"Popcorn" is the nickname we gave to our incredibly active son. If you spent 2 minutes with him, you will easily understand the meaning of the nickname. The Chinese Noodle is the affectionate nickname we chose for our hoped for Daughter-to-Be, who may one day come to us in the LORD's perfect time from China.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Planning our Christmas Getaway… on the Cheap!

Every year the two most expensive months for our family are August and December. This is because we travel by car to visit extended family, either to the Beach (New Jersey- 1,598 miles) in August, or to Siblings’/Parents’ Homes (Pennsylvania- 1,109 miles, Maryland- 1,096 miles) in December. After a few years of using credit cards and PAYING FOR the TRIPS for months after the fact, I set a goal to find savings and have money (CASH) to spare when we arrive. We actually have a “Red Notebook” for our December trip, and a “Blue Notebook” to organize our August trip. I have found that this method is so effective, because I do not have to re-invent the wheel every year. I simply open up my notebook about two months before our intended travel date, and start making arrangements. Here are some of my tips/tactics for arranging affordable trips:

Silly Michael
Planning ahead to cut costs:
We have stayed in a variety of places, from DUMPS to near Castle-like hotels. Over time, I have made notes and have rated different hotels along Highway 40 and Interstate 81, narrowing our night-stays down to 2 favorite hotels: 1) Knoxville’s Country Inn & Suites (with a CLEAN indoor pool & Jacuzzi whirlpool tub to the side in the swimming area… so we can keep an eye on Blaine while soothing those stiff joints from non-use cramped up in the mini-van), or 2) Knoxville’s Best Western (same indoor pool, but no Jacuzzi). Both of these hotels are located nearly half way to our destination (we drive over 500 miles per day), and have a delicious and healthy hot breakfast included in the fee for the night’s stay. They also have free internet and a computer in the lobby so we can check email and travel news, etc, when we arrive. A few months before our trip, I call and check on prices, and also check the Web sites for any special discounts from these hotels. In the end, we usually stay at the one with the lowest price. This year, the lowest offer was $52.95 per night (at Country Inn & Suites), but with taxes and fees, it came to just less than $59.00. I am thrilled! In the past, we have paid up to $89.00 for the exact same rooms!

Of course, we rarely eat out on the road because we stock a large cooler with healthy snacks, sandwiches, baked chicken, and drinks. I always try to put a few treats in that are VERY rarely bought or served at our house, like Heath Candy Bars, Special Potato Chips, or Pixie sticks (pure sugar, I know, but they do liven things up!) Pulling over at a rest top and having a picnic is one of the adventures of the trip. In the summer, we bring a ball or a friz-bee. Blaine loves to bring his scooter, too. That gets some energy out! In the winter, we sometimes picnic in the car, but I do pack warm coats and a big blanket to wrap up in, and most often we brave the cold and eat al fresco, even in the cold! We try to stop every 4 hours at least, and do something special along with a snack at the rest stop. One year we made a huge snowman behind a gas station. I have a large wooden picnic basket which my darling mother gave me years ago. Inside of this I perpetually stash a tablecloth, plastic utensils, paper plates, napkins, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes.

After we arrive at the hotel, we jump into our bathing suits and swim for a few hours (more energy released), then use coupons for pizza and a salad if we have them, or eat baked chicken brought from home in our hotel room. By the time we have showers and dinner, we are bushed, and ready to hit the sack. One thing we found especially helpful to practice is to get up excruciatingly early the first morning of our trip (about 4:00 am), so we have more time to play at the hotel. The second morning we arise 15 minutes before breakfast is served (free-continental style at the hotel lobby). Lunch is another picnic at a rest stop, and dinner is eaten with our family at our destination.

Timing our trips:
If we are flexible about our travel dates (we usually are NOT), we check out lastminute.com, where it is said that one can save up to 70% on impulse trips. I use this to check out the free festivals and concerts at our destination.

Find a Great deal:
Contact your destination’s Chamber of Commerce in advance —they will mail you a packet that contains coupons and discounts for many area businesses and hotels. This also gives your family something to look at and dream about during the car trip, and an idea provider for outings once you reach your destination. We go to local museums, attend choral concerts, and house tours, many of which are FREE!

Web sites for arranging an affordable trip:

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