I know, I know. Technically, you are a tourist too, but if you are anything like me, AND I THINK YOU ARE (gives approving head nod), you are a considerate traveler who wants everyone to be able to appreciate the sights and sounds of nature the way they want, without interruptions. And unfortunately that’s impossible, because there are some people who don’t have the “considerate of others gene.” And when you are in a place that gets 30,000 visitors annually, many of these people congregate all at once.
Here is one of those times…
…Of course we did the geysers and thermal pools, we saw the frozen Yellowstone Lake, and then putzed around in the Old Faithful area of the park for a little longer to see Old Faithful, the lodge, and the geysers before heading down to Jackson Hole for our first real night of the trip. While we were walking along the boardwalks of the thermal area we spotted a female grizzly and her young cub! We were so excited to see them. Earlier that morning, Hubby had said if he could see a bear with her cubs, that would make the trip perfect, and sure enough, here she comes wandering out of the woods. It was amazing! Seeing them wander around, grazing here and there, and just being bears without being harassed was wonderful. They were so majestic! It was almost like I was the only person there. Until I was reminded that I wasn’t.
See, there was some sort of AV club or photography class there as well. It was a small group of guys who had nice equipment, but acted like they were the most important people there. They would constantly sit down and wait for God-knows-what on the boardwalks and take up the entire thing, forcing people to carefully walk around them, for fear of falling off of the boardwalk and being boiled alive like on the warning posters, telling you to stay on the boardwalk. Seriously. Clearly these guys had already irritated me, right? So while we were standing their watching this majestic wild animal do her wild animal thing, and she started to wander back into the woods where she came from, it surprised the crap out of me when AV nerd #1, AKA Douchebag McGee, started suddenly yelling for his counterpart, AV nerd #2 (let’s call him Charlie; he didn’t really earn a touching nickname). The conversation went something like this:
D.bag McGee: “Charlie! Charlie!!! She’s moving! There are people on the trail!”
Charlie: (looks up from his camera uncertainly)
D.bag McGee: “Charlie!”
Me: “HEY! WHY ARE YOU YELLING?!”
D.bag: “BECAUSE THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE FOREST!”
Me: “Do you work here?” (Douchebag had a 2-way radio, so I thought it MIGHT be a possibility).
D.bag: “No, BUT I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANYONE DIE TODAY!”
Me: “There is a ranger RIGHT THERE” (points in the direction of the ranger truck, complete with flashing lights, megaphone, and a barricade to prevent tourists from wandering up to the grizzlies)
D.bag: ignores me and continues to talk loudly to Charlie to see if everyone is safe. States that his reasoning for yelling is he “didn’t want to interrupt radio traffic.”
The only good thing that came out of this “interaction” is that Hubby and I now have years and years of entertaining each other by randomly screaming “THERE ARE PEOPLE IN THE FOREST! I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANYONE DIE TODAY!!!”
Here are a few rules to live by when visiting Yellowstone and you see bears:
1. If you aren’t a park ranger, don’t try to do the park ranger’s job. They probably have a better idea of what needs to be done than you do, and more than likely they are already doing that job before you even notice something is happening. They’re good like that.
2. Pay attention to your surroundings. The “people in the forest” were actually walking on a well established ROAD. The road in which Douchebag drove in on, to be exact.
3. Do you not think that peoples’ lives are worth interrupting radio traffic?! If something is TRULY a danger, then yes. Report it. But keep a cool head and try to observe if there is ACTUALLY an emergency before you start freaking out and yelling uncontrollably. And maybe just avoid the freak out all-together if possible. All you do is piss of the Texans next to you. And you do not want a pissed off Texan.
May is my favorite month. It’s starting to warm up but it’s not too hot, the humidity is usually pretty low, and it’s that wonderful time of year when Hubby and I do our annual week long vacation. For the last few years we have gone to the Florida Keys but this year we wanted to do something different and cheaper. (We are saving up for a big trip in a couple years, so the next couple trips we do will have to be less expensive.) Just like we do every December, we planned and booked our entire trip, this year to Yellowstone National Park. Hubby had never been there before, and I was dying to go back. My family and I went there in 2001, so I wanted to see it again from a Conservationist’s point of view, instead of a teenager point of view.
This time I put all of the photos into a slideshow at the bottom. I thought that might be better than making this post 8 miles long. Enjoy!
The flights were free because of my frequent flyer miles I get from flying for work, and the hotels/cabins we stayed in were cheap because we booked them on Hotels.com, (which is an awesome website, BTW). By the time May came around, all of our lodging, except for one B&B that I didn’t book through Hotels.com, was paid for months ahead of time, so all we had to do was pay for our food and gas on the trip. And of course all of the little cheesy souvenirs that are required.
