Cheap Summer Vacation Series: Blue Ridge Parkway

If you’re looking for a beautiful vacation that will be big on memories and cheap on your wallet, then you should check out Blue Ridge Parkway. We rode a portion of it when we were outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Our friends enjoy the outdoors and they invited us to hang with them for a weekend trip.

My husband and I wanted to try something different and having a little getaway camping trip seemed like the perfect plan.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a national park that you can actually drive on. It’s 469 miles connecting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. It’s very scenic and as you travel, you can stop at spots, have a picnic or walk around and enjoy the views.

Looking for resources, here are two of my favorites:

As you can see in the photos, the drive was amazing and we got to stretch our legs and relax in some beautiful settings.

Where to Stay

Being so close to Asheville, you really have many options on where to stay. There are hotels, bed and breakfast, and campgrounds. You have decide what’s your style and when you’ll be heading out.

Since we went in early October to observe the leaves changing, the temperatures were still mild.  Our friends are experienced campers, so they had everything you could possibly need on the trip. The campgrounds also had hot shower facilities and laundry on site.

Here are some recommended places if you’re looking for a place to rest your head:

You can stop or start anywhere, but I really recommend being around Asheville. It’s a great sized city with plenty of nightlife and sights to see.

Not Breaking the Budget

We stayed at a small campground in Balsam. We split the campground fees with our friends. I believe it was around $24/night for a tent site with electricity and water. We slept comfortably in our tents and enjoyed our little spot by the creek. I believe cabins were available from $35-45/night, depending on size.

We bought a few items for the trip; happily, we use most of it still. My husband loves his hiking boots and we use the air mattress for out of town guests. Here’s a breakdown of what we spent:

  • Hiking Shoes (2 pairs) – $125
  • Queen size Air Mattress – $30
  • Thermals (4 pairs) – $40
  • Blanket – $15
  • Wool Socks – $7
  • Food (cooking stuff) -$30
  • Food (eating out) – $40
  • Gasoline – $50

Next time we go, most of the items won’t have to be bought again, so it’ll be much cheaper.

Thoughts on National Park Vacations

I have to say, we had an absolute blast with the camping trip. We got to recharge our batteries, see some beautiful mountains, and hang with friends. The added bonus was not having to spend a ton of money for it!  Have you explored some of our country’s wonderful parks?

This guest post is from Elle at Couple Money, helping others live on one income and have fun with the second.

Cheap Summer Vacation Series: Grand Teton National Park

After reading the post at Small Steps for Big Change on her pending summer road trip, it got me thinking about other awesome summer vacations people on a tight budget can take.  It immediately led me back to many of my favorite vacations – almost all of them to different national parks in the country.  Now, I know that these may not be cheap due to the rising price of gas, but for some of us, these unique areas are literally in our backyard.  I am very aware of the fact that they are far more prevalent in the western united states where I live than they are on the east coast (just another reason why the mountain west is best), but the parks are still very, very cheap.  Most are free to enter, but you need to pay to stay  or camp, and some you need to pay to get in wether you camp or not (though this is usually only for the very popular parks).  I’ve been to quite a few (in fact, I think next time I go to one, I’m going to totally nerd out and buy a national park passport book) and have enjoyed them immensely.

There is incredible diversity in the park: the tetons are full of climbers, cowbirds, fish and great hiking trails.  The camping was also great

My first visit to Grand Teton National Park was in 2008 (over the 4th of july weekend), and it was amazing.  The weather was great the whole time, and I saw some amazing things.  The nice part about this park is that its about 20 miles away from another great wyoming park, Yellowstone National Park.  The cost to enter both parks for 7 days (!!!) is a whopping $25 per carload.  It’s only 12 if you enter by bike or on foot (though I wouldn’t suggest trying any of that, the parks are huge and are in a rather remote area of Wyoming.  Unfortunately, because of their remote location, you’ll be paying quite a bit in travel costs to get there – it’s even quite a few hours (more than 5) away from where I live in Wyoming.

To get to the park, most people drive, but if you live rather far away, there is an airport in Jackson, WY that you can fly into, though I imagine that it’s rather expensive.  The closest large city airport is probably Salt Lake City Utah, which would be a solid drive from as well.

As always with any vacation, it’s important to do your own research.  As of recently, you can carry firearms into national parks, for information on that and other things you should know check out this link Grand Teton.

