Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vacation Planning

One of the hardest things about being budget conscious is that it can make you feel like you don’t deserve treats, like being social or going on trips.
Case in point – this weekend we went up to Cedar Falls to hang with some of our siblings, one of which was on leave from Afghanistan.  We splurged on a hotel room that was connected to the lounge we met at so we didn’t have to cut our time short driving back.
Between the hotel room + breakfast, gas, and lunch the next day, I’m pretty sure we coughed up $200 for a weekend.  At first I felt guilty.  I mean, $200 would be a great credit card payment.  But then Mike asked, “when was the last time we did anything for ourselves?”
Because I could not list a single outing or indulgence since last summer and we haven’t been out of town since Christmas, I decided to let it go.  Finances are about striking balance after all, not just cutting back.
But it got me thinking about vacation planning for this year.  Everyone deserves some time out of the house and we definitely have spring fever.
Any vacation can be easy on your pocket by planning ahead:
·         Research prices and comparison shop
·         Overbudget for gas prices ($5 a gallon anyone?)
·         Set a ballpark budget and stick to it within reason.  Or, know what you are comfortable spending and budget accordingly.
We have 4 trips in mind for 2011:
#1 – Effigy Mounds
Our first two outings are simple and cheap.  Effigy Mounds/Pike’s Peak near McGregor, IA is a great place to visit.  It is quintessential small-town Iowa combined with history and the all-important Mississippi.  It’s only 92 miles away.
Pike’s Peak is free to get into and Effigy Mounds has a nominal fee of $3 a person.  McGregor and nearby Prairie du Chien have very inexpensive hotels (we stayed in one once for $60 a night) and there are a plethora of camping options.
This would be a hiking trip as both state parks have some seriously awesome trails. That would be our entertainment.  Aside from gas, we’d need lodging and food.
#2 – Backbone State Park
Another weekend trip in the grand outdoors.  This park is free with tons of trails and a lake for swimming.  Camping is totally cheap ($9 a night), cabins are available for $50 a night, and the nearby town of Strawberry Point has some options.  Again, there’d be gas (this is 60 miles away) and food (picnic and grilling fixings).

#3 – Cahokia / St. Louis
Did you know there is a Native American pyramid on the Mississippi?  Yeah, neither did I.  Well, it’s not technically a pyramid, but google pictures and tell me that’s not what looks like is buried there.
Cahokia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahokia) is a mound site just east of St. Louis. Like Chicago, this is an almost 5+ hour trip so gas would be a major expense.  Cahokia State Park has camping plus the town of Cahokia has lodging.  There’s also St. Louis, which isn’t short on hotels.
This is one of those typical summer road trips.  I want to take our time getting there, stop at whatever strikes our fancy along the way, and just be outdoors as much as possible.
#4 – Chicago
The big one is Chicago in September or October.  I love Chicago – it’s my favorite city.  Mike has only been there sparingly and I want to show him my favorite museums.  Not to mention hunt for awesome food.  I literally have cravings to pop into Chi-town.  We’re using our 10-year anniversary as an excuse to spend a few days in town and give ourselves an official vacation.
The goal is to go for 4 days or so, some during the week.  Enough to get a sampling, but not go crazy with trying to hit everything up.  The Windy City is 250 miles away so gas would definitely have to be accounted for.
Possible tourist spots:
·        Science and Industry Museum: $46 for two adult tickets including submarine tour.  Or, if we go during the last week of September, they’re all free days (we’d still pay $16 for the sub tour).  $18 for parking, ouch.
·        Oriental Institute: Absolute must.  Free but would give $10 donation.
·        Sears Tower Skydeck: $34 for two adults (or we could just go to the restaurant and still get the fun elevator ride and beautiful views)
·        Boat tour on the river: around $30 a seat, depending on which one.
·        Adler Planetarium: $27 a head for the all-inclusive pass.  On September 15, they have an “After Dark” event with cocktails and appetizers.  You get to actually look through their telescope.  That’s $15 a person.
There’s also the amazing City Pass.  For $76 a person, you get tickets to the following:
·         Shedd Aquarium
·         The Field Museum
·         Skydeck Chicago
We’ve done the Field Museum and the Art Institute before, but even if we just did 4 out of the 5, we’d still save major bucks.
Food is a huge question mark.  I would definitely want a hotel with a mini-fridge and pack sandwiches for day trips.  But fancy restaurants featured on Food Network would definitely be hard to pass up.
I think the biggest factor would be a hotel and its price.  That could make a major difference on how much we want to vs. can afford to cram in.
#5 – Other summer expenses
·         A friend’s wedding an hour away + hotel for 2 nights
·         To be determined 4th of July plans
·        Mike’s birthday party (also July).  We’re renting a cabin for a weekend  and throwing a big bash.  Only 10 miles from our place and $50 a night.
·        A Wood family reunion.  In town, but they’re renting a banquet room so we have to pitch about $30 to go, which is perfectly acceptable.
·        Going to Platteville to visit my sister, which is only 1+ away.  But there are many temptations in Dubuque and Galena J
I think what we have in the works is really reasonable.  Two trips include very healthy activities and low-budget accommodations.  Chicago is a splurge but not inappropriate, particularly if we plan carefully.
Laying out what we’re facing this summer is really helpful for budgeting.  That way we can set limitations while still having the freedom to enjoy ourselves out and about.
We went to Jamaica 3 years ago and had a blast.  It was one of the most relaxing times of my life.  We would love to go back, but we’re realistic.  That kind of trip is several years away and only when we’re on more stable financial ground.  Until then, we’re going to exploit the heck out of the Midwest!
My #1 trip rule: PLAN.  It’s as simple as that.
Question of the Day: What trips are you planning for summer/fall?

1 comment:

  1. oooOOOooooo All right! Everything sounds just marvelous...