We flew into Denver and the plan was to drive up to Cody, Wyoming for the first day. Hubby had booked a cheap rental car through some no-name rental company and when she asked us where we were heading and we said Cody, she said the cars can’t leave the state of Colorado. I’m sorry, what?! How many people do what we were planning on doing? I thought this was a common method of getting to Yellowstone?!
Clearly this woman had had issues like this in the past, because she basically said, “sorry I’m not sorry,” so we went next door to Thrifty to rent from them instead. It was a bit more expensive, but I guess we saved money in the long run since we could actually leave Colorado in this car…
We headed north and started seeing mesas, mountains, and snow. It was a big change from the 85 degrees in Houston. Our first stop was Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is the capital of the state, so we found the beautiful courthouse and then walked around town for a bit. We even found a cool farmers market on the square and I got to play with some puppies that needed homes, that were with Black Dog Animal Rescue. We continued north and stopped at Hell’s Half Acre. This was an interesting place that apparently I used to scatter my toys all over when I was a child. Which is interesting, because until this day I didn’t know it was a real place…hmm… The geology of this area was really cool, but I’m not a geologist so I have no idea what caused it other than erosion.
When we got to Cody, several people suggested we eat dinner at The Silver Dollar Bar. I think there must have been better places to eat, but this place was pretty good – it just wasn’t what we were expecting. I guess since people were suggesting it for dinner I thought it was more of a restaurant/bar. It was really a bar that also served food. It was good food though!
We walked around town a bit and had drinks at The Irma, the historic hotel and restaurant owned by Buffalo Bill Cody. We also had breakfast there the next morning. It was really neat to sit in there and see all of the old 1900s décor. I don’t think they have changed anything in that place since Bill Cody owned it, except they turned the saloon into a restaurant and the famous Cherry Wood bar was now purely decoration and no longer held liquor, glasses, or the shotgun to keep the cowboys from getting rowdy on their trip into “the big city.”
That morning we headed into Yellowstone. We drove through areas that still had so much snow on the mountains, and the areas were so steep, that you weren’t allowed to stop your car for fear of being lost in an avalanche. Scary stuff for Texans! There were also areas where they keep dynamite charges in the mountainsides just in case they need to blow a bunch of snow all the way back to Hell’s Half Acre.
Pretty soon after entering the park we saw our very first Grizzlies! It was impossible to miss them, because there was a line of cars and people with GIANT spotting scopes and cameras pulled over other the side of the road. It was a large male and a smaller female laying down in the shade up on the hill. Apparently before we showed up, the male had been putting the moves on the female, but she was having none of it. After watching them for a while and talking to the other photographers, we started driving along again, just to see another grizzly up on the same ridge, grazing by himself. It was the start to a very successful wildlife trip!
Of course we did the geysers and thermal pools, we saw the frozen Yellowstone Lake, and then putzed around in the Old Faithful area of the park for a little longer to see Old Faithful, the lodge, and the geysers before heading down to Jackson Hole for our first real night of the trip. While we were walking along the boardwalks of the thermal area we spotted a female grizzly and her young cub! We were so excited to see them. Earlier that morning, Hubby had said if he could see a bear with her cubs, that would make the trip perfect, and sure enough, here she comes wandering out of the woods. It was amazing! Seeing them wander around, grazing here and there, and just being bears without being harassed was wonderful. It was almost like I was the only person there.
On our way down we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife along the road and got a chance to see a bull moose standing in the water right by the road, along with the range where the deer and antelope played (along with bison and elk as well). Our first view of the Grand Tetons was not great – they were covered in low-lying clouds and we weren’t even sure what we were looking at. That night we saw the night life of Jackson Hole and I made my first-ever attempt at astrophotography. I tried it right outside of our cabin and it went so well that we drove down the road a couple miles and found a pull-over to try it again in an area without light pollution. It was fantastic! I definitely found a new hobby! The only bad part is that it makes for some late nights, and our cabin had a window that wasn’t covered so it got bright QUICK. There wasn’t much in the way of sleeping in on this trip.
We spent the next day checking out Jackson Hole which is an awesome little tourist town. Everyone is so nice, and there are sculptures everywhere! We went into the most amazing store too – It was a fossil shop and to get your attention there was a huge Triceratops skull for sale in the window. The sign said “Yes, I’m real! $450,000.00” Holy craps! But it was SO COOL! The shop also contained things like a woolly rhino skull, cave bear skulls, fossilized sting rays, and of course, trilobites! All of these items were real, so of course out of my price range. I would have killed for a cave bear skull though…
The shop also had reproduction items that were still pretty pricy, like this guy! (this is actually a picture of the REAL crab, taken at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, but the fossil shop had a reproduction of this).
After checking out the town, we headed into Grand Tetons National Park, just north of Jackson Hole.
