Thursday, April 12, 2012

How to Take a Five Day Vacation on a $500 Budget!

I am a stay-at-home mom who has occasional part-time jobs and a burgeoning small pillow business.  Monday through Friday, my husband goes to the office.  He also travels around to interesting cities on a regular basis for work.  We have two children and live in an inner ring Detroit suburb. (How's that for throwing out urban planning terms in my blog!)  Anyway, in order for me to be a stay-at-home mom, we have to make sacrifices.  There, now you know why my hair is always a mess and I sometimes wear strange clothes.  I blame it all on the budget.  Well, I guess I may have looked a little strange even before kids, so..... Anyway, we have not flown to a sunny, sandy and tropical family vacation since Mimi was eleven months old.  Now those are good memories.

But, as someone who loves to travel I really need to get away fairly regularly.  We spend a lot of time in the summer at my parent's vacation home in the Michigan's U.P.  Heavenly and cheap!!!!  However, you sometimes need to get out of your home state.  We visit Chicago about two to three times a year to visit my brother, sister-in-law, and niece.  About once a year, Kevin and I cash in frequent flier miles and we meet up in a city where he is attending a conference.  Most importantly, we try to take our little girls on some super cool vacations while clinging to our budget.

Basics on how to go away for five days on $500

1.  Find hotel deals that offers buy one night, get one night free.  Sometimes you have to go off season.  There are advantages to travelling off season such as fewer people.  Check out lodges at state parks - cheap rates off season and affordable rates in season

2.  Camp - although I would like to do this, I need to work at getting my family on board.

3.  Get a credit card that awards you with points for travel.  Be it one that gives you frequent flier miles or one that gives free hotel nights.  We have a Marriott card and we have reaped more benefits that I could have ever imagined.  It helps that Kevin travels a lot of work.  He puts all of his work related travel expenses on this card.  It is paid off every month with his reimbursement checks and we get oodles of free hotel nights.

4.  Find a hotel with free breakfast and a mini fridge in the room.  Bring some of your own snacks, fruit, or breakfast if not included in the hotel.  If you are really cutting costs then bring bread, peanut butter, etc. for picnic lunches.

5.  Buy a fuel efficient car if you will be driving long distances regularly.  All four of us travel comfortably in my Scion xD.  It is actually shocks me every single time we load up my car that we can do it.  

6.  Take advantage of AAA discounts.

How we went on vacation to Louisville, Kentucky for $500

When planning our trip, we knew we wanted to go somewhere warmer than Michigan but within about a six hour drive.  We also needed to stay at a Marriott since we had oodles of points to cash in on. We have all been to Louisville before on day trips but thought it might be fun spend a few days.  We stayed at the Spring Hill Suites by Marriott in Hurstbourne for four nights, five days for free.  We had a suite, access to the swimming pool, workout room, and free breakfast.  Lodging is really the biggest cost of travelling and we had that covered.  Kevin's birthday was also just a couple days before we left.  He signed up to be on e-mail lists for restaurants and he earned a couple free birthday dinners which were redeemed in Louisville.  Now, here is how we spent our fun money:

Day One

$6 on breakfast bagels from Einstein - it is much easier to eat on the road.
$17 for lunch at McDonalds - when did the Ronald start charging so much for happy meals?
$33 for gas
$14 for admission to Locust Grove.  This is an historic home where George Roger Clark lived.
$30 for dinner at Ruby Tuesday (Kevin ate for free.)

Total $110

Locust Grove

My offspring

Violet was sick and tired of being on the tour of Locust Grove!

Day Two

$22 lunch at Subway - seriously pricey subs
$14 admission to the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens - run, don't walk to this place as it is seriously lovely.
$34 dinner at Mimi's Cafe (Kevin ate for free)
We also went to Tom Sawyer State Park that day for free!

Total $70

Beautiful barn at the gardens - great place for an event.

Love these flowers.

Castle on the grounds - used to be a pool house.

