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!

Taking a Splash Break at Russell Sims Aquatic Park

Last summer we discovered Russell Sims Aquatic Park in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Living in a land-locked state, it’s important to know where one can cool off from the summer heat or slide down a water slide without breaking the bank. Bowling Green is less than an hour away from us and aside from our city pool, it is the closest place we can go for a splash break.

AngieRussellSimsWe spent our Sunday afternoon at Russell Sims. They happened to be having a pool party for back-to-school, so admission was only $7 per adult ($1 off the regular admission). They were giving away swag bags too, though we opted not to get one, and kids had a chance to meet Curious George. (This would not be our only meeting with the inquisitive monkey that day. We saw him again at the Bowling Green Hot Rods game.)

MelodyRussellSimsThe park provides a lot of bang for your buck – 2 water slides, 2 diving boards, a zero-entry splash pool with palm trees, water buckets, and sprayers, and a huge 50-meter pool, along with plenty of lounge chairs and grassy areas for picnicking. While they don’t allow outside food or beverages, the concession stand is very reasonably priced and has your typical concession fare – hot dogs, pizza, nachos, etc. If you can’t stomach the junk food (even for a day), there are picnic tables outside of the pool area and patrons are allowed to come and go (with an armband). We brought our lunch but couldn’t pass up the $3 nacho combo too. There’s just something about hanging out at the pool that makes you insanely hungry!

Fun & Sun in Golden Isles, GA

We returned home late last night from our 4-day trip to Golden Isles, GA. The Golden Isles are comprised of  St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. We spent the majority of our time on Jekyll Island, with a brief visit to St. Simons Island. We also visited St. Marys, a historic waterfront community about 30 minutes south of Jekyll Island, and the uninhabited Cumberland Island.

KOAWaffleThis was actually our second time to visit St. Marys. A few years ago we camped there to attend the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans game. The KOA made such a favorable impression on us that we didn’t think twice about picking it again for this trip. You really can’t beat the free waffles and pancakes that are included with your stay, or the great staff. On this trip, we stayed in a Kamping Kabin. At $50 per night, you can’t beat that either (well, unless you stay in a tent).

On Friday, we spent the morning exploring St. Simons Island. My mom, an avid reader of historical fiction, had taken me to St. Simons as a kid to explore the cemetery of Christ Church, Frederica, one of the oldest churches in Georgia and the burial ground of many of the characters brought to life in Eugenia Price’s novels. When my mom and I made the journey in 1985, Eugenia Price was still alive. Today she is buried alongside the people she wrote about. Though I no longer remember the characters from the books, I do remember how much my mom loved them, so for her, we made a visit to Eugenia Price’s grave.

The beach on St. Simons was by far my favorite from this trip. At low tide, you could walk for 100 yards or more without ever going more than ankle-deep in the water. I think it was the marine life though that most captivated our attention. In the clear tide pools you could see baby stingrays, hermit crabs, and all sorts of little fish. I wish we could have spent more time at the beach but we had reservations on Jekyll Island for a dolphin tour.

After the tour, we went to dinner at the Driftwood Bistro on Jekyll Island. With a 4.5 star review score on TripAdvisor, I had high hopes for a great dinner of Wild Georgia Shrimp. Perhaps the cook staff was having a bad night (it was pretty busy) but our meals were nothing to write home about. The shrimp was greasy and the veggies were bland.

The highlight of our evening was taking a Turtle Walk with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Having spent an entire summer on sea turtle patrol in Florida in 2014, we were pretty excited to be back on the lookout for nesting loggerheads. Sadly, we didn’t see any that night (not that we could have taken pictures – they are forbidden due to the flash). We did find numerous horseshoe crabs and a tiny baby flounder washed up on the shore, which was promptly tossed back in to grow to sandwich size. On an odd note, a young girl on our walk (maybe 11 or 12 years old) picked up a horseshoe crab shell and carried it around with her like a baby for the entire 2 hour walk.

On Saturday, we spent the day on Cumberland Island before returning to our campsite to make dinner. At home we make mostly vegetarian meals so we decided to try an Eggplant Parmesan (on rice) on the grill, with corn on the cob, and grilled peaches for dessert. It was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself! Definitely a whole lot better than the meal we paid $35 for the night before.

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The ride home on Sunday was mostly uneventful, except for the many stops along the way to find “real” Georgia peaches. Don’t be fooled, like we were, by the signs along the interstate. The peaches may be from Georgia but at nearly $1 each, I’d literally call it highway robbery. We did buy a bucket of peaches for my mom (since we promised) but for ourselves we waited until we crossed back into Tennessee, where our favorite farmer, Mr. Paul, had white peaches for $1 per pound.