Spring Break on a Budget

The Peanut – packed & ready to roll!

It is Spring Break here in our little community but for us, Spring Break sprang a few weeks earlier. Before all of the college kids and families started hitting the highways and beaches, we set off to break in “The Peanut” on its first official road trip. Destination – Florida (or home as I still like to call it).

Spring Break = Spring Broke for a lot of people but not for us…thanks in large part to gift cards, cashback rewards, and discounts. For our 7 night/8 day trip that included stops in Savannah, GA, Daytona Beach, FL, and Fort Myers, FL, we spent an out-of-pocket total of $745.29. Of that, $136.50 was spent on gas, $414.74 on lodging, and $123.29 on food.

Day 1: After a full day of driving, we made a planned overnight stop in Savannah, GA, where we stayed in a KOA Kamping Kabin ($59.85) with a great view of the lake. The next day we visited Oatland Wildlife Center ($5/pp) before driving down to Daytona Beach. This was our second visit to Oatland and we highly recommend it as one of the best wildlife rehabilitation parks in the Southeast. Note: If you do visit Oatland, bring bug spray! I’m still recovering from a battle with no-see-ums.

Sunrise view from our cabin

Day 2-3: Daytona Beach was one of those places we never made it around to visiting when we lived in Florida. Now I know why. Aside from drinking (which we don’t do) and driving the strip, there’s not much to do in Daytona. The beach is nice but it was very windy while we were there so we spent most of our time letterboxing. We stayed at the Lexington Inn, a decent hotel with a hot breakfast and terrible wifi reception, located on the beach in Daytona Beach Shores. ($121.89 for 2 nights with a $20 discount through Hotwire)

Letterboxing in Daytona

Day 4-6: Despite our horrible experience with AirBnB in Baltimore last fall, we decided to take their $50 apology gift card and give them another try. This time we rented an upstairs apartment in Fort Myers. I’m not sure AirBnB is fully redeemed in our eyes but the rental turned out to be better than expected. The furnishings were brand new and clean. My only complaint was that the hostess was less than friendly. Okay, maybe that wasn’t my only complaint – the leaning staircase was a little scary and so was the palmetto bug on the counter. ($190 for 3 nights with a $50 gift card)

We spent very little time in the AirBnB though. We were out adventuring in our old home place. We stopped in to see our favorite owl, Luna, at the Peace River Wildlife Center ($5/pp), took in a Tampa Bay Ray’s Spring Training game ($38 for tickets, $11.50 for snacks), and spent a lot of time on the beach. We also managed to make two trips to our favorite produce store – Detwiler’s Farm Market – where we stocked up on dried fruits, melons, and the most out-of-this-world fresh salsa that money can buy.

Day 7: The last night of our trip was probably the most eventful. We arrived at the Forsyth, GA KOA just a little after 8 PM and checked into our Kamping Kabin for a very Hotel California-esque experience. (You can check out any time you like but you can never leave…) After unrolling our sleeping bags, Angie reached for the door handle to go back out to the car. It wouldn’t budge! The deadbolt had gotten jammed in the lock position and we were stuck inside our tiny camping shed, after office hours, with no way to reach a single camp staff member. A faded note on the wall read: “In case of emergency after 8 PM, please call 911”. So that’s what we did…after 20 minutes of fiddling with the door, of course. Three fire and rescue squad members came with a pry-bar. They released the pressure on the lock so we were able to turn it and get out. Yes, we stayed the night and yes, we slept with the door unlocked. I figured, we were in a campground where people slept in tents so the lock wasn’t that much of a necessity anyway. This delightful experience was bargain priced at only $44.10.

We were supposed to stop by World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta on our way home. We had two free tickets. After our lock-in, we decided that the only stop we wanted to make that next day was home. (If you live in Atlanta and plan on going to World of Coca-Cola before 3/31/17, let me know and I’ll happily email you the tickets.)

For our trip, we had a $25 Walmart gift card, which we used for snacks and breakfast groceries; a $25 Panera gift card, which covered lunch one day and coffee another; a $50 AirBnB gift card, a $20 Hotwire coupon, and $67.54 in Capital One cashback rewards, which was applied toward paying for gas.

ICE at Gaylord Opryland Resort

Wednesday was our first official “free day” in my new work schedule so we decided to make the most of it by taking our great-niece to see ICE at the Opryland Hotel. This year’s theme is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Though she’s still too young to understand the story of Rudolph or Christmas for that matter, we thought she’d enjoy the bright colors and huge characters made completely out of ice – about 2 million pounds of ice to be exact. We were right! From the moment she saw the first larger than life Christmas present, she was over the moon with excitement.