I think this is actually a good stopping point for the first part of our trip. We were really busy, and I want you to be able to appreciate the adventures without getting bogged down in the literature!
But the saving grace for the entire trip was that I was in Canada. You know what else is in Canada?
I swear, they are the nicest people you will ever meet.
They go out of their way to make you feel welcome and comfortable. It’s quite refreshing.
After my terrible first day, things started looking up.
My baggage showed up in the middle of the night…
And even though I had asked them to, the front desk people didn’t call me at 1 am to tell me it was here. And you know what? I’m glad they made that decision – what was I going to do with that information at 1 am? Run down and get my bag? No, I would have said ok, great. I’ll pick it up in the morning. So why call and wake me up about it? Better to just let me sleep and figure it out later. They are so nice.
I found out that my rental car wasn’t going to be ready until 10 am. I notified the people I was in town to see, and instead of waiting around all day for me to show up, they offered to pick me up at my hotel and take me to the property. Nice warm truck being driven by someone who knew where they were going? I’m in.
And when I was done for the day, he dropped me off at the rental car place. And this was my rental car…
They said that because I was so nice and patient with them since they had run out of cars the day before, they were only charging me for an economy car, but gave me an All Wheel Drive Kia Sorrento.
And a free GPS Rental.
See! When you are nice, nice things happen!
However, I didn’t have time to go see the polar bears.
It was an hour drive and they close early in the winter, so instead I drove to nearby Hersey Lake and took some photos, adding 4 new species to my bird list in the meantime!
And I also got to see something completely new and foreign to me…
First time in my life I had seen a lake frozen solid. It kind of scared me, I’m not going to lie. I was sure if I ventured too close to the edge I would fall through, even though those are snow-mobile tracks going across the middle of it!
I met up with John again in the hotel bar that evening. The hotel staff were all having their staff Christmas Party, so it was me and him watching hockey in the bar and showing each other pictures of our dogs.
I had told him the night before after he so kindly paid for my dinner, that I would pay him back the next night. I’m sure he thought I had forgotten, but I always try to keep my word so I made sure to meet up with him again. Since the hotel staff were having their Christmas party and the restaurant was closed, we went to The Restaurant (I’m not making that up).
It was a dive restaurant (my favorite!) that was attached to a gas station.
I told John that I had to have the traditional Canadian dish of french fried and gravy, what the Canadians call Poutine. He said that The Restaurant was the best place in town for that, so that’s where I wanted him to take me.
We didn’t realize that they were close to closing when we walked in, but we ordered our Poutine (Quebec style, with cheese curds) and a couple sodas and sat and talked for a good while. There aren’t many people that I can just sit and talk to as if I have known them for years, so it was nice to be able to do that after I had had such a crappy trip.
After dinner the waitress came and got our plates with her purse in her hand, ready to go. We didn’t even notice that she was waiting on us! We got out as fast as we could and apologized over and over for making her wait. I paid for dinner like I told him I would, and then he asked if I had ever been to Tim Horton’s.
We ordered our coffee (decaf since it was like 9 pm by this time) and John had me pick out a Christmas ornament. He refused to let me pay for the coffee and ornament, saying, “it’s Christmas!”
Then he gave me a “toonie” which is the Canadian $2 coin, because he wanted to make sure I had actually seen a Polar Bear on my trip.
Again, we sat and talked like old friends, and enjoyed our coffee. He talked about once when he thought his eye was about to pop out of his head and I talked about when both my eardrums blew out in grad school. Then we discussed the differences of healthcare in Canada and in The US. It was great. John said that he had been trying really hard to NOT say “ahe?” the whole time (he apparently wasn’t doing a very good job of it because it was like every sentence) because “it’s so typically Canadian,” but all I did was laugh and say something along the lines of “I think it’s fine – you are Canadian afterall….”
The second day of my three day trip was spectacular.
John was a welcome new friend, and I hope we keep in touch.
Everyone else I met was so nice and made me wish I lived in Canada, simply because everyone in the country is automatically your friend.
However, seeing as how this was the temperature the entire time I was there…
The Steve Martin/John Candy movie always seemed a little depressing to me. One guy keeps getting screwed over and the other guy doesn’t see anything wrong with that. Well, today that movie seems to have come to fruition, and I’m Steve Martin.
It all started with Expedia.com. I was trying to book a flight to Timmins, Ontario for work and the only way to save the budget for the project was to book through Expedia. I was on a personal trip and attempting to book the flight from a hotel room. I was getting so frustrated because every time I selected a flight, I would go through all the hoops of selecting my flight, my seat, and everything else when I would get the next screen that would say this flight is no longer available.”
This should have been taken as a sign (Sign #1). Maybe I should have just put off the trip a little later and book it through a real airline instead of the discount site. But no. I was able to book a flight, a hotel, and a rental car, and it ONLY took 1 hour. When it should have taken 20 minutes.