With the ever changing nature of gas prices, you’ll never know what you’ll find.  As a matter of fact, last time I was up there I was paying around $4 per gallon for gas, and I believe it got above $4.50 in the small mining town of Cooke City, MT on the way back down.  All in all though, I was able to pay about $250 for a week of vacation to some amazing places.  Of course, I traveled relatively cheaply by brining my own supplies, such as food and camping gear, but I had to eat no matter where I was and already had the camping gear.  Do remember to bring bug spray – when I was up there, the misquitos were HUGE! Below are a few pictures from the park and a little bit about them (as an aside, I dont frequently take pictures, but I have over 800 pictures from this trip!):

The photo above is of the grand tetons right at about sunrise.  I was traveling through the park to get to a whitewater rafting trip I had set up on the snake river (not counted in my $250 as it was not necessary).  I took the route through the park on the way into Jackson, WY.  Even though I was absolutely dead from driving through the night, the park was still breathtaking.

This is a picture of the gun fight in Jackson, WY every night at 4pm just off the town square.  Jackson is a very nice town, but it’s very expensive to eat/drink/stay there.  The gunfight is free, and worth checking out.

This is a picture of a waterfall that feeds into jenny lake.  It was a rather simple hike with little elevation gain.  It was mainly a walk around the lake – another great free activity that will keep you healthy 🙂

This is a picture of the lake that the above waterfall feeds into, Jenny lake.  I saw a few high school kids jumping off of that rock, so I figured that I should give it a whirl as well.  Even though I’m well versed in mountain geography, that part of my brain wasn’t really turned on at that point.  So I jumped in and it felt like I got kicked in the chest by jackie chan.  Jenny lake is a glacial lake, and the water was very, very cold.  It was warm enough out that it didnt matter, though, and I dried off rather quickly after I was out of the water.

The nicest part about vacations like this is their simplicity.  No one is bugging you to spend time in museums (though that’s fun too) and you can simply head out on a hike with your friends/family and enjoy the bounty that nature has to offer.  There’s fresh air to breathe, fun to have, and it’s all rather cheap.  Much more so than going to a place, getting a hotel, taking in some local culture an entertainment and paying quite a bit for it.  If that’s what you want to do, then go for it, but you don’t have to.  Save some money and still have amazing trips, courtesy of the national park service (and your tax dollars).

Have you been to Grand Teton National Park?  If so, what do you think of it, and if not, are you interested in going?

Cheap Summer Vacation Series: Yellowstone National Park

After reading a post on SS4BC’s blog on her road trip (which I believe has been cancelled), I got to thinking about cheap summer vacations, and quickly realized that a very frugal way to vacation is to hit up your local (or not so local) national parks.  Many of them are free to get in, and if they are not free admission, there is usually a small fee, and you can camp for free or relatively cheap at campgrounds that are maintained by the park staff.  You can easily cook most of your own meals so you wont be eating out frequently.  This will also be a series of posts, and I’m hoping to get some posts from other bloggers around the country to talk about parks I’ve never been to.  I’ll start out the series with the first national park, Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National park is huge, and is mostly located in Wyoming (some small areas in Idaho and Montana are within the parks boundaries as well).  I’ve only been up there once, but it was amazing.  The park is currently sitting directly atop a large caldera (volcano) and that has lent to many unique features in the park.  There are very, very old redwood trees (that are normally not found in wyoming), hot pools, gyesers galore, fantastic waterfalls and much more.   There’s abundant wildlife and it was well worth the admission fee.

When I went, I stayed at yellowstone and grand teton national parks for 7 days today, and spent $25 to get into both places.  I’d have to say that it’s easily the best $25 I’ve ever spent. Even though this was during the gas price spike in 2008, I was still able to have a fairly cheap week.  A lot of the meals I made were relatively simple affairs, as I wanted to get and see as much as possible when I was up there.  I camped when I was there, and for those squirmish about not taking a shower for that long, yellowstone has shower facilities that you can use (though you had to pay a small fee).

This park is just north of Grand Teton, and there are 4 roads into the park.  You can access it from Cody, WY, Gardnier, MT, West Yellowstone MT or Jackson, WY.  You’ll need a vehicle, as no town is close enough to the park to walk to.  Visitation is very high in the summer, but you can still feel like you’re out in the wild if you get away from the main roads.

This is a picture that I took in the park. The pools in the background are steaming and you cant get in them – they are heated by the caldera.

