Budget vacation adventures
– Column –
My daughter, Hannah, and I took a vacation last year, around this time. We had planned our getaway for over a year. I thoroughly researched every place we wanted to visit, calculated costs for overnight lodging accommodations, and budgeted for meals and snacks. We were going to spend 10 days in central Illinois.
As usual, even the best laid plans can go awry. Our lavish vacation turned into a budget holiday.
We had saved for this trip so we would have plenty of money for souvenirs, postcards and incidentals, and wouldn’t be strapped for cash, but had to contend with unexpected expenses, such as car repairs.
I had considered postponing our jaunt for another year, but decided with Han working while attending college, we should take the trip while our schedules coincide. It then became our mission to see just how inexpensive we could make our holiday.
Our largest expense would be gas. It was 450 miles from Cornell to our destination. The car gets good mileage, but would still require several stops to refuel. I was in frenzied prep mode for several days.
I bought a case of water and froze half the bottles to use as ice in the cooler, to double as drinking water as it thaws. I baked corn dogs, fried bacon, made turkey wraps, bought individual packets of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup, a loaf of bread and included a jar of peanut butter.
Snacks included Fritos, Cheetos, pretzels, microwave popcorn and apples for snacks. For morning repasts, bagels with cream cheese. We weren’t going to eat the healthiest, or like the rich and famous, but we were more interested in saving our money for attractions, than spending it on food. (I can’t believe I said that…I’m ALWAYS interested in food.) We began our trip around 8 p.m., after Hannah’s dress rehearsal for a play she was appearing in. We laughed and talked as we listened to music, and admired the scenery until darkness descended. Our first stop was the Dickeyville Grotto. It’s so unique and beautiful.
I would have loved to walk around admiring the shrines made of mortar, bright colored glass, gems, seashells, crystals and a variety of other materials collected from around the world. However, it is located in the midst of a cemetery, shrouded by fog and 12:30 a.m. in the morning – I don’t think so!
Our goal was to drive until we were at least in Illinois, before stopping for the night. Han is a firm believer of GPS (Global Positioning System). I’m not a fan. I don’t know exactly what destination she typed in, but we ended up on every cow path and dirt track for over an hour. We literally drove on a barely discernable trail between cornfields.
We drove at a snail’s pace, because of all the ruts and rocks, and a sketchy stint through a grove of creepy trees. I wanted to get out and kiss the ground, when we finally reached a paved road and civilization again, but, you know…2 a.m., fog and a major highway.
We pulled into a Casey’s gas station at 3 a.m. Casey’s is the Illinois version of Wisconsin’s Kwik Trip and they’re open all night. We parked in the lot for a couple hours sleep. Step No. 2 of our budget vacation: sleep in the car when necessary.
At 5 a.m., we decided to eat breakfast before hitting the road again. Time for a bagel with bacon and cream cheese. We were fixing them out of the trunk of the car and the looks we received, set us off in fits of laughter. I remarked it looked like we were “dealing” out of the back of our car. Nope, just hungry.
Our next stop was Dickson Mounds in Lewistown, Ill. Dickson Mounds is a branch of the Illinois State Museum, featuring a Native American settlement site and burial mound complex, containing two cemeteries, 10 superimposed mounds and a platform mound.
Even though it was only 8 a.m., the center was open. We decided to freshen up first, since we had been riding and sleeping in the same clothes for 12 plus hours.
Hannah looked at me dubiously when I said we can just change in the parking lot. There were only two groundskeepers around and once they left, we went into action. Han has always had this knack of being able to put one shirt on while slipping out of the old shirt, while remaining completely covered.
I’m an old lady with no dexterity, so I just plain whipped my shirt off, much to my daughter’s shocked disbelief. I wanted to freshen up and apply deodorant before putting on a clean shirt, and there wasn’t a soul in sight.
The blouse I had chosen had a button missing, which Han had sewn on for me right before we packed our suitcases. When I was donning it, I discovered she had forgotten to clip of the excess thread. So there was a 10-inch long tread hanging down the front and I got the giggles.
There I was, my shirt half on and half off, laughing like a lunatic. Han gave me several looks of disgust before she stomped around to my side of the car to put an end to my shenanigans.
As we walked into the building, there was a receptionist and male worker chatting. In a rush it hit me. I casually acted like I was looking around and turned to look out the door. Yep, they had a perfect view of my old lady strip tease.
I’m sure the gentleman is still attending therapy to purge himself of that debilitating image burned into his retinas. We beat a hasty retreat to the restroom so I could vent my laughter. Han rolled her eyes and sighed, and appeared to contemplate the best way to dispose of my body. More adventures to come.