I was continually getting emails from Expedia about booking my trip to Timmins. It was a little confusing because THEY of ALL PEOPLE should be well aware that I already booked my flight to Timmins, right? (Sign #2).
Yesterday I got the email to check in for my flight within 24 hours of my trip. I tried to do that and it kept saying that it couldn’t do that. Call customer service. When I tried to call customer service, this was the recording. “Thank you for calling United Airlines. We are currently experiencing a large volume of calls. All of our representatives are currently helping other customers. If it is not an emergency, try again later.” Well it wasn’t an emergency, so I wasn’t too worried about it. (Sign #3).
Then this morning I headed to the airport in Houston and tried to check in for my flight. No dice. Every time I slide my card into the card reader, it said there was no itinerary that matched my name. (Sign #4). Probably why the website wouldn’t let me check in online either. The lady behind the counter, who looked like a 4-foot tall, black, female version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show, was not remotely helpful or in a hurry.
However, it seemed that everyone was having issues with the kiosks, so I wasn’t so worried about it (take it back to Sign #3). I was finally given one boarding pass, from Houston to Boston, and Ms. Dr. Frank-N-Furter told me these exact words, “This is your boarding pass for Boston. When you get to your gate in Boston, ask for your other boarding passes. This will get you to Boston, but your bag will go on to Timmins.”
Awesome. One less thing to worry about. So I had enough time to get through security and even grab a breakfast sandwich before I walked right onto my plane for Boston. Easy right? Of course I still had two more flights to catch…
I landed in Boston and it turned out I had to go through security again. I thought that was weird, but the only flying I usually do is domestic and small airports, so having to go from Terminal E to Terminal B, it makes sense that I would need to go through security again. No big deal. The airport was pretty awful, but I also blame this on Expedia. See, since I couldn’t check in online, I had no idea what terminal I needed at which airport. I had the flight numbers and the flight times, but that was pretty much it. I had to ask around for where I could find Air Canada, and the guy told me to go to Terminal B. Follow the signs to C Terminal, go across the street, and you’re there. Across the street? How big is this airport? So I followed the signs, found the C Terminal, and was stuck. It took me a while before I could find Terminal B, and it really was across the street. Then I had to go to the ticket counter to get my boarding passes. Not the gate like Dr. Frank-N-Furter said (because I had to go through security again) but at the ticket counter. I got my tickets and was on my way. Then the Boston TSA guy said this.
“You’re going the wrong way!”
All I could think about was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Sign #4 again). I knew people were just saying that because it is December and I’m from Texas, and going to Canada in December is probably suicide, so I didn’t think anything of it.
The flight from Boston to Toronto wasn’t bad, even though this was my “window seat” on the plane.
Toronto is actually a much bigger city than I thought it was. I would love to actually spend some time there.
When I got off the plane in Toronto everything in the airport was very well marked and stress-free. Where it wasn’t well-marked, they had employees yelling directions of where we needed to go. Flawless. I went through Customs and security again before I got to my Terminal for my final flight of the day.
This was a tiny little Turbo Prop that we had to walk out onto the runway to board. In the snow. Granted there wasn’t much snow, but it was still about 25 degrees F outside. The plane wasn’t full, so even though it was the smallest plane of the day, I had the most room.
The plane was making me a little nervous though. There was this ear-piercing whine for most of the flight. I’m not sure if it was the particular altitude we were at, or if it was when they turned the heat on in the plane, or what, but I really thought my eardrums were going to start bleeding if it didn’t stop. Of course, as soon as I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, the shrieking stopped, and I was able to read in peace. Then when we started to descend it started again. I would have preferred a crying baby. At least you know why that sound is being made and you aren’t afraid that it’s a breach in the bulkhead.
When I landed in Timmins I went to the rental car counter to get the keys for my rental car while I waited for my luggage. Apparently they were expecting me to pick up my car at 10 am. When I was in the air between Houston and Boston.
Since I hadn’t shown up, they gave away my car. And didn’t have any other cars either. Not exactly sure how you can overbook rental cars, but the girl behind the counter said that they were still expecting two more drivers, and they had no more cars to rent out?! Anyway, I blame Expedia for this too. I booked my rental car through Expedia, and USUALLY when you book a car through the airline, it automatically sets the time you will get there for when your flight lands. But for some reason Expedia decided that I would be able to pick up the keys on my way to Boston first, so they set up the rental agreement to start at 10 am. True, it was my responsibility to double-check the rental time, but remember how I said it took 1 hour to book flights and a car? I didn’t remember what time my flight was supposed to get in. I was just glad I remembered what DATE I was flying in.
