Tag Archives: travel

Why are we going on a two month camping trip to Canada?

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A lot of camping gear!

The stuff is piled in the dining room.  We’ve done a test pack to make sure it will all fit in the car – along with David, who we will pick up in Calgary to join us for a week.  Lawn mowing, house checking, and other preparations have been arranged.  And soon we are off.

Perhaps just a little meditation on why we’re doing this is called for before we head out.

The first answer is probably because we can – or maybe that should be because we still can.  At our age, we have lost friends who can no longer do these things.  Others have illnesses that limit their activities.  We have slowed ourselves, but a leisurely car camping trip is something that we can handle and enjoy.  We hope the memories will carry us into the future.

We love the outdoors. Listening to tree frogs as we settle down to sleep on our comfy camp cots sounds like a great way to spend the summer months.  Hikes and bike rides let us slow down and see things.  We love the grand beauty of the mountains, but also the vastness of prairies and tundra.

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How many bins will fit in a compact car?

We thought we’d tie several of those someday trips into one.  A trip to see where my grandfather homesteaded on the Saskatchewan prairie, a visit to the highly touted Canadian Rocky parks of Banff and Jasper, a tour up the north shore of Lake Superior, a visit with some old friends…  Putting these things off might have meant we wouldn’t do them.

We want to be able to explore.  When we were working, trips were often crammed into short periods of time.  We have the time now and relish the idea of seeing not just the big name sights but also the smaller things – interesting little towns that most people blow through, out of the way parks, and little museums.  Small city baseball teams. Birds that fly through our part of the country on their way to summer breeding grounds.  People and places that we haven’t heard of and that will surprise us.

So friends and family, come along and we’ll do our best to share our adventure with you.



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How much did that frugal vacation actually cost?

Because we enjoy travel, it is one of the big ticket but flexible items on our semi-retired budget.  This year we decided to keep our annual spring trip costs down and still had a great time.  To check that this was truly a frugal vacation here’s the cost breakdown.

Grotto 7 Hollows Trail Jean Petit State park Ark. March 2010For this trip, we chose to skip the air fare and rental car and take a driving vacation.  We also camped two of the five nights of the trip.  A driving and camping vacation is fairly inexpensive.  How much did our Arkansas vacation cost?  Here are my calculations.

  •  Two nights camping (in Queen Wilhelmena State Park and Petit Jean State Park) at $18 per night:  $36
  •  One night at the Queen Wilhelmena Lodge:  $70
  •  Two nights in motels (a clean Super 8 outside of Little Rock, where we visited the Clinton Museum and had fried catfish at the Flying Fish, and a motel in Springfield MO on our way home):  $150 ($48 in Bayfield and $90 in Springfield)
  • Gas (We spent $120 for gas but included a stop at Bill’s folks, whom we visit almost every week):  $100
  • Entrance fees to the Clinton Museum ($7 for adults, $5 for seniors):  $12
  • Eating out (we bought two meals a day – eating trail food from home for lunch on our hikes, and breakfasts at the two motels).  We spent about $55 per day for food for 6 days adding up to $330 but I subtracted what we would have spent at home for groceries and eating out so I’d estimate we spent $230 more than we would have at home:  $230
  • Gift for the neighbor who cares for our cat:  $26
  • Total out of pocket cost was $624.

But there are some overhead costs, as well.  Camping equipment isn’t free, even if campgrounds are inexpensive. 

We used:

  • a tent (13 years old, about $150 at the time, similar tent full price now would be $300),
  • two sleeping bags (also 13 years old, currently would cost about $120 each but we’ve used these about 10 to 20 days a year for the past 13 years and will use them for years to come)
  • two camping pads – probably spent $60 for both of these and they are possibly older than the other equipment.
  • Two camp cots bought on sale, about $30 each
  • A cooler – inexpensive, multipurpose, used many times for many things over about 20 years.  Can’t count anything on this. 

We’ve spent about $570 on the equipment and assuming it gets used 50 nights over its lifetime, the cost per use would be $11.40.  We camped 2 nights so add $23 to our costs.

For the car – how do you calculate the cost?  IRS mileage reimbursement rates?  We drive an 8 year old Pontiac Vibe that we bought new.  It has required little maintenance and we’d have it even if we weren’t taking this vacation.  Still, long vacations – about 1200 miles, this time, result in wear and tear on the vehicle, which means we’ll have to replace it or provide maintenance sooner than we would otherwise.  I’m putting this cost at $200 and may try to calculate it out more precisely later.  $200 

So, I’m adding $223 of overhead to our actual out of pocket expenses for this trip. 

Total:  $847 for a six day, five night trip for two.  But for purposes of our 2010 budget, we spent $624.  The overhead costs were (or will be) spent in other years.  We bought most of the camping equipment years ago and we won’t be replacing the car or, hopefully, incurring any additional maintenance costs this year.

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“I don’t do winter camping!” – A great spring break without a lot of money

When we walked back from dinner at the Queen Wilhelmena Lodge, the wind was howling and the temperature was about 40. The wind chill had to be 10 to 20 degrees below that. We dug our hands into our pockets and consoled ourselves by picking out Orion and the Big Dipper in the moonless night sky. The stars were gorgeous up on this 2681 foot high mountain peak in the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas. Ahead of us was our tent, swaying on its side and held down by just one stake and the gear that we left inside. The wind had pulled all but that one stake from the ground and we were lucky that our night’s shelter wasn’t rolling down the mountainside.

