Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Recession Road Trip

I recently wrote a travel article about one of my summer trips. here it is:


By Nicholas K. Geranios

SPOKANE, Wash. _ Can you be broke and still enjoy an epic road trip?

Like much of the nation, we had a difficult summer, financially speaking. But when it came time for vacation, I had no intention of staycating.

Along with my two youngest sons, 15-year-old Tom and 13-year-old Eli, I decided to drive through the West, from the Rocky Mountains just outside Spokane, Wash., to the lights of Las Vegas, the grandeur of Lake Tahoe and the high desert of Bend, Ore.

We needed to maximize fun while minimizing cost. It wasn’t that hard to pull off.

First, we ditched the comfort of the SUV and drove my wife’s Volvo S70 (she was starting a new job and couldn’t come, increasing the difficulty of remaining austere in our spending). That decision doubled our gas mileage. Here’s a summary of our Recession Road Trip from July 31 to Aug. 9.

Day One:
I got off work Friday evening and we piled into the car and drove five hours from Spokane to Butte, Mont., where we stayed with my mother-in-law for free. Dinner was Dairy Queen in Missoula, Mont. ($21.56), while gas for this leg was $56.82.

Day Two:
After a lovely breakfast of Safeway donuts and coffee ($15.36, including some road munchies), it was off to Salt Lake City. We stopped at Chili’s in Idaho Falls, dropping $45 on lunch, and filled up the car in Malad for $31. I had found a room on-line at the Radisson in downtown Salt Lake for $80, plus $10 to park. It was right next to the Mormon temple. We met my friend Linda for dinner at a swanky Greek restaurant, which set me back some $120. It was our priciest meal, but anything Greek is well worth the cost.

Day Three:
We had breakfast at Starbucks ($13), checked out of the Radisson, and went to Lagoon, a big amusement park in Salt Lake. With discount coupons from a Coke promotion, the three of us got in for just under $100. We spent the day frolicking in 100-degree heat. Lunch was Arby’s in the park for $25. That evening, we got into the car and drove for four hours to Saint George, Utah, where my mom and brother live. Dinner was at Sizzler in Provo ($41). I filled the car up for $17. We pulled into Saint George about 11 p.m. and slept at my brother’s house.

Days Four-Five
We bummed around Saint George for two days, visiting family and eating mostly at home. I spent $22 taking four people to a matinee, $25 on two trips to Starbucks for afternoon coffee, $28 for gasoline, plus $12.37 for lunch one day at Bajio Grill.

Day Six
My boys are big fans of the Ocean’s 11 movies, and I had promised to show them Vegas on this trip. I booked a room at Luxor for $50! (that’s lower than the daily rate of my mortgage!). We drove the two hours to Vegas from Saint George and checked into the hotel. We walked the Strip to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (I am an unrepentant Parrot Head), and dropped $60 on lunch.

My $50 room deal also included $50 in free slot machine credit at the Venetian, so we walked there and I lost the money while the boys explored the lavish casino.
On the way back to Luxor we stopped at a discount booth and bought tickets to that night’s Rick Thomas magic show in the Sahara ($55 for three).

We enjoyed the 100-degree afternoon temps at the Luxor’s massive swimming pool complex (free) and then showered and got ready for the show. Since Vegas casinos have free parking, we drove the length of the Strip to the Sahara.
We got there early, so I sent the boys to the casino’s arcade while I played a few hands of $1 blackjack and drank a $1 beer. Nothing illustrates how hard the recession has hit Vegas than the existence of $1 gaming tables on the strip.

We enjoyed the show, where Thomas made tigers, motorcycles and showgirls disappear, then drove quickly back to the Luxor to hit the dinner buffet ($57 for three) before it closed. Still frisky, we walked over to New York, New York, where the boys dove into the sports arcade games at the ESPN Zone ($15). I took the free time to play a few slots, and won $75 on a penny slot. I quit while I was ahead, and we headed back to our spacious room and slept like the dead.

Day Seven:

We got up early, had breakfast at Starbucks ($21) and hit the road for South Lake Tahoe, Calif., where my oldest son was spending the summer. I spent $25 to top off the gas tank. This was an all-day drive through the desert, and I passed time by inventing how various buildings in the distance were part of Area 51 and contained alien spaceships or bodies. We had lunch at Rita’s ($33) in the town of Beatty, Nev., a gateway to Death Valley. We rolled into South Lake Tahoe late in the evening and checked into the Horizon Casino, which I had booked for $60. We ate at the rather poor but cheap buffet ($32) and relaxed.

Day Eight:
We spent the entire day with my 20-year-old son Kon. That included some shopping to pick up clothes and groceries for him, lunch at IHOP ($47), a matinee showing of Public Enemies ($30) and some time lounging at the Holiday Inn Express. We changed hotels because the rate at the Horizon jumped to $190 for Friday night, and I got the Holiday Inn room for free after cashing in my points to the Holiday Inn Priority Club. That evening we hit a lavish seafood buffet at Harrah’s (cost only $107 for four!). For those of you keeping score, that’s three buffet dinners in three nights. Welcome to travel with boys.

Day Nine:
Another long day in the car. After our free breakfast at the hotel, we bid my son goodbye, put $45 into the tank, and headed to Sacramento and then north up Interstate 5. We had lunch at Arby’s ($16), put $18 in gas into the car, and rolled late in the day into Bend, OR. Not sure how far we would be able to go, I had no reservation and we had trouble finding a room. I finally found a place on about my 10th call, at an independent hotel called the Bend Inn for $97. We ate at Round Table Pizza for dinner ($24).

Day Ten:
Homecoming day. We hit the free breakfast at the hotel, put $35 into the gas tank (in Oregon they have to pump the gas, it’s the law), then drove for three hours to Richland, Wash. Lunch at Dairy Queen ($18), $24 more in gas and then two more hours of driving placed us back in Spokane.

The final toll showed three people traveled for 10 days through eight states, with five nights at hotels and four sleeping at the home of relatives. Total tab: About $1,588.

Adventure: Priceless


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