Rental car girl set me up for a rental car for the morning, and I finished waiting for my luggage. I’m still waiting for my luggage. Because Dr. Frank-N-Furter doesn’t know how her job works. My bag is still in Toronto. Apparently I was supposed to get it off the conveyor belt in Toronto and go through customs with it, and then re-check the bag. NOT WHAT I WAS TOLD IN HOUSTON. (Sign #12).
So I called a cab from the airport and waited. And waited.
People came and left in taxis. Mine never came.
I called again, and the guy on the phone said that there had been an accident and he was trying to re-route a taxi to me.
I waited some more. Finally I gave up and called a different cab company. A lady who had just walked in asked if I was waiting for a cab, and when I said yes, she said, “well, there is one down there upside down in a ditch. I bet that one was yours.”
The other cab company showed up within a few minutes, and it turned out that the upside down cab was in fact the one that was supposed to be picking me up. Apparently, my driver, Dan, told me, that that guy is a horrible driver and I should be glad I wasn’t in the car with him. He is actually banned from driving with the company that did pick me up. Wow. (Sign #20).
Dan was really nice. Everyone is Canada is really nice. That’s the only saving grace for this trip so far. He told me of a place where I can see Polar Bears while I’m here. I liked Dan.
Dan only takes cash. The first cab company advertised that they took Visa and Master Card, which was why I called them in the first place. I had enough cash for Dan luckily. He took my American money. Phew.
I got to my hotel and they had my reservation. You know why? Because I booked THIS through Hotels.com. I love Hotels.com. Anyway…
I told the lady at the front desk that I’m expecting a bag, so if they could call me when it comes in, that would be great. Even if it comes in at midnight. I just want my bag.
I went to my room and saw a restaurant in the hotel with a couple people sitting at the bar. I was starving. All I had eaten all day was a breakfast sandwich and three bags of airline pretzels. I went to my room, checked to make sure the wifi was working (because I didn’t think about international charges on my phone, so I’m not sure what to do about that), and I told Hubby that I was safe and sound via Facebook messenger.
I went to the restaurant and asked if I could still order dinner. She said all she had were what basically breaks down to as TV dinners. For $7. I don’t care. I’m starving and I don’t have a car to go anywhere else.
I got her to heat up a shepherd’s pie, and while I was waiting I had a wonderful Canadian lager. I sat and talked with a guy named John for a while, and like all Canadians, he was very nice. I finished my beverage and asked how much I owe. She said $12.50. I said do you take Visa?
No, cash only.
A restaurant in a hotel that doesn’t take cards when the hotel does? I tried to use the ATM and it wouldn’t read my card.
John paid for my dinner and I ate in my room.
To be fair, I usually travel with cash. But my reasoning behind it was, I RARELY use it, especially when I am on company trips, and I wasn’t about to spend money switching to Canadian currency when I was just going to be here for a couple days. Everyone takes cards these days, anyway, right? Lesson learned.
I lost track of how many signs there were that this little Texas girl was going the wrong way. That something just doesn’t want me to be in Canada. But maybe it was just a bad day.
Over the summer after our trip to the Keys, I wrote a guest post for my sister, That Clever Chick, about vacationing on the cheap. I had done a little plug for it here, but I thought to myself, ‘why on EARTH would I force ALL of you to divert from the post you were already reading to read another post?‘ Especially because I know you, fellow travelers, and I know that you got so drawn in by my stories and descriptions that even though you thought, ‘I’ll read this post and then go to the guest post and get two posts in one day!‘ that you completely forgot to read it, didn’t you?
So, here it is, in all its glory. How to Have An Awesome Vacation While Not Blowing Your Budget.
My sister, Beans, has a great blog of her own, but every once in awhile I can convince her to throw some text my way so I can take a nap. Here’s her guest post about saving money on vacation:
There are many ways to go on vacation, and there are many ways to save money. For most people, these things cannot go hand-in-hand. That is because many people think that a vacation isn’t a vacation unless you splurge on everything that you wouldn’t normally splurge on. That is pure insanity to me, but…to each his own, I guess.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand if you are going to have a romantic get-away, and you plan on eating fancy food, drinking fancy wine, and getting massages every day. But usually people do not do these things on every vacation. Vacations don’t have to be a romantic get-away, because technically you should have romance all year long, not just in the jungles of South America, living in a bungalow for a week, getting waited on hand and foot. But that’s a rant for another day.
No, vacations mean travel, seeing the world and other cultures, and experiencing new things that you can’t experience by watching the Travel Channel (because let’s face it, the Travel Channel has just become a channel where you watch people eat weird “food” items now). There is a way to travel on the cheap and still have a great time, and I’m going to give you some tips on how to accomplish this!
The first thing Hubby and I do every year is pick where we are going to go. That is probably the hardest part anyway, right? I think the easiest thing to do when planning a vacation is deciding on the dates of travel, and putting it down on the calendar. If you write something down on the calendar, you are much more likely to do it, rather than putting it off for something else.
