We took a Griswold-style road trip in the family truckster to Florida for Spring Break.
“Frugal” is a relative term. Taking a vacation, traveling, etc. – not frugal moves in my book. I consider travel a luxury. One I shall claim is mine to be had! MWAHAHAAA!
Taking trips together to make good memories as often as we can is a maje. priority. That’s why I’m opening the books on our travels with this post. If a buncha knuckleheads like us can spring it, maybe all the knuckleheads out there can take a decent trip, too. I periodically try and write of our effort to be less financially f*cked as middle class people. As of late, that effort doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing – I scrambled in February to balance my full-time job and mom duties with a few side gigs so we could take a vacation. That followed Mark’s stint over the holidays with a second job in retail. We’re trying to stockpile some cash, not take on debt and generally, be better, more responsible grown-up humans, in light of my son’s cystic fibrosis diagnosis. That’s not a bad thing.
But srsly, ppl, you can only have so many priorities. Mark and I have been busy doin’ that shuffle called life. Enough blathering, here we go:
Spring break is upon us again. Before we take off (next week!!!) to explore the great beyond, whatever that means, I shall write a round-up of last year’s trip to Florida. It only took an entire year for me to get this done. #slow #tired #ohwhocares
FLORIDA, March 13-22, 2015
The plan: Arrive in Sarasota with unexploded heads. Return from Sarasota to OKC with unexploded heads.
Before we left, we realized we had no reliable vehicle to get to Florida, and being frugal-walleted, we weren’t going to fly.
We rented a little Kia Sorento. Kinda small, but new. The rental fee was $477. We agreed to leave at 4 a.m., which, obviously, meant we slept in until 9 a.m. I prefer sleep to an early start. Mark arrived to pick up our rental only to find some mix-up had delayed our launch. No surprise there! I messaged a friend I’d planned to stay with in Birmingham, Alabama. I’d given her the wrong date. No surprise there! And we were off!
I estimated our gas costs with the AAA cost calculator. If my record-keeping serves me, the estimate was $306 and we ended up spending $316 on gas in 3,037 miles total, there and back.
Note: Driving with toddlers is complete insanity.
In L&E’s defense, they were each so good until somewhere between the hour of 8 and 10 on each of the four days we drove. Like clockwork, boredom kicked in, as did whining, and crying and backseat boundary wars. At the time we left for Florida, Laila was 4 and Eli, 2. For the best, it’s all a blur now. There was that stop at the Dollar Store for any crummy toy that stood to wow our little people, if only for a few minutes. At one point L&E ran circles in the parking lot of an Arkansas funeral home. Mark has this habit of topping off the tank 24/7. It totally jives with my small bladder, so it’s cool. TMI. He stopped for gas 11 times by my tally. It helped the kids get the grumps out to stretch out in the car.
We got motels to break up two-day journey to and from Florida. No bed bugs and a free breakfast. Under $80 a night a pop. I’ll take it.
For our stay, we settled on an RV park! I’ve never done an RV park. As it turns out, my aunt and uncle, who I almost never see, were in Florida and staying at the Sun N Fun RV Park. They are hardcore RVers, and somehow, had a spare and extremely nice RV for us to borrow. This baby was like the Cadillac of RVs. We serendipitously took advantage of the free RV and their vast knowledge of RV livin’.
Indeed, Sun N Fun lived up to its name. There was sun. There was fun.
Below, Eli gives cheek at a low country boil hosted by friends of my aunt and uncle.
What is a low country boil?
You throw Southern food items into a giant pot – corn on the cob, potatoes, shrimp, etc. etc. You boil it outside. You throw it all on a table. And then you dig in.
Other great thing about Sun N Fun – you can drink margaritas at the toddler pool. We drank a lot of margaritas. They had goofy theme nights, too. We did the karaoke on our last night. The RV set is full of ‘glamping’ families and retirees, so if that’s not your scene, you might consider staying elsewhere. It had good amenities for kids like a playground, giant bouncy air bubble thing, etc. We spotted no gators in a pond.
OH – you should note it is not on a beach. That was the downfall of the Sun N Fun, unless you are the type who doesn’t like the beach. I do like the beach.
