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!