The next thing we do is book the plane tickets. And this is done MONTHS in advance. Every year we book our vacations in December and plan to go on them in May, so by the time the trip actually arrives, it’s almost like you have a free trip planned, because the travel has already been paid for. In fact, this year I had enough frequent flyer miles to get free flights to Key West, so it really was free to get where we were going!
Over the next month we book the hotel and the rental car, and pay for as much of it ahead of time as possible. Rental cars can’t be paid for completely in advance, but if you get the Loss Damage Waiver (which we do every time we rent, no matter what) then you can pay for that before you get the car, and that is usually half the cost of the rental car in the first place.
Another tip is to go before tourist season, if possible. Now, this has pros and cons, so this is mainly a personal decision. One benefit is that hotels are usually not full, so you can ask for a free upgrade for your room, and you can easily get a room with a view of water for instance, instead of a view of the parking lot. However, sometimes tours (such as SCUBA or Snorkeling tours) have a required number of people that need to be signed up for the tour before they can take the tour group out. So, since it’s before tourist season, you are risking not being able to go on the Ghost Tour of Seattle or something because not enough people signed up the night you planned on doing it.
Another great money saving trick is probably the simplest, but most people would never think of. FIND THE GROCERY STORE. Most hotel rooms have a mini fridge in them, right? And you probably never use the mini fridge, do you? This is the easiest, cheapest way to do several things: buy sandwich fixin’s and make a picnic on the beach. We even brought a collapsible cooler with us on our trip, so we could keep food and drinks in the car. Buy sodas, bottled water, and/or sports drinks to keep you hydrated while you explore the area and buy a small bottle of liquor to mix in with the previously mentioned beverages to relax by the pool.
Remember not to buy more than you will consume while you are on vacation. True, you can check your leftover beverages in your luggage, but if your bottle of tequila starts leaking under the plane, I have a feeling that the other passengers will not be happy with you when you land. It is easier just to go back to the store if you ran out of something. Also, keep in mind that some cities, like Austin, have banned plastic grocery bags, so maybe you would want to bring some reusable green bags with you too. Sometimes your hotel room will also have a microwave in the room. If that’s the case you just scored big, because that means that when you DO go out for dinner, you can bring your leftovers back with you for another meal! Or midnight snack, whatever. Either way, it saves a trip to the vending machines, right? Or you could be like my Hubby, and not even require a microwave. (He’s not a picky eater).
One of the most expensive parts of vacationing is the food and drinks. I know that when I was leaving for our last trip to Florida, several people told me to “drink pretty drinks!” I’m not saying I snuck away from the restaurant to mix a quick rum and Diet Dr. Pepper and then run back to the restaurant, but while we were relaxing by the pool or on our patio over-looking the bay (from our free room upgrade) I didn’t waste my time or money ordering drinks from the hotel bar, because I had my own adult beverages that I could mix as I pleased. The price difference? At the hotel bar, the mango daiquiris that I was drinking were about $6 each. The Kraken Rum and Diet Dr. Pepper that I mixed in the hotel room? About $1.50 each. Big difference, right?
We made a plan to eat most breakfasts and lunches in the hotel room, but dinners were usually spent out on the town. That’s the key to a good vacation – you can’t be worried about how much it is costing the entire time, because then you won’t have any fun. If you find cheaper alternatives, you can still indulge a bit, and save money at the same time.
Also, go to the Visitor’s Center for the city you will be staying in. They always have flyers for nearby attractions, and they usually have discount rates, coupons, or Buy One Get One Free tickets that they hand out like it’s Halloween. Trust me on this: the guy at the Key West Visitors Center really must have wanted me to get drunk, because he gave us about 15 Buy One Drink Get One Free tickets for various bars on Duval Street.
Be sure to check Trip Advisor too. This can be a big help in knowing what is and what is not worth spending your money on. My suggestion is to go through all the flyers in the Visitor’s Center and pick out some things that sound interesting. Then go online to Trip Advisor and check out the reviews for those places. Who knows, you could accidentally find a place that lets you hold orphaned sloth babies that is $300 a person to go to, but you may find out that it’s worth every penny, because with the purchase of an entrance pass, you get a free pet sloth baby. Some things you can’t know until you find out other people’s experiences.
Sometimes even free places aren’t worth the money it would take to drive there, so take other people’s opinions seriously, and consider your options. That said, because Trip Advisor is so important to travelers, be sure that when you get back to your hotel that you review the places that you went on your adventures, too. Whether they were good, great, or just plain awful experiences, people want to know what to expect. I know I have written some awful reviews of companies in the past, but I have also written glowing ones. YOU HAVE THE POWER.