Do you like dogs? There are a lot of dogs at Sun N Fun. One woman walking a little dog yelled in a thick New Jersey accent at another RVer whose big dog wasn’t on a leash, per the park rules. So it is that kind of place, which you should know before you book, in case you find dogs and/or angry New Jersey residents less than palatable.
We had an overall fun experience and got to visit not only with aunt and uncle, but other relatives who happened to be in town, like my sis & hubs and new nephew Ben and Mark’s parents. Thus, we got the best of both worlds, with a healthy rotation of extended-family face time and inner-circle family face time.
It cost $475 for seven nights.
Food and sundries
To keep costs down, I shopped in the off-off season on Amazon.com for things like a new (vintage-yet-extremely-high-coverage thank God) bathing suit for me and beach gear for the littles. We used Kohls gift cards for things like towels and flip flops. BTW: Best thing I spent my cash on before we left? About five new $5 DVDs from Target and an adapter for my laptop so the kids could watch in the car. Worth it.
In Florida, we stocked up on lunch and breakfast foods. Even if you eat out at cheap places – Cracker Barrel, Waffle House, etc. – it adds up! We went out to eat a few times. I don’t like eating seafood in landlocked states (ie Oklahoma). I try to eat a lot of seafood while on the coast. Not a fan of cooking seafood. More of a fan of having someone else cook it for me.
I have little in the way of restaurant reviews to share. In Sarasota, we at at a place called the Blue Dolphin Diner that appeared to be the only breakfast place in town, so long was the line and unremarkable the food. A little road-side restaurant/bar stop on a mini-trip to Sanibel Island called Dock of the Bay Diner had a tasty fish n chip.
OH – I threw a party at our RV site after having three too many margs at the toddler pool. The spread was pretty thin and if I remember correctly included an aging pasta salad that had made the trip from Oklahoma to Florida in a cooler. I banned the children from having barbecue. PBJ for you! No meat for the kids! It had to be the worst party ever! Luckily, everyone there was related to me, so they had no choice but to forgive and forget. HA.
This is what we spent on food and supplies in ten days of travel: $390
Other ways we saved money:
Speaking of booze, spending days in the sun sipping margs robbed me of my night-time power vacation drinking energy. I discovered I’m not 2o anymore, which was how old I was the last time I visited Florida. Thus, I retired early. I mean, like, even ONE toddler poolside marg had me in bed by 8 p.m. Point being, since I was too tired to hit the bottle full-tilt vacation style, we saved beer money.
A lot of saving money entails refusing to spend it. We skipped Disney. Two-and-a-half is a nightmare age for Disney. Sorry, Eli. Later! I suppressed the urge to buy lattes and pedicures and massages every six hours.We spent nothing on souveneirs for ourselves, though we bought a few gifts for others.
Enjoying free things, and each other!
We spent a lot of time on Sarasota beaches, which are free to enjoy. My kids loved the ocean. We used massive energy stores saving Eli from himself. Toddlers, man. They fling themselves toward danger and death at every turn. For peace of mind, I strapped the kids into Puddle Jumper life vests.
We also took a day-trip to Sanibel Island, where we picknicked, made sandcastles and hung out with snow birds grandma & grandpa. That vacay-within-vacay was a huge highlight. Grandma Chris and I dove for shells to take home. I screamed and flailed as unfamiliar sea vermin poked heads out of the damn things. Per online research, Sanibel beach was covered in seashells which I assumed contained no living matter. Not so. We had to swim a ways out into the ocean to find shells. I felt hardier after surviving the seashell mission.
The total cost of the trip: $2,153
Totally worth it.
Now for the vacation post-mort:
The question: Should we have flown?
I have a limited amount of vacation time, roughly a dozen days per year. To spend four of those in a car is a lot of vacation time spent in a car. Time is a priceless commodity, but saving it often costs. I’m willing to plan, save and pay more next time to save time. A budget airline has added routes from OKC to Florida, so there’s that!
With more research and planning, airline tickets could be in order next time we take a trip.
Cheers. We head to the Grand Canyon next week. I’m going to try and make dispatches from the road. Wish us all luck. xo