Another picture from inside the park.  As you can see, the landscapes vary in the park widely.  This was near a gyser.  The landscapes in the park are just stunning, and you get to see them all for the low price of $25 for the week (7 days)!  The park was huge, so this did take some driving from our campsite to the best areas of the park, but it was well worth it.

One of the many gysers in the park.  It is really awesome to watch these gysers spray, some of the spray quite high and quite frequently, and some of them don’t spray that often, but often resulting in a large stream of water.

This is the iconic yellowstone falls.  Obviously my crappy camera and photo taking skills dont do it justice, but it is stunning.

Along with all of this, you get a chance to bond with whomever you decide to take and have a great excuse to unplug and enjoy your vacation.  The best part is, this (or a national park near you) wont break the bank.

Green Your Summer: Start A Garden

This post is part of the weekly Green Your Summer Series. This series offers some simple tips to help you have a greener summer.  This is the fourth post in the series.

Gardens are an awesome way to save some money and reduce the miles that your food travels to get to your plate.  You can always get the freshest fruits and veggies, and they always taste great!  Usually, your home grown foods cost much, much less than the ones that you’d buy from the store that are out of season, bruised, split open or sprayed with who knows what.  Having a garden will put you in the drivers seat – you’ll control all the inputs, decide when/if to add something to your food somewhere along the way, decide when it’s ripe and ready to eat, and decide what you want to grow.  Want to grow kumquats?  Go ahead, it’s your garden.  Maybe you like tomatoes?  Get a popular variety in your area.  You can grow anything you want (for the most part).

To start one, you’ll first need to figure out what you like that will grow easily in your area.  Everyone will have different answers for this, but I think in my

case if something that I liked didnt grow all that well, and something that I wasn’t familiar with, I’d probably put a little of both, and then deal with the impending issue of having 239 pounds of zuccini later in the fall.

Your first step is to locate a suitable area – the best one’s will be south facing (to get a lot of sun), relatively flat (so you dont have to flatten it yourself) and away from your dogs favorite area.  I don’t think that anything would make me angrier than spending a whole lot of time creating a garden, only to have the sustainable hound (pictured at right during drivers ed.) tear it apart.

Once you’ve got a spot and it’s ready to go, turn the soil and add some compost or other organic material – I’ve used manure before with success.  With all of that out of the way, you need to find your seeds and figure out how much room you need to give each plant for it to grow with success.  Things like tomatoes need a bit of space between them, while lettuce does not need that much space.  Usually, you can find things like this on the back of your seed package.

You can plant in the spring, summer, and fall, and will have success with different things depending on the season.  However if you’re just getting started gardening, I’d go for the summer myself – it’s a little harder to mess up.  To make it even easier (but more expensieve) consider buying plants that have already been started.  It’s easier for you to track as you can see results sooner (growing plants/leaves instead of just “doing something” underground for a while).

If you find that you enjoy it this summer, You’ll always be able to start your seeds inside and completely get rid of that expense for next year.  Not only will you be spending more time out doors and having some fun with your family, you’ll be getting fresh food for your kitchen that has traveled significantly less than a mile.

Do you have a garden?   (Unfortunately, I do not currently have a garden.  Once I get into a place with a yard big enough that I can fence the hound out of, I’m going to put one in) What are you planning on planting this year?

Green Your Summer: Walk/Bike More

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be running a  short series on how you can save some money and live a bit greener this summer by taking some very simple steps.  I enjoy the warmth of the spring and summer time, and all of the delicious foods that it brings along with it.  The berries, summer squash, warm weather, longer days, more nighttime activities in the community (at least for me) and generally a great time for relaxation and fun.  Because there’s more time during the day, I figured I’d throw out a few tips to green up your summers.  This is the third entry in the series.

Like I mentioned earlier, I really enjoy walking and biking.  Not sure where this came from, but it probably started sometime when I was little and went out riding my bike with all of my friends.  Headed over to the park, to play football or do whatever.  Life was easy then.  Unfortunately, this slowed when I got to middle school – I couldn’t ride my bike to school anymore (It was too far, and crossing too many busy streets, my parents said).  I still was able to ride my bike on the weekend, but not much more than that.  High school was more of the same, as it was near my middle school, but it didnt matter then: I was going to have a car for part of it.

Soon after I got a vehicle, I felt like every american: Freedom of the congested road, frustration with maintenance issues, and increased expenses.  I just took it as a sign of growing up: something that I’m supposed to do/have when I get older.  I got to university and despite all my bellyaching, my dad said I didn’t need a car in college.  I continued to whine, but time bore out his statement: I didn’t – I got along just fine with out it.  I enjoyed not having a car so much, actually, that I really wanted to continue this phase of my existance.