Also there are Loyalty Programs – hotels, rental car companies, and airlines all do loyalty programs. If you travel for work, you will rack up free car rentals, free hotel stays, and free flights in no time.
If you are going to buy Souvenirs – I have quickly learned that most people don’t want a random crappy shot glass from a bar they have never heard of, from a city they have never been to. You don’t necessarily need to buy gifts for everyone in the family, or everyone single person at work. If you feel the need to buy something for work people, like if you are talking about your upcoming trip to a friend and the annoying guy in the office announces, “I hope you bring us something good, since we have to stay here and slave away!” then buy something small, consumable, and that everyone will like: CANDY. I’m sure every little town is famous for one thing or another. Key West is of course famous for Key Lime Pie. I was not about to buy and ship actual pies home for everyone at work, but I did consider Key Lime Pie Salt Water Taffy. I of course didn’t get my coworkers anything, but that’s beside the point. I still THOUGHT about doing it.
Many places are not cheap to visit, but if they were, then they wouldn’t be very good vacation destinations, because they would be packed with people all the time, right? So if you take my advice, hopefully you can plan out your next great vacation, and people can be jealous of you while you are getting a tan in the Caribbean, riding elephants in India, or petting wild meerkats on the African savannah. Who knows, maybe soon people at your office will start trying to predict your next adventure, like the people at my office do with me?
Clever Chick Note: Saving money is about priorities; you’re saving to do the things you want rather than thoughtlessly letting money slip through your fingers. If you approach your vacation the same way you can take MORE vacations, or more expensive ones. Have fun!
Hubby and I went to college WAY out in west Texas. And no, I don’t mean that we went to Texas Tech. Lubbock is NOT west Texas.
Lubbock is obviously in NORTH Texas. Alpine/Big Bend National Park is obviously WEST Texas. Now, I probably didn’t draw these regions out exactly the way they are in real life (there are true divisions in this state), but some people consider San Antonio as part of Central Texas, and others count it as part of South Texas. So I guess I should have really put that as a dotted line instead.
Anyway, like I was saying Hubby and I went to college in West Texas, at Sul Ross State University. We loved living in that area, but it’s hard to find good jobs there because it’s so isolated and mostly ranch land surrounding it, so we ended up getting jobs back in southeast Texas (a sub-region dividing East Texas because sometimes East Texas is really just an extension of Louisiana). Every once in a while we like to go back to Alpine for vacation, especially because we still have a lot of friends in the area, and we love Big Bend National Park. Our plan was to go to Alpine for Art Walk. It’s an annual celebration that was started while we were living there. The art galleries stay open late, there is live music on the street, and every year it gets bigger and better.
This year, even Ray Wylie Hubbard was playing!
I travel a lot for work (the Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention business) so I get quite a few frequent flyer miles that we love to cash in for free trips, so we used my frequent flyer miles to buy two tickets to Midland, three hours north of Alpine, but still considered West Texas (Texas Geography Lesson #2). This was our plan:
1. Fly into Midland and drive to Alpine – get into town just in time for a late dinner with friends and hit the bar.
2. Get up CRAZY early and head down to Big Bend National Park.
3. Hike the South Rim Trail, which I think is like 12 miles.
4. Get off the mountain just at the right time to get sunset photos of the Sierra del Carmen mountains, and head back to Alpine (more than a 1 hour drive).
5. Enjoy Art Walk, see all of the friends that we still have in Alpine, go to every bar, and see the artwork of a friend in one of the galleries.
6. Spend the day buying Christmas presents for our friends’ kids, and send them home with said friends.
7. Enjoy a leisurely drive back to Midland, and get on our evening flight back home.
8. Be home for a late dinner.
As the date of our trip got closer and closer, the weather forecast was getting grim. 30 degrees F as the high. Mixed sleet and snow. But we already had the trip planned, and we were determined to go. Hiking in the cold isn’t that bad, afterall. We got free drinks on the airplane because the flight attendant never came back to pick up our drink coupons that I love getting in the mail, and it was off to a pretty good start!
However, the temperature didn’t get above 27 degrees the entire time. We were able to get a free upgrade for our rental car, and got a Nissan Frontier truck. We were excited about this because we would have a high clearance vehicle for Big Bend, and if the roads were snowy, that would be helpful too. We got out to our truck and it was coated in ice. We had to set there for 30 minutes, letting it defrost so we could see through the windshield and windows.
On the 3 hour drive from Midland to Alpine, we were worried about frozen bridges the entire time. We finally crawled into town at 9 pm, and got a late dinner from Cow Dog, the best hotdogs you can find. Anywhere. Everything was covered in ice. We had to eat standing up because all of the outdoor seating was frozen.
