Monday, October 9, 2017

Vacation as Education on a Tight Budget....

We were very fortunate to start the school year off with a mini vacation in the northern part of our state and the neighboring state. There were waterfalls and a water park. We also spent a couple nights at a cabin on Chequamegon Bay, part of Lake Superior.  To some it may not be much, but to us it was a very big deal since we don't have opportunities like this often. I always wonder what it's like for those that set out for a year or more at a time, traversing the globe. For our family, travel mostly happens through books, but on those rare occasions when we do get out, there is much learning to be done.

Traveling on a budget takes some planning, but it is entirely possible. Thankfully, for the internet, one can do much of the legwork ahead of time. To begin, I find a destination. Once I have a goal in mind, it's easier to plan the steps to get there. Next, I look for lodging. I do check a variety of hotels, but don't stop there. I also look into Air B&B's, campgrounds and resorts with cabins, and misc. rentals, which can often be found on Craigslist. I do a lot of calling around and definitely attempt negotiations. Most often in the off season or if there is not some major event happening in the region, lodging reps will offer discounted rates, particularly if you're staying more than one night. After Labor Day and back to school is a great time to travel, because for most, it's considered the off season.

When choosing lodging, I also consider things like whether or not there's free parking, wi-fi, a swimming pool, microwave, refrigerator, and continental breakfast. I always ask about room set up. On our latest trip, the hotel had a wet bar in the room, which was a counter top with an extra sink, microwave, and refrigerator. This allowed me an area to make meals and clean up in the room.

A few years back, we invested in an electric cooler than can be used as a refrigerator. It plugs into the van and has an adapter to fit a regular electrical outlet once in the hotel. We are then able to pack food or at least stop at the grocery store on the way. It's much cheaper to make your own meals or eat out of a grocery store deli than a restaurant three times a day. We travel with this electric cooler and an electric frying pan, making meals as we go. Continental breakfast is also a bonus because it's a free meal...well, you pay for it with your room stay, but I mean it's not an over and above charge.

Once we have a destination, lodging, and food sources in line, I look at our budget to determine which attractions we'd like to see. Part of finding a destination also has to do with attractions, but finalizing these plans comes after making sure there is lodging and food within our means within that area. We are not a touristy type family so theme parks are not usually our idea of fun. We much prefer to get off the beaten trail. We enjoy scenery and wildlife so mountains, prairies, waterfalls, and geysers are intriguing. We also have a great love of history so museums or historic festivals are a delight. Book store and thrift shop stops are an absolute must! You never know what new treasure you will find.

Some of the sites we saw on our trip up north in early September were Pattison State Park, Amnicon Falls State Park, Lake Superior, Canal Park and the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor's Center - Army Corp of Engineers in Duluth, MN, and Chequamegon Bay. We looked at the falls at Pattison and Amnicon on the same day since they are only a few miles apart. This allowed us to buy only one entrance pass that was good at all State Parks in WI for the day. The Maritime Visitor's Center was awesome and free. We observed many new things regarding the history and science of ships and The Great Lakes. While there, we saw two major ships in Canal Park, the Walter J. McCarthy Jr., which is 1000 ft long, heading out to sea, and the Herbert C. Jackson, which is 690 ft long, coming into to dock. We also saw the Aerial Lift Bridge go up and down for each ship. It was amazing!

When planning our itinerary, I purposely plan loosely. You never know when you will come upon something of interest off that beaten trail and we want to be sure to have time to explore. Heavy scheduling while on vacation is not my idea of rest and relaxation. We like the freedom to be flexible. As a matter of fact, the Maritime Center noted above was not planned. We happened upon it quite by accident and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

If we are traveling long distances, I typically book lodging in advance for the first night, but sometimes not the nights thereafter. This gives us freedom to stay an extra night if something trips our trigger. Also, we are not tied down to traveling a certain number of miles to the next destination. That way, if we see something of interest along the way, we can stop. Or, if a kid has behavior issues or someone gets sick (it does happen, ask me how I know) again, you're not committed to being somewhere by a specific time. To some, this may seem fly by night, but for us, it has proved valuable.

Traveling provides many excellent means to educate. Hands on learning may be the most significant of these. It's one thing to read the fabulous book, Paddle to the Sea by Holling C. Holling, but quite another to actually see a Great Lake. When reading about a 1000 ft ship, one can imagine what that might look like, but seeing it in real life up close gives a whole new perspective. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is nothing like reading about them. Although, reading helps us to better understand what we are seeing. There are many benefits to educating through a vacation and it is totally possible on a tight budget.

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