Lower Expenses, Better Health

Expenses were low for me (basically rent, food and tuition) so I didn’t mind not having a car – I walked, skateboarded or rode the bus where I needed to go.  I was able to live without a car for 4 years, and when the time came to start looking for a job, I knew sort of what I wanted to do, but I knew a lot about where I wanted to live: somewhere near my office, so that I wouldn’t need to spend a lot of time in the car.  Well, after a bit of searching, I decided that I should go to grad school instead – a decision that I still haven’t made up my mind about, but that’s another story.  Either way, I was able to live without a car during grad school as well, although it required a bit more work because of the layout of the town and the needs that I had.  I still walked to work and enjoyed it, but when I needed to make a large purchase, I had to have some help getting there and back – which wasn’t hard to find.  I knew that I didn’t want to do much driving, so this time, I looked for jobs that would help me out with that.

Unfortunately, I had difficulty finding a job that would let me do that, and real life was knocking on my door and invading my mailbox.  I needed to pay credit card bills, my student loan grace period was expiring, and I still had to eat!  At that point, anything was better than nothing, so I found a job 50 miles from my house.  Then I found another one.  Less than 6 months after looking for a job that I could walk or bike to, I had 2 that I had to drive to, and an unreliable vehicle.

So, now that I’ve gotten a new job where I’m able to walk, you can bet that I’ll definately be enjoying that fact when summer rolls around and I’m taking a 10 minute stroll over to my office.  I’ve been able to free up at least 400 per month in gas expenses (and who knows where the price will stabilize again) and enjoy my commute to work much more than I previously was.  I’m saving gas money, saving time, and emitting less in terms of emissions from the vehicle.  There’s also no parking costs, and I don’t have  very high likelihood of getting a ticket if I’m not driving.  While I can walk any time, the warm air of the summer sure makes it a lot more fun – you should take advantage of it too.

More importantly, I can live the lifestyle that I was able to enjoy from 2003-2009.  Welcome back, walking – help me stay healthy and save me some money!

Do you ever walk/bike to work?  Do you live too far away, or do you just not like to walk/bike?  How do you feel about people who do get to bike everywhere?

Green Your Summer: Use The Clothesline

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be running a  short series on how you can save some money and live a bit greener this summer by taking some very simple steps.  I enjoy the warmth of the spring and summer time, and all of the delicious foods that it brings along with it.  There’s berries, summer squash, warm weather, longer days, more nighttime activities in the community (at least for me) and generally a great time for relaxation.  Because there’s more time during the day, I figured I’d throw out a few tips to green up your summers.  This is the second article in the series.

Growing up, there was almost always clothing, towels or something out on the clothesline during the summer.  I used to go swimming a lot, and there was always a need for a dry towel (or two) and using the dryer would have cost quite a bit.  Also, if I remember correctly, we had a relatively old and probably inefficient dryer until I was a teenager.  Obviously, using this dryer was not all that great for saving energy, saving money or trying to be green (even though I didn’t really  know/care about that stuff when I was 10).

When I started living on my own in college, my first house had clothesline poles, but no ropes/lines connecting them to hang clothes on, so my roommates and I went to pick up a pack of clothesline – if I remember right, it cost about 3 bucks.  This, unfortunately wasn’t enough to get us to use the clothesline regularly, though it did get used for the occasional towel and a few loads of laundry here and there.  While I’m not positive, I think we recovered our paltry investment just the same.

Forced into a new habit

What really got us to start using it was the time our dryer broke.  Because we were a bunch of guys in college, the dryer broke and while we all knew about it, none of us really cared – we would just wear whatever clean (and clean-ish) clothing until we could figure out a way to solve the problem.  Luckily for us, this happened in late march or early april, so I decided that we should go get some rope for the clothesline.  We could still wash our laundry because the washer worked, and it was warm enough that our clothing would dry in a reasonable amount of time.

Once we started this, it really showed up on the electric bill – our energy use went way down because we got rid of our dryer, which was very old and inefficient.  Being forced to this change slowed our energy use greatly during the summer and saved us quite a bit of money over the 5 or so months that we were able to use the clothesline.   Eventually, we got a new dryer, but it didn’t get that much love when it was sunny out.