We hit a couple bars, ran into old friends, and stayed out until about 2am. It started snowing and the roads were icing over. We weren’t real sure we were going to make it out to Big Bend after all. That morning we woke up and everything was coated in a thick layer of ice. There would be no traveling to the park today. For those of you who have never been to Big Bend National Park, let me explain (Texas Geography Lesson #3).
It is isolated.
If something goes wrong while you are down there, it could be a while before someone comes by. You rarely have a cell phone signal. You rarely even have a radio signal. And weather in the desert can change in an instant. The last thing we wanted to do was get stuck down in the park because they closed the roads, or worse – get stuck because there was an ice storm and we ran off the road into a canyon that three cars a day drive past.
This is what the main road to the Chisos Mountain Basin looked like on Monday, two days after we had planned on going. If we had gotten into the park to begin with, we probably would have been stuck there until Tuesday!
So instead of risking death, or at the very least a miserable day in the cold, wind, and snow, we stayed in Alpine. We got discounted breakfast at the restaurant that is in the same parking lot as our hotel, and that place is the epitome of a small town diner. It’s called Penny’s, and it looks like it’s made out of an Airstream trailer. Food there is usually only consumed at 2 am when suddenly you are in the mood for French toast and gravy, but it was discounted and we didn’t have to drive to it, so that’s where we ate.
Now if you are looking for good service, try somewhere else in town. But if you are looking to people watch, this is the best seat around. The short-order cook makes the food right in front of you so you can watch him almost burn up the kitchen with a grease fire or try to figure out why the fryer isn’t working. You can also listen to all of the employees complain about other employees calling in “sick” or try to figure out if Hubby has been given all of his food (he hadn’t) while they make pancakes for an order that doesn’t exist. It’s entertaining at least.
Afterwards we hit the town and enjoyed the coffee shop, Plaine while we waited for our friends to meet us for lunch (this trip ended up revolving around food and bars, but we were ok with that).
I was FINALLY able to buy a Cow Dog t-shirt and the Cow Dog himself, Alan, recognized Hubby and me from long, long ago and we were able to chat him up a bit about moving away from Alpine. He’s a great guy, and I’m always happy to give him my business (especially if I get a Cow Dog out of it). I really appreciated how he repurposed his hot dog bun bags for t-shirt bags. Reduce, reuse, recycle afterall!
We had heard about Big Bend Brewing Company after we moved away, and I had never had a chance to try it until this trip. I was very excited, because Alpine had once, long, long ago had a German microbrewery called Edelweiss (pronounced A-Dell-Vice for you non-German speakers) and it was the best beer we had ever had. It was actually the reason Hubby and I became craft brew snobs. Long story short, Edelweiss is no more, but you can always have a chat with the man that started it all, Harry Moise, who now owns, operates, and hangs out at Harry’s Tinaja in Alpine. Go have a drink with him, but remember, it’s cash only.
And the guy that started BBBCo was actually a brewmaster in Austin, Texas and moved to Marfa. I’m just glad he opened the brewery in Alpine instead of Marfa, but if you aren’t from that area, you won’t understand 😉
There was an open house at the brewery with free beer, but we had just eaten lunch and it was absolutely freezing inside the brewery (it’s just an open warehouse) so we didn’t stay long. Instead we went back to the hotel to take showers and take a nap, only to find that our hotel had lost power because of the ice. We napped for a while and woke up colder than when we had fallen asleep, and then we hit the town again for the actual Art Walk. It wasn’t that big of a turn out this year because of the weather, but it was still fun, and we still got to run into a bunch of old friends.
Although our trip didn’t go exactly as we had planned, we still had a great time. It made me miss seeing the snow every year, but it also made Hubby remember how much he hates the snow 🙂 And, because we didn’t get to hit Big Bend National Park, it just made us want to plan another trip out there so we can see the beautiful desert and mountains that we miss so much. Because (Texas Geography Lesson #4) the desert gets in your blood.
One of the items on my Bucket List is to visit all 50 states. I’m so close to finishing this goal (I only have 15 states to go!) and last month I was able to knock three off my list in just a weekend!
I was visiting my good friend, Patella, who lives in New York, but is from Vermont. Because of frequent flyer miles (thank you Southwest!) I was able to fly up to visit her for a four day weekend for free during the best time of the year – while the fall leaves were changing to their infamous golds, reds, and oranges!
Now, at the moment I am between computers (I have an old laptop from college that is on its last leg and a work computer) so all of my Vermont and New York photos are on my personal laptop. HOWEVER, I thought I was doing good by uploading all of them to Flickr in case my trust computer died suddenly. (I have an intense fear of this happening and I lose all of my photos).
So for your viewing pleasure I have linked to my Vermont and New York set in Flickr (I hope this works!)
These are my silly travel stories where I use humor and sarcasm to explain other cultures and world events. I use this forum to be a voice for the Little Guy. Little Guys have tiny, squeaky voices and no one wants to hear them anyway.