Monday, June 8, 2009

Cheap Thrills

My last post was "Cheap Eats" and I like the idea of carrying on the theme of saving money. After all, who doesn't like to save a few bucks, right? Even if you're not currently in a financial crisis, why spend more than you have to? Plus, I like the challenge of finding ways to get more for less. I should also say that I'm using the term "cheap" playfully, here, to mean less expensive, not of lesser quality. It's all about being creative and not about lowering your standards.

We don't take our family vacation until fall, but since summer is upon us, I wanted to find some "Cheap Thrills" to enjoy while the kids are out of school. I've told you before how much we used to enjoy day trips, so I decided it's time to bring them back. My goal is to spend less than $20, aside from gas, on each trip. The cost of a picnic lunch isn't included because we would eat lunch at home anyway, so it's not an added expense. To meet the "Cheap Thrills" criteria each destination must:
  • Be within a reasonable distance from home so that no overnight stay is required
  • Charge little or no fee to enjoy
  • Appeal to both kids and adults
  • Have a place to picnic nearby

I wanted to start planning now, so I went to my state's tourism website and ordered the free travel guide. Yes, you can get all the same information online, but it's nice to have the guide to take with you when you venture out. If you don't have the travel guide from the state you live in, I urge you to get one. I was amazed at how much information and how many beautiful pictures are included in the glossy magazine style Michigan guide I received. They also included a separate road map, which is handy if you don't have GPS.

When was the last time you were a tourist in your own state? How much do you know about it outside the area where you live and work? I've lived in Michigan all my life and still found some things I didn't know about. I had no idea, for instance, that surfing and parasailing are common activities along the south western side of the state. I thought those pleasures were limited to the ocean. I can't do either one, but they're fun to watch!

Before we hit the road, I need to get a travel kit together. We used to keep one in the back of our SUV for summer beach trips, so I've got an idea of what I need. Our kit will include:

  • A small brush/dustpan combo (you wouldn't believe how handy this is to clean up picnic tables in parks or spilled snacks in the car) I got ours at the dollar store.
  • Baby wipes (you clean almost anything with a baby wipe!).
  • A roll of paper towel
  • Napkins
  • Paper plates (you could use non breakable reusable plates if you want to bring them home and wash them).
  • Plastic disposable utensils (or regular flatware if you want to bring it home and wash it).
  • Tongs and a spatula for grilling (an extra set just for the travel bag)
  • Wooden matches for lighting grills
  • Grill cleaning brush
  • Foil
  • Plastic zipper bags for leftovers and dirty grilling utensils. Also handy for collecting shells, rocks, pine cones and other souvenirs.
  • Small first aid kit

I know it sounds like a lot, but it all fits into a tote bag or backpack. We leave ours in the car at all times and replenish supplies as needed. If going to the beach is on the agenda, I also pack towels, sunscreen, some sand toys, a hair brush and pony tail holders. On travel day, all we need to pack are the cold items that go into the cooler and a bag with snacks and buns. We prefer to grill hot dogs and/or burgers on the grills available at public parks and beaches than to bring sandwiches. It just seems to be more fun (you can roast marshmallows over the grill, too!). The mini bags of charcoal that don't need lighter fluid are great for this. You just strike a match, set it on the bag and you're good to go. You could, of course, use regular charcoal, but then you need to bring along lighter fluid or a charcoal starter. If you're worried about the cleanliness of public grills, don't be. I'm a serious, serious (did I say serious?) germophobe and I can handle it. As long as you bring a grill cleaning brush, you can get them plenty clean. The heat of the fire kills any germs left behind, anyway.

We now have a tentative list of places to visit this summer. Among them are beaches, historic sites and quirky little towns. Sadly, one of my first choices, the Sanilac Petroglyphs has been closed due to budget reasons. The walking trails are still open, but I wanted to see the ancient rock carvings. In any case, I'm sure each trip will be an adventure. You can be sure I'll share them in upcoming blogs.

If you can spring for a tank of gas and a picnic lunch, I hope you'll find a few "Cheap Thrills" for your family this summer, too. I'd love to read about them on your blog!


Lissaloo said...

Great post! I love the day trip idea, with moving to a new state there will be tons of things to do! One things I've already decided is to find a place with a really large farmers market, my sis is gonna come up and go with me. There is a little one where we are moving but I bet one of the bigger cities near by has them too :)

Chicago Mom said...

My parents were huge fans of the day trip, and now I am having fun taking my daughter to some of the places I went as a kid. We also used to go to South Haven, MI for a week every summer with my father's parents. Thanks for the tips!

Donna-FFW said...

Day trips are so much fun and create so many happy memories. Part of getting there is all the fun!!

L.B. said...

Love it! There's a ride at Disneyland's California Adventure called Soaring Over California. It kinda feels like you are actually flying over the state, it's got a big theater-type screen and, well, anyway, it's really cool.

Since I got on that ride, I was thinking about how much of that stuff I've actually seen. Not a whole lot, actually. I've been wanting to take in-state vacations and day trips, just drive up to points in CA unknown to me and explore. It would be a great way to see the state and really get to know it.

Nan and =^..^= said...

I love this post and the all of the helpful advice...enjoy your daytrips and am looking forward to hearing about them!