Monday, December 10, 2012


September 19, 2012

Yes, a secret getaway.  Oh it’s not entirely a secret, a few people knew, but not everyone.  By the time this is posted we will be home safe and sound. The trip, at this point, is scheduled to be approximately three weeks long.  It’s a combination of business and pleasure travel.  I’ll be writing this over a multi-month period, but then they will be posted after we return from the trip a report at a time.  I’ve chosen to do the reports this way for two reasons.

The first is safety.  Many people advertise on various lists, social networks, blogs and such when they are getting ready to go away for a short trip.  Heck, I’ve done that myself to some extent when we were traveling for a living, but even those posts always ran behind so no one knew for certain if we were home and when we were gone. 

This can be a safety issue in this day and age, because bad guys read blogs too and will take advantage when they KNOW no one is home.  While we were traveling more or less full time my son was still at home taking care of things.  But on this trip that would not be the situation at times.  So the posts will be composed, then posted after my return.

The second is far simpler, I don’t want to tie myself to writing every day while traveling.  I want to take notes and then later enjoy the memories as I write.

So that’s the explanation of the strange dates for this series of posts.

Now on to the reason for the trip.  The initial reason was for Gary to attend AutoCad University 2012.  He works for a firm that understands the importance of keeping their employees educated on the latest technology. They are a great company to work for in more ways than one.  The company decided to pay for his trip to Las Vegas for AU so that he could take classes then return to the firm and train others on what he learned.

They are also a family orientated firm so when he approached them about them allowing him to travel in our truck and fifth wheel with me to include a vacation along the way to and from for us they agreed to give him the airfare money for the fuel for the trip.

We had done the math and calculated that the airfare and fuel would work out to be just about the same.  So the major hurtle of taking any vacation this year, other than a couple of short trips to Silver Dollar City this last spring, would be jumped with ease.

Next was the vacation time.  Again not a problem, in fact it would be a solution to a problem.  He had vacation time that needed to be used prior to the end of the year or lose it.  He had more than ample time built up for the trip we were considering. 

The third was actually our biggest problem emotionally, the timing of the trip.  AU took place the week after Thanksgiving.  In order to travel at a leisurely pace, and arrive on time we would need to leave the Friday before Thanksgiving.  Meaning we would not be home for Thanksgiving with our son.  This bothered both dh and I more than just a little bit.

The timing also meant we would be traveling home during his birthday week and arriving home on the weekend after his birthday.  Again a major problem where my husband and I were concerned.

It turned out that both bothered us far more than it bothered our son.  He pointed out that for us Thanksgiving was basically a big meal day, because we were thankful for all we have every day and we could have the big meal prior to our leaving. 

He also pointed out that generally on any of our birthdays we wait until the weekend to celebrate and we would be home on his birthday weekend.   So that became the plan.

So our travel dates were picked.  We would leave on the Friday before Thanksgiving, November 16, 2012 using four hours of vacation time for that day, because my husband works half days on Fridays.  Then traveling over the weekend for two more travel days. 

The next week was Thanksgiving and the company would be closed Thursday and Friday.  That meant we only needed 27 hours vacation time for that week. 

AU was the following week, and that would be for the company, so no vacation time was needed for it. He would attend classes during the week while I window shopped, enjoyed the amenities of the hotel, and write. Then in the evenings we would attend the networking events, enjoy good food and good entertainment.  While his employer was paying for him to attend these events, we did have to pay $250 for me to attend them ahead of time. 

We would leave Las Vegas and take the next week traveling home. That would be a full 40 hour week.  So all in all we would be using 71 hours (approximately 8 days) of vacation time for 24 day vacation trip. Not bad.

Our fourth hurtle was of course finances.  We run on a shoestring in this household, as does much of the nation.  So we needed to decide how to pay for the trip and still enjoy ourselves.

Ahhh, a perfect theme for the traveling on a shoestring blog. So this is how we earned money for the trip and saved money while traveling and had a wonderful time.