Even if you don’t have clothesline posts hung up or a hole dug that you can put your clothesline in, there are a few ways you can get around this on the cheap:

  • Use the fence:  Currently at my house, there’s no clothesline poles or a hole for one (which I find odd given that the house is over 100 years old).  What I did was tied the clothesline to the fence posts.  If you do this, make sure that you add some reinforcement (more screws) to the post – the clothes tend to get heavy and pull on the post a bit
  • Use a Pail:  You can always go to your local hardware store and pick up a pail and a section of pvc pipe.  You’ll probably need something at least 1″ in diameter, and at least as long as the bucket.  Grab a bag or 2 of quick dry cement, and set it up.  Put the post into the bucket, fill with your premixed cement, and buy one of the 1 hole clotheslines that look like a spider web.

Also, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your clothesline.

  • Find solid clothespins – This is probably the most important.  They may cost a bit more than the other ones, but those other ones suck.  They break apart at inopportune times and generally don’t last as long.  Stay away from the made in china clothespins
  • Hang towels/sheets up by draping a small part over the edge of the line and pin it up – this will expose more surface area and help them dry faster.
  • Hang your shirts upside down – if you hang them by the shoulders,   there will be a little “mountain” where the clothespin was holding on to it when it was on the line.  It looks weird – trust me.
  • Hang clothes in the shade – the sun will fade the clothing dye.
  • Look at the pollen count – If someone in your home has allergies, then there could be a lot of pollen getting left on the clothing if the pollen is high that day.  (I don’t have an issue with this, so if someone does, it’d be nice to hear if this is a factor or not)

Do any of you readers have any tips or hacks that I’ve left out?  Do you use a clothesline, and if so, what’s your favorite part about it?  Mine’s the smell that they have when you take them off the line.  If you find them a little stiff, try my homemade fabric softener.  It’s cheap and works well.

Green Your Summer: Collect Rain Water

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be running a  short series on how you can save some money and live a bit greener this summer by taking some very simple steps.  I enjoy the warmth of the spring and summer time, and all of the delicious foods that it brings along with it.  The berries, summer squash, warm weather, longer days, more nighttime activities in the community (at least for me) and generally a great time for relaxation and fun.  Because there’s more time during the day, I figured I’d throw out a few tips to green up your summers.  This is the first entry in the series, you can find all the entries here.

Along with starting a garden collecting rain water can go a long way to help your fledgling garden get on its feet and save you some coin.   Back in the days of this blogs infancy, I had quite a few posts on how to save water (here and here).  These tips are great and include a lot of things that can help you save money, but I figured that I’d talk a bit more about something new: rain water.

Now, people in the pacific northwest may not even need to collect rain water, because of how much it rains there.  In Wyoming, that’s just plain not the case.  The western US is actually a high elevation desert, and most of the water we get comes in the form of snow.  So when the rare occasion that it does rain comes along, I make sure that I get the most out of it.  I do this because it’s free, and it otherwise would just go down into the sewer system or evaporate away sometime in the next 24 hours.

Most of the places I’ve lived, rain barrels have not really been legal – mostly because they can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and sometimes these parts get the worst cases of mosquitoes.  I’m talking wear long sleeves outside in the summer bad, mosquitoes as big as a penny bad.  Given the recent water shortages though, I think they are coming back into favor a bit – so check with your  city or county to see if you can put one up yourself.

I don’t have a rain barrel (not ready for that, yet) but from what I understand, they look fairly simple.  All you’d need to do is modify the gutter to drain into a barrel and you’re good to go.  Make sure that the barrel is elevated a bit so you can access it easier and get some pressure.  Unfortunately, I havent made one of these because the house I live in is just rented, and I have an aversion to moving something like that twice – not looking forward to it.

I do keep a bucket or 2 outside and when it rains, I use the contents of the bucket to water the flowers out in the backyard.  The rainwater makes for great water, and I don’t have to set up the sprinkler or jack with the hose when I do this – it’s such an easy process.  I can save some money on the water bill (which goes up quite a bit in the summer due to lack of rain) and I can help out the earth a bit by making sure that all the water that comes around me is put to some good use.

Keeping your rain water will save you a lot of money if you’ve got a lot of plants to water, or it could just help out your gardening.  Either way, why let the resource just run off your property?

Readers: Do you have a rain bucket, or some other way to catch rain water?  Do you like it?  Where do you use the water it captures?  If not, are you interested in having one?