Uh - that's me!
Day Three

$17 for lunch at Panera
$30 for Admission to Pleasant Hill Shaker Village
$4 for bottles of water because we forgot ours in the hotel room
$28 for gas
$5 for a flashlight
$14 for pizza
$22 for my ghost tour of Waverly Hills
$4 for two small milkshakes

Total $124

Kids can dress up like a Shaker.

The yarn there was awesome!
Made me wish I had talent when it comes to knitting.

Shaker farm.

Me at Waverly Hills - I like ghost stories a lot!
Day Four

$20 admission to the Louisville Zoo - we have a reciprocal membership thanks to the Detroit Zoo so we paid 50%  to get in.
$17 for lunch at Jason's Deli.
$40 for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory (I am estimating because I don't remember for sure and Kevin is in Vegas earning us some Marriott rewards.)

Total $77

Baby polar bear - Mimi took this photo

Louisville has elephants - this was real treat because Detroit no longer has elephants.

Happy girls!

Day Five 

$33 for Easter lunch at a pizza place somewhere in rural Kentucky - what a rip off.
$50 for gas - I think we filed up twice
We got back to Michigan in time for me to make pasta for dinner.

Total $88

Easter morning family picture before church!
Grand Total of the Trip $469.00 - give or take $25 in case I forgot to write something in the log.

There it is!  A vacation on $500.  This is not the first time we have planned a vacation on $500.  We try to take two of these types of trips a year.  We do not sacrifice fun or comfort.  The girls are happy, we are happy.  It is a challenge but it is also kind of like a game.  Can we do it?  Sure we can!  Give it a try and happy travelling.

Oh, and in case you need more reasons to travel, check out the last two photos.

You never know who you might kiss on vacation....

....or who will kiss you!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Buddy Pillows for Kids With Chronic Illness: Parents, I Need Your Input!

I am pretty lucky that I can honestly say that my friends have some of the cutest kids around.  I mean that seriously and with my whole heart - I love these little people.  I have made some pillows for my friends kids.  Some pillows were made for free as thank you gifts, some were paid custom orders.  But, I enjoyed these projects so much since the pillows were going to people I care about.

Back in December, an old high school and college friend asked me to be a Santa's Helper and make a few pillows.  How could I say no?  We worked together to pick fabrics and we ended up with a set of Dora and kitty cat pillows.

Dora for a "little girl."
Kitty cats for a "big girl."
Fortunately, when Christmas morning arrived and both girls received their pillows, they were happy girls.  I in turn was a happy seamstress.  I know that as time has gone on, the pillows are still in use and the girls are still enjoying them.  That makes me happy.  However, there is more to this story than just decorative throw pillows.  The kitty cat pillow has become much more.  This is where I need some help and input.

The "big girl" that received the kitty cat pillow suffers from a pretty horrible case of asthma.  It is scary and dangerous for the poor kid.  It is also pretty stressful and worrisome for her family.  And from what I understand, her own cat plays a role in her asthma - he doesn't make it worse but he often knows when an attack is coming.  Late night trips to the doctor/ER (any trip to the doctor) and breathing treatments are no fun.  But, for some reason, the kitty cat pillow has become her buddy and she swears the pillow helps her with her asthma.  It gives her comfort and something she can hold onto when she is sick.  This started a conversation between my friend and I - how about marketing pillows from kids who are sick a lot.  Asthma buddies?  But then again, kids have diabetes, cancer, all kinds of unpleasant stuff.  The kitty cat pillow I made is a 16 x 16 pillow.  But maybe the pillow should be smaller, rectangular.  Easy and comforting to hold but also small enough to fit in a backpack to transport back and forth from doctors and hospital visits.  These pillows could be made in bright, soft, and fun fabrics.  I would make them at covers (just need to find the right insert size) so they can be easily washed.

Now, this is where you come in.  I know a decent number of people read this blog.  I know a lot of you either have kids or know kids who might benefit from something like this  So give me your input.  Anything!  Let me know what you think of size, design, or any ideas you might have for this project.  Leave a comment on here, Facebook, or even message me privately.  I really want to know what YOU think.