It is always good to get your misadventures out of the way on the first day of a vacation. We struggled to right the tent, restake it and rearrange the muddled cots, sleeping bags and clothing that were inside. I wasn’t prepared for winter camping but layered what clothing I had and shivered in my sleeping bag. Bill slept peacefully all night while I listened to the flapping of the nylon tent. I’m sure that I dozed some but finally carried the sleeping bag into the car and turned on the motor just long enough to warm myself.

I pride myself on NOT doing winter camping but I had agreed to put the tent up for this night when there were no rooms available in the lodge, knowing that I’d have a warm bed the next night.

Bill and I love active vacations – cross country skiing, hiking, bicycling, or kayaking. What all of these activities have in common is that they can be done at whatever pace you choose and they get us outdoors in semi-wild areas where we can view wildlife, enjoy the scenery and learn about the natural world around us. I have a sedentary job and moving in the outdoors always raises my mood. I don’t know if it is the sunshine, the endorphins from the exercise, or the natural beauty but I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a break from my everyday life. No photograph or documentary ever captures the smells of flowers, the feel of the breeze, the bird songs, and the 360 degree panoramas of being outdoors.

These kinds of trips also have the advantage of being inexpensive (well not that trip we took to Alaska), perfect for a semi-retired librarian and high school teacher. Even if I had a bigger bank account, I’d choose similar trips.

This year we’re feeling the pinch of the economy. To avoid air fares, I took out a map and looked for places within a day’s drive. For those of you on the coasts or living in the mountain states, this technique can produce a wide range of choices. For those of us in places like Kansas City, the choices are fewer – or at least, less conventional. It’s been a cold winter so I looked south. The license plates in Arkansas declare that it is “the natural state” and the long term forecast was for daytime temperatures in the 60s. Arkansas also has a great state park system, including lodges and cabins in some of the parks. Great! We headed south, straight down highway 71.

Day 1: The beginning of our drive was through the western edge of Missouri. At lunch time we stopped to see Harry Truman’s birthplace and got a nice tour through the tiny house. Our tour guide suggested a great sandwich place called the Eastsider for lunch.

We drove on into Arkansas and through the winding roads of the Boston Mountains. We stopped at the Ozark Folkways Heritage Center in Winslow Ark. to shop for handmade baskets, carved bowls,pottery, quilts, and other handicrafts. On to the Oauchita Mountains and Queen Wilhelmena State Park. See the description above for how our evening went.

Day 2: Because we awoke in a cold cloud – literally, we chose to head down the mountain towards the town of Mena and out of the cloud for our hike along the Ouachita Trail. The woods conisited of many shortleaf pines and we caught a glimpse of an enormous pileated woodpecker. We spent the night in the lodge- ah the wonders of central heating!

Spring flower
Day 3: No cloud this morning so we hiked the Lover’s Leap Trail to the Ouachita trail and made a loop around the side of the mountain. The sun came out for awhile and we began to see a few small flowers, as well as other hikers on the trail. After our hike we drove to Bryant, just west of Little Rock and spent the night there.

Day 4: We got started a little later than we had planned because we were both reading the same book, Little Bee by Chris Cleave and wanted to see how it turned out. I need to learn to allow myself this uninterrupted reading time when I’m not “on vacation”.

We drove into Little Rock and visited the Clinton Museum. I liked the architecture and the setting along the river. The history was too new for us since we had lived it so recently. Surprisingly, we enjoyed a special display of Madeline Albright’s pins. Apparently she used brooches to let heads of state know what kind of mood she was in. Beware the days that she wore snake pins!

We walked into downtown Little Rock, a smaller city than I expected. The downtown area takes advantage of the waterfront along the Arkansas River and most of the businesses and restaurants are local. There is a farmer’s market in the warmer months. We ate at a fun place, the Flying Fish a casual place with a fishing theme and great seafood. I enjoyed the catfish and what appears to be a regular southern side dish, pickled green tomatoes.

From here we drove to Petit Jean State Park and were able to get a wooded campsite with a flat tent area. We ate dinner at the CCC built lodge looking out over a mountain valley and sited to take in the sunset. The lodge rooms were closed for renovation but many families were spending spring break in the cabins. This is my favorite of the Arkansas State Parks that we’ve visited. It is the first park in the Arkansas State Park system. The waterfall on the Cedar River drops 95 feet. I’m hoping to visit again when the lodge is open.

Day 5: We had to choose among many interesting trails in Petit Jean State Park and decided to take a four and a half mile hike on the Seven Hollows Trail. Open glades, interesting rock formations, and some more wonderful vistas. This is getting almost boring. We had a great time crossing paths with two young men from Texas who were taking pictures along the trail. We went back to take down our tent about 2:30 and stopped to see the Cedar Falls from a handicap accessible overlook on our way out of the park.

We drove to Springfield (MO) up Arkansas Highway 7 – another scenic ride through the Boston Mountains and stopped at another fish place, the Catfish Wharf in Harrison, a funky restaurant that we had visited when camping along the Buffalo River on another trip.

Day 6: On to Columbia Mo to visit my in-laws. Bill went with his folks to the doctor and I visited a favorite yarn and fiber store there: True Blue Fiber Friends for a spindle and fiber to give to the neighbor who fed our cat while we were gone. And back to Kansas City. A great way to spend a week.

Not only was the choice of a relatively nearby destination a way to travel on a modest budget, but it opened our eyes to the sites and attractions of our own region and neighbors. I enjoyed listening to the southern drawls of the Arkansans, enjoyed the catfish dinners, and loved seeing the first signs of spring in this gorgeous state. What interesting places are within a day’s drive of your home?


Filed under activities, Adventures, Natural History, retirement