gas station stuff for myself. It’s give and take.

  4. Bectoria

    Love this post Mac! I must be crazy, but I actually enjoy road trips with my family. We do the movie thing and always have their Leapster, Tag and iPod Touch close at hand, but I really mostly enjoy jamming to the iTunes playlists we create together beforehand.

    Bless you for trying, but I just can’t wrap my mind around Combos. When we’re on the road, it’s all about the sunflower seeds for our clan!

  5. Rebecca Wallace

    It’s funny that this is new news. We’ve traveled like this for years because we have such a small income. We look for hotels and inns with kitchens because we have so many food allergies in the family. My electric skillet and slow cooker are my best friends. Before all the gadgets for the car, we had bags for paper, crayons, pencils and such. We sang songs, looked for funny license plates and oddball signs. Road trips were always fun. Cheerios mixed with M & M’s were a fav. The most high tech thing we owned was a little cassette player with earbuds. How did we ever manage?! LOL!

  6. Whimsygirl

    LOL Rebecca! You’re absolutely right! You do not need the latest gadgets and gizmos to keep your kiddos engaged. Guess that’s just me trying to be fancy! May we never forget the power of pen and paper!

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