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At first we were apprehensive about taking her. It is, after all, only 9 degrees inside the exhibit. But after reading a few “mom forums” we decided that as long as we all bundled up, we’d be fine. Ever try putting 2 pair of pants, 2 pair of socks, 2 shirts, and 2 jackets on a 17-month old? You get something that looks (and walks) like a miniature version of the Abominable Snowman. Inside the giant blue parka that was provided by the ICE attendant, she does have gloved hands LOL.

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ICE is not a cheap date. Regular adult admission is $28.99 (and the full tour takes only 15-30 minutes). Being the frugal folks that we are though, we got tickets during Gaylord’s Black Friday Sale for only $12.50 each. (There are also discounts available through AAA if you missed the sale). Children under 3 are free with a paid adult admission.

This was Angie’s first time to visit an ICE exhibit and she had just as much fun as the baby. I took Addie’s mom over a decade ago. I don’t remember the theme of that year but I do remember she was no less amazed than Addie was. ICE is a definite “must” at least once in a child’s life. Their smiles and laughter alone are enough to make it worth the admission and if that doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, nothing will.

Happy Holidays!!

Land of the Free(bies)

As self-proclaimed frugalitarians, we love to find good deals when we travel. We especially love to find freebies…and our most recent vacation was full of them!

Our trip to the airport in Nashville began with a free dinner – a foot-long sub from Speedway – courtesy of our Speedy Rewards Card. To that we added a free soda, from of all places a Wendy’s inside the airport. This was an unintended freebie which I scored for being nice. The person in line before me was rude. She actually called the cashier names. I apologized for this stranger and told the young cashier not to take it to heart, business travelers were almost always stressed. She smiled and gave me a large soda.

As we sat waiting for our flight to Philadelphia, I got a Facebook message from an old friend who happens to work at Eastern State Penitentiary, a National Historic Landmark and one of the most haunted places in America. She offered us 2 free tour passes. We quickly accepted and added this unexpected detour to our itinerary.

I have to say, I really enjoyed touring ESP and I’m pretty sure Angie did too. The building and grounds are very unique and interesting but the temporary exhibit, Prisons Today, is worth the admission price all by itself. It’s astounding how much it costs to incarcerate someone in the US and how many things we consider a jailable offence in contrast to other countries. Our visit to ESP was enlightening.

Other freebies we enjoyed in Philly included running Rocky’s staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, touring Fairmount Water Works (another National Historic Landmark), and walking the beautiful Schuylkill River Trail, where we stopped on two occasions to have lunch with some rather friendly geese.

Our free adventure continued in New York City where we visited the 9/11 Museum. It is free on Tuesdays after 5 PM. We also had lunch in Central Park and walked around Times Square. I’d love to say that we got out of NYC without spending a dime but that would be a gross misstatement. Between tolls, parking, and subway fares, our day trip to the Big Apple cost us close to $100…but it was so worth it!

We did manage to go to Atlantic City with losing any money though. Of course, we never set foot in a casino. We visited the beach instead.

Over the past 2 weeks, we’ve traveled through 7 states, including Washington, DC.

Our nation’s capitol is full of fun free things to do. From visiting one of the 11 Smithsonian museums on the National Mall to touring the White House, there’s something for everyone, and we tried to enjoy as much of it was could. Our stops included the Air & Space Museum, Museum of Natural History, the Washington Monument (which was closed again this year), and the International Spy Museum. The Spy Museum wasn’t free but we did get a Groupon for BOGO admissions. We got around via the DC Connector, which because of a glitch with the ticket machine was also free.

On the only rainy day we had, we took advantage of our Coke Rewards points to get 2 free AMC movie tickets, 2 free drinks, and a free popcorn to watch The Girl on the Train. It wasn’t bad but I’m glad it was free.

Even free can be expensive though. Huh? Yes, despite all the free things we did on our vacation, the trip cost a total of $1,993 (including airfare, lodging, transportation, food, entertainment, and souvenirs). It would have been cheaper if not for our Airbnb disaster. We only received a partial refund from that.

Regardless of the cost, we had a great time rediscovering America. We are very happy to live in the land of the free 🙂

Monkeying Around at the Zoo

Late Tuesday afternoon a unique opportunity landed in our lap. We were offered a free day at the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, lunch included. The only catch – we had to go the very next day. What’s a girl to do when she has to choose between going to work and going to the zoo?? Follow the lead of Ferris Bueller of course; take the day off! And that’s just what we did.

The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere is a 200-acre zoological park and historic farmhouse. Though they have some animals native to Tennessee, the majority of the 2,248 animals are exotics. During our 4+ hour visit, I dare say we only saw a small fraction of those animals. There’s just so much to take in that one day is hardly enough.

Since we were taking a “skip day” from work, we decided to let our inner child roam free. We rode the carousel.

We fed the lorikeets (twice!)

We visited a sloth and her baby, some giraffes, and a lot of very loud monkeys.

We ate some delicious pulled pork tacos and took in a show about birds.

In other words, we had a great day playing hooky at the zoo!