Travel & Lodging Costs | Vacationing on a Budget, Part 2

Now that I established what our vacation options are for this year, I’ve started breaking down costs.  Not all of the costs- but the travel costs that we’re going to have in some way, shape, or form, anyway.

But first, some tips that are good to keep in the back of your mind no matter what.

  • Consider looking into a credit card that offers hotel or flight points.  If credit cards aren’t your thing, I know Hilton and Holiday Inn brands both have rewards cards that you can still earn points when staying at hotels.  Same with Delta Skymiles.
  • Unless your vacation dates are non-negotiable, try using the flex-date feature when looking for plane tickets.  Keep checking for tickets sporadically, as they may appear cheaper.  I check about once a week to see how/if ticket costs have changed.  I’m also still kicking myself for not booking tickets to Salt Lake last year, when we found them for $230 each round trip.  That was about 6 weeks (if that) before we were taking vacation (and still didn’t know what we were doing.) I’m hoping to plan a little earlier and better this year.
  • Use a spreadsheet to keep track of things- even things that apply for every scenario- so you don’t forget to include something.  You can also use simple formulas to auto-fill a cell and do the math for you, leaving less room for error.
So far, here is my comparison price-wise for Alaska and Charleston- Salt Lake is a little tricky and deserves its own post- coming soon!
Alaska

We’d do a longer trip for Alaska- being up there for 10 full days.  We probably won’t have enough hotel points to stay a full 11 nights for free.  But, Hilton allows you to split between cash and points.  We should be able to get a pretty good deal, even if it’s not free.

Both our employers have a contract with Avis rentals, so we get a special contract price.  I’ve based them off my work, though Scott’s may be a little better.  In figuring up the math, I believe it would also be cheaper to rent a car to drive from Tallahassee to Orlando, turn it in, and then rent one for the drive back.  Though, he thinks that we could use the cell phone parking area for about $7/day, which would be cheaper than renting.

Gas is the only thing I haven’t accounted for in this rough outline-  that’s because we know full well that we’d be driving everywhere, exploring.  It’s what we like doing, so it’s kind of like a “splurge” item.  Plus, fuel in Alaska is already more expensive than in the lower 48 states.

Food is a very rough estimate, and hard to account for, especially up there.  The hotels have free continental breakfast, and we’ll eat just about anything.  But, as with the gas, it’ll be more expensive up there.  At this point, we’re looking at roughly $3000 just to get up there, have a room to stay in, and a car to drive.

Charleston

Wow!   This was much easier!  This would be a 5-day, 4-night trip.  We would be staying at a Hilton hotel because of the points accrued (there’s many more options for brands in Charleston than in Alaska!) I feel pretty confident that we would have enough points saved for 4 free nights at the hotel.

The gas included is to get there and back.  Not while driving around and exploring the area.

Clearly this is the most cost-effective trip.  Which is also why we have the potential to do this and a bigger trip.  But probably not a 12 day Alaskan trip.

My next step in this process is the research phase.  Check back soon, as I will be doing the travel/lodging budget and a potential itinerary for Salt Lake City!

You can check Part 1 out here!

Linking with All Kinds of Things and Oak and Oats!

Weekending | Valentines, Bears, and 6 Years

We’ll start off with a story… Friday morning when I call Scott, he says “you should leave work early… you need an extra day at home with the dogs.”  I’m like, “Well, that’d be nice, but I’m already on my way to work, and I’m not driving an hour just to turn around and drive home a little while later.”  He says, “Well you could stay till like.  1 and then be home for the afternoon….”

I don’t go home.  At about 2:30 I get another call from him, “I just got an email that a package has been delivered.  You should leave and go home and see what it is, I wasn’t expecting anything.”  I say, “Well who is it from?” “I don’t know! It didn’t say!”  I still don’t leave early, being the dedicated employee that I am.

I get home around 6:00, and find a big box out on the deck…  Inside contained these:

The card reads, “Love, Your amazing husband.”  He’s so modest.
And it’s kind of true, but I think it’s going to his head.

Such a sweet boy sometimes.  And those plans I had written about Friday?  Did none of them verbatim.  I didn’t do any that required leaving the house for sure.  However, I did slap on my yoga pants and LL Bean slippers and sit on the couch.  All day long on Saturday.  I tried to read a little bit.  Couldn’t get into it.  So I binge watched Glee instead.  I’ve never watched it before.  Ain’t half bad.  Though, it does feel a little creepy watching Cory Monteith in 2009, knowing what happens in 2013.

But since I didn’t leave the house all weekend long, the only thing I have to share, are these fabulous pictures of my little bears.  Who are at least partly to blame for me not leaving the couch on Saturday.

This little lady ran directly inside and to the gifts.  She decided the bear was her’s.  When I talked to Scott and told him I let her have it, he said, “Well I didn’t want to be an ass and tell you the bear’s for her…”  I said, “Well good, because I didn’t want to be an ass and tell you I gave part of my present to the dog.”  We clearly spend too much time together.

Today also happens to be the 6 year anniversary of when I conned this boy into taking me to Pigeon Forge/ Gatlinburg.  We ran around the aquarium, me pointing out shiny/sparkly things, him pointing out sharks.  Then, we ate at Olive Garden, where we terrified the server by arguing over who was paying.  Something along the lines of “Damn you women and your feminist values!” Was said.  Such a charmer!

The first picture of us together.  That I poorly edited on my phone back in 2011.  It made it so he was paying attention to me- not his phone which is what he was actually looking at! ๐Ÿ™‚

Chipotle Chicken Stew

You may have seen me mention a time or two, about cooking this stew.  I’ve been craving it lately, and have made it (or another slight variation, to come) just about every Sunday.  I make a double batch, and then I have food for lunch all week long.  I haven’t gotten sick of it, it’s (kind of) healthy, and it is very hearty.  Scott also likes it- and he likes that I pack my lunch every day for work when I’ve made it, so he tries to stay out of it so I have enough for the week!