Of course there was mystery shopping and merchandising on my part.  Massive amounts of it to be certain.  As luck would have it I hit the feast part of the feast and famine of mystery shopping opportunities.  So I was able to put extra money that would have previously gone on my debt snowball and into my Disneyworld travel fund back for this trip.

The same could be said for overtime on my husband’s part.  The company was very busy in the weeks before we left and he worked massive amounts of overtime. 

I know it sounds like we should have been able to not even worry about finances for the trip as a result of all of this “extra” income, but remember we are gazelle intense on getting out of debt.  So only 1/10th of this “extra” income went into the travel fund.  The rest went toward our debt payoff.

As Dave Ramsey says “Live like no one else, so you can later live like no one else.”  We decided we’d rather do this trip on a tight budget and get debt free so we could travel big in another year or two.  So we challenged ourselves to have a great trip on as little money as possible.

First the budget:

Fuel, as I already said the company was covering most of that.

The evening fee for me, $250, no short changing that one.

Meals:.  Truthfully when traveling we don’t consider meals that we eat at the camper as a vacation expense because we would be eating those same meals at home anyway.  Our plan was to eat all meals at the camper when we were not in Las Vegas. While in Las Vegas the fee for AU included 3 meals a day for Gary and the evening meal for me.  I planned on eating from the cheap meals offered at the casinos for breakfast and lunch.  I also planned on having my own bottled water we had bulk purchased ahead of time in my hotel room.  Bottled water is very expensive in Las Vegas and because of the location I tend to drink twice the water I normally do. So designating a suitcase for water going into the hotel would be a huge money saver.  

Entertainment: What is a vacation without entertainment? Time to get new travel books from AAA—gotta love our membership, we get our money’s worth out of their services in many ways every year.  We decided to do this trip as a penny hike trip.  For those of you have not previously read this blog that means each night as we camped we would look through travel books from AAA and the various states we would travel in and see what we could find for free or nearly free along or near our basic route.   Then go see it the next day, even if it meant an extra night or two of camping in an area or going off route some.  There would be no hard set schedules for us.  Just the goal of arriving on time in Las Vegas to check in on that Sunday for registration and Monday for the hotel.  Then a return goal to arrive home in time to do laundry prior to dh having to be back to work.

I also started ordering in travel info from the various states.  Those brochures often have discounts in them for various activities.  So I ordered them as soon as we knew for certain we were going. My mailbox filled up quickly.  I ordered for any state I thought me might possibly touch.

Clothing: Our normal basic wardrobe would work well for most of the trip, but while in Las Vegas I would need a few nice things to wear to the evening entertainment. I also needed new shoes.  By planning ahead of time I would, hopefully, be able to find the “perfect” clothing and shoes at discounted prices.

Vehicle and trailer preparation:  Since we maintain our vehicles anyway this could not be actually considered an “extra” for the trip.

Camping:  We will boondock some, stay in Corps of Engineer or National Park campgrounds whenever possible, and the rest of course will be at regular campgrounds EXCEPT while we are in Las Vegas.  The company was paying for us to stay in a hotel there, so we would park our camper, hopefully, in a secure lot while staying at the MGM Grand.  We had hoped to stay at the Mandalay Bay, where the event was being hosted, but that filled up quickly and we weren’t able to get a room there.

Emergency fund:  Never leave home without one!  But thanks to following the Total Money Makeover plan we already had our baby emergency fund set up.

Next would be menu planning—that could be a blog post(s) in itself. We eat the same meals on the road that we eat at home.  The camper has a full, albeit small, kitchen.

Then there are the inevitable lists.  I am a list maker, plain and simple.  I start with an outline of what all lists I need for a planned project.  Then I create the lists from that. 

So now you know what’s been going on and the posts on it you will be seeing as we travel on a shoestring for a nearly four week secret getaway.
So now our secret is out and the posts that will follow will be on preparing for the trip, and the trip itself.  Stay tuned for daily (hopefully) updates.
Jan who had a blast on the trip and did quite well on her budget in OK

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