Andy and I are both now in our fifth decade! We’re still trying to sort out that big trip — we grabbed some crazy cheap tickets ($470 from Missoula!) to Italy (!) only to discover the timing couldn’t work so we had to let them go. It was painful (especially now that prices are triple that) but I do trust something else will come along. We just have to get creative. We can do that. In the meantime, we will do what we do well: road trips.
In our current culture where we can regularly see gorgeous vacation photos of families on extravagant trips that involve a week or two or three off work, flying far, eating out, staying in fancy hotels – and so on – it’s easy to feel like we need to save up several thousand dollars to have a great vacation. At least, I’ve caught myself believing that story a few times. Our reality (it’s not that unique: self-employed/no paid vacation/not much wiggle room in the ol’ bank) is that we have to plan and save up for a long time to make something big happen. Everyone’s “big” looks different and while I love planning and saving for our “big”, I also love going and doing. In the meantime, we have become quite good at satisfying vacations close to home.
Most of our getaways are pretty affordable. No cost for camping or spending the day on the river. It’s just gas to get there, food in the cooler. And the gear…ha, which is far from free. The Gear. You all ask me a lot about gear.
A bit about the gear: It has taken us years to accumulate the gear we have. And, when we had way less gear we still had fun doing things outside. We think of gear investment as it’s amortized over several decades of good use. When you look at it this way: if you buy a $500 tent and camp 10 nights a year and have the same tent for 10 years, that’s a $5 per night lodging fee. But that $150 tent that barely gets you through that first rain storm that drenched your family and snapped poles? Not a good deal plus you have to bribe the children with unlimited s’mores just to get them to consider camping again. Good gear = good times. But also, for those who ask me about getting out with my family: YOU DON’T NEED ALL THE GEAR. And you shouldn’t not do what you want to do because you don’t have contraption that boils water in 37 seconds or a sleeping pad the size of a raft. There’s contradiction in there but I think you know what I mean.
Andy wanted to get away and ski on his birthday. So it was a biggish adventure for us. My mom stayed with the kids! I still am blown away by this option. We chose to drive north to Whitefish, a resort town just outside Glacier National Park. I thought I’d share this trip because it’s kind of luxe and we still made it work within our budget. And, I don’t know about you but I always appreciate the nitty gritty details about people make their dreams come true. I am going to talk about money. Don’t get weird.
For a two day ski vacation, we spent $471.
2 lift tickets / $120
food and drink for 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 1 dinner / $50
2 nights lodging / $155
big birthday dinner out / $121
gasoline / $25
- When looking for lodging: we prefer airbnb to hotels. They are more weird and more affordable. It’s unexpected and fun. We stayed in a little apartment that was on Whitefish mountain for $77/night, just a few minutes from the resort base (hotels this close cost $170-$400/night). It was tiny and clean with a funky kitchenette in the garage/weight room, a perfect home base for us!
- We love to experience wonderful food and do try to eat out for one epic meal out when we can. 40th birthdays call for an epic dinner out. In Whitefish we ate at Tupelo Grill and had one of the best meals we’ve had in a long time (me: shrimp and grits; Andy: chicken and dumplings). The other 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and 1 dinner: we packed our cooler with bread, cheese, fruit, vegetables. That’s $50 for five meals, including coffee and wine.
- You know we love coffee! While we deeply appreciate a good cup from a local joint, we often make our own to save money. Our favorite methods are the aeropress, moka pot and pour over. We brought the aeropress on this trip.
- You can almost always find deals on experiences through Costco or Craigslist/Marketplace or Groupon. A little research pays off. We saved $40 buying our lift tickets through Costco.
Skiing is just expensive. The gear alone! Again, we don’t need all the gear. Back to the gear. How many times can I say gear in one post? Many of the things we enjoy have an upfront cost that can feel daunting. Camping, biking…I get it. We’ve found a few things to work for us. Gear Gear Gear:
- As I mentioned, if we are buying new, saving up and investing in good stuff is the way to go. I just got new ski pants 2 years ago after having mine for 19 years and, honestly, I only got new ones because my old ones were ill fitting and really ugly and I wear snow pants several times a week and wanted to feel unridiculous in them (my vintage 1998 buddies are still here for visitor use!). Andy bought his backpacking pack in high school with his own money. It’s 25 years old and going strong. Same goes with jackets, bikes, sleeping bags, boots, tents, stoves, puffy coats, helmets, mittens etc. As tempting as it is for me to go for the low price tag, that choice might end up in the landfill and be more expensive in the long run. Get the good stuff, buy it less often, save the earth, save money.
- We make purchases in the off season. I just bought the kids’ mittens for next winter at a local shop’s end-of-season sale, I bought the kids’ bathing suits several months ago. I am currently stalking craigslist for next year’s ski boots and snow boots.
- Same goes for thrift stores: look for water shoes in January, look for snow pants in July.
- Look at last year’s models! Pretty much everything we have bought new is an older version. REI Garage (we bought our tent here), Patagonia outlets (you can often phone in an order) and your local outdoor shops are great resources for discounted 2016 gear in 2018. And, psst: it’s usually pretty much the same, just different colors.
- Little by little! Slow and steady, it has taken us YEARS to accumulate our gear. And we used to have way less cool/comfortable gear and it was still fun and functional. I talked with our babysitter’s father once about camping and he said he and his kids would regularly just spontaneously hop on bikes and go camp up in the wilderness. They’d put on their pjs, grab sleeping bags, hot dogs, water and marshmallows and GO. It’s a good reminder that most things are simpler than we let them be. Yes, an inflatable pillow that packs down to the size of your palm is lovely but it also works just great to stuff your puffy coat in a t shirt.
- Craigslist is your buddy for kid gear. Kids grow so fast and buying new gear doesn’t make sense most of the time. We find second hand whenever we can.
- Throwing down money for a family ski pass is always a stretch for us. Every year. But we know we will be grateful to ski together every weekend for all of winter so we find a way. It means we don’t get to do and buy other things and it means we appreciate the heck out of the opportunity to ski! What I’m saying is: We think about what we want for our family, what we want to invest in and we go for it. It makes it easy to let go of other expenses and focus our energy on our prize.
We also just finished up Spring Break sticking close to home. I like the challenge in making home feel like vacation. I also just like home. We day tripped to a hot springs, skied, hiked, picnicked and lounged about reading and baking and snuggling. We did drive to Andy’s hometown of Red Lodge for a long weekend where we woke to sub zero temperatures and a snow storm…
I am pretty good at staying positive and loving all the seasons but SPRING: come to me. It is currently windy and snowing and after I wrap this up, I plan to plant some seeds and daydream about our upcoming road trip to Oregon. First, one more cup of coffee.
I love how you vacation – we do the same but, unfortunately don’t live in such a beautiful place. I remember the best family vacation was when we bought a big ole tent, took $600 out of the bank and spent 3 weeks on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior until our $$ ran out. Totally unscripted and relaxing. Now that the kids are gone, we still Airbnb and drive to far away places (usually towards Maine where our daughter is) and spend little but gain much. Our youngest is headed to the Tetons to work this summer and is slowly outfitting himself with “gear”. Buying, a little good stuff, at a time because I am pretty sure his adventures are going to continue after the summer!