This is the exact recipe I use- found here.  However, mine is from a printed Crock Pot recipe box set (affiliate link)

Aside from doubling everything to make more, I also add a few chopped garlic cloves and a handful of mushrooms.

I use Tyson frozen chicken tenderloins without cubing (a whole bag, when doubling).  About 30 minutes before it’s done cooking, I take them out and shred them.  It helps with the chicken-to-bean ratio.

I add mozzarella cheese to melt on the top of the serving, as well as some crushed pita chips (I have only found these at Publix), and a scoop of sour cream.   It’s quite spicy if you don’t add some of these “coolers” to it!

Chipotle Chicken Stew
All ready to go for work this week!

Linking with Eat, Drink, and Be Mary, Love From the Kitchen, and Green Fashionista/ Martinis & Bikinis

Vacationing on a Budget, Part 1: Tips on Deciding your Destination

vacation-on-a-budget

It seems like as soon as our last vacation / time off is over, we start trying to plan our next vacation.  Scott and I usually wind up taking a trip to Maine every couple years, run up to Tennessee more frequently at that, as well as try to plan an “us” vacation every year- sometimes more than one.

However, we’re very indecisive.  We start out at one idea, and then get off on another idea. And then another.  You can imagine how fun it was wedding planning.  Here is our thought process on deciding where to go for our “us” vacations.  I’ve made them as generic as I can, even though we have a few destination ideas in mind already.

Decide When You Can Take Your Trip: Take a look at the calendar.  Do you always spend Christmas and/or Thanksgiving with family?  Is work really busy for you a certain time of the year?  How much time do you need to save for your trip?

Scott has very specific times of the year that he has to be around and working.  We always spend Thanksgiving in Tennessee, and Christmas seems to be rotating between Maine, Tennessee, and Florida.  That leaves 4 months at are totally free, and 1 month that works if we stay within the southeast.

Decide How Long You Want to be Gone:  We have about the same amount of vacation time a year.  However, they accrue differently- this is something you’ll want to get ironed out from the start.  It would suck if you have an extra week free that your spouse doesn’t.  And you realized it after they’ve used up all their time.

Maybe you would like two long weekend trips a year, instead of one 7 days trip.  Maybe you want to go big or go home.  Decide before getting all excited for a 10 day Alaskan excursion when you only have time for a 4 day weekend.

Fenway Park, Boston, MA
via

Take into Consideration what You Want Out of Your Trip:  We have two totally different methods of deciding where to go.  He wants to vacation somewhere he could see himself/us living.  His list of vacation destinations include Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, and Colorado.  When it comes to narrowing it down more than that, I get to do the research as to where we should focus on.

I want to go somewhere I have no intentions of ever living.  As a result, my list looks something like Chicago, New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.  I think I’m drawn to large cities such as these for a couple of reasons.  I don’t want to live in a city, but I am drawn to the the lights of them.  I can easily pick out a rough list of things to do (because who doesn’t want to see the Red Sox play at Fenway?) without actually having to do much research.  Research tends to overwhelm me and before you know it, I have a list of 30 things to do, and only 5 days to do them in.

Make a List of Pro’s and Con’s: Be Rory Gilmore and make a list.  Each of the ideas above have their own special “thing” that would be great to do.    Cities (even for the short term) make him a bad travel partner.    You’re sure not to run of of things to do in LA or NYC.  That could also get expensive very quickly.  We both like National Parks and historical aspects of an area.

We like road tripping a lot- an added bonus is that we sometimes can bring the dogs. Driving also allows us to see more of an area at our leisure.  It’s less expensive than flying, but a portion of our vacation is stuck in a vehicle.

Mount McKinley, Salt Lake City, and Charleston
via, via, via

Put It All Together and Narrow Down Your Choices:  It’s like a big Sudoku- you’ll only get the perfect fit one way.  And it can be so, so irritating getting to that point.  After much deliberation, we have narrowed our choices of vacation destination down to 3 spots this year.

  1. Alaska- True, we haven’t narrowed down where exactly.  I think I’ve mentioned that we both think we could live there.  We watch every show with Alaska in the title.  It would be a ”go big or go home” trip for 10 days.  We’re debating on flying into Anchorage, and then driving out to more remote locations.  We’d do a lot of hiking, and a lot of exploring and picture taking- I’ll be getting a few more stamps for my National Parks passport.  It would be a late August or early September trip.
  2. Salt Lake City- This is the fly in/fly out location, and we’d be renting a vehicle.  Also a 10 day trip, but we’ll be trying to pack a lot of western National Parks in.  We will also have the flexibility to stay an extra day or two at one location if we so desire.  The appeal of Salt Lake is that we have found some very cheap flights in the past.  It would be an August-September trip as well.
  3. Charleston- We always keep a location closer to home as an option for a number of reasons.  We may decide that we need to use vacation money for something else during the year, and flying might be out of the budget.  We would only need a 4-day weekend to make this trip work.  Because of this, it can fit into our schedule at any point.  Neither of us have ever been there, and it has the historical aspects that we both enjoy.

As you can tell by the title, this is Part 1 of a series I’m planning.  Be sure to check back for the rest of the series- from here, each post will be geared to what we need to consider when deciding between these 3 destinations.  I know that hardly makes any sense, but it may become more clear as they come out.

Linking up with All Kinds of Things for Tuesday Talk and Oak &Oats for Week’s End