Home » Was I Able to Keep Our Vacation Frugal?


Was I Able to Keep Our Vacation Frugal?

If you read my last post, then you will remember that my two children and I were getting ready to head out on our annual birthday summer trip. I always try to make the trip a ton of fun, but also on the more frugal side. So here is the big question: Was I able to keep our vacation frugal? And did I do it cheaper than last year?

last year

Last year, we took a really fun road trip to New York, Niagara Falls on the Canada side and then to Baltimore. If you want to read more about how that trip went, then check it out here!

That trip was also 6 days and 5 nights, so the length of the trip was the same as our planned trip this year. We spent 2 nights in New York, 2 nights in Canada and the last night in Baltimore. I worked pretty hard to find decent hotels, with complimentary breakfasts, that were still on the cheaper side. I can tell you that was a struggle in NYC, but that shouldn’t come as any big surprise.

What I forgot about completely, because we don’t really have this issue where I live, were the tolls.. Those things add up!!!

I also didn’t think anything about parking. Both the hotel in NYC and in Canada charged us overnight parking fees for the hotel. We don’t have that here and personally, I think that is ridiculous, especially when you are already paying to stay at the hotel.

Those fees weren’t added into my initial calculations because I didn’t think or know about them. When I account for all gas, tolls, parking fees, food, entertainment and lodging, the whole trip ended up costing me almost $2000.

I knew that I could do better than that this year, so I made it a challenge.

This year

My kids decided they wanted to go on a Smokey Mountains road trip this year. This sounded like a good idea to me because I knew that I could do it more frugally than the trip last year. First, they chose their destinations, which broke down to this:

  • Williamsburg, VA – to go to the Go Karts Plus (my son’s choice)
  • Richmond, VA – to stay the night and hit the Science Museum
  • Roanoke, VA – the kids chose here to stay the night as a good stopping point before we hit Tennessee
  • Knoxville, TN – the kids chose it as the place they wanted to hit in Tennessee on our way to Alabama
  • Athens, AL – chosen by my daughter to see a ghost town that she read about in class (but it turned out not to be anywhere near there, upon further checking by me)
  • Dahlonega, GA – the actual ghost town that my daughter wanted to check out
  • Atlanta, GA – to stay the night with some friends of ours and hit the Dekalb Farmers Market

I am sure that sounds like a lot of places to see in 6 days, but the driving really wasn’t too bad in between all destinations. Most of them took me about 3 hours or so to get to from the previous destination.

The breakdown

This year, I was able to get 3 of the 5 nights for FREE, so that really helped with the finances on the trip. I also chose hotels that had complimentary breakfasts to help with the food budget. We packed a dry food bag full of healthy snacks and bars and a cold bag full of:

  • sandwiches that I prepared the night before we left
  • mandarin oranges
  • apples
  • yogurt
  • applesauce squeezers
  • cheese sticks
  • some gluten free beer for me
Vacation Lunches
Vacation Lunches!

All of that being said, I knew that this year would end up costing us less than the previous year, but my goal was to keep the trip to under $1000. So here is how the costs ended up breaking down by each location:

Go Karts Plus
Go Karts Plus in Williamsburg, VA
  • Williamsburg, VA – Gas ($30.50) + Go Karts Plus ($58.50) = $89.00
Bottoms Up
Bottoms Up Pizza, Richmond
  • Richmond, VA – Bottoms Up Pizza ($75.00) + Victory Bar & Grill ($7.33) = $82.33 (My son and I had to get the gluten free pizzas, which were awesome! But, since they don’t sell them by the slice, they are freaking expensive. We did save half of them for lunches for another day on the trip. The second charge was for my daughter’s breakfast, because for some reason the first hotel we stayed at said that they weren’t doing complimentary breakfasts. Which, I could have sworn that I double checked. This hotel was one of the free nights from my IHG rewards points, but it was the worst hotel of the trip and we will NEVER stay there again. It was pretty dirty and the staff was not very knowledgeable.
Richmond Science Museum
Richmond Science Museum

We went to the Richmond Science Museum in the morning before we headed out and used our ASTC membership here to get in for free.)

Roanoke City Market
Roanoke City Market
  • Roanoke, VA – Gas ($28.50) + Springhill Suites by Marriot ($117.20) + Alejandro’s Mexican Grille ($42.00) + The Candy Store ($14.14) + Shenandoah Caverns ($63.00) = $264.84 (This was our favorite hotel of the whole trip, followed by the one in TN, because the staff was super friendly and knowledgeable and extremely helpful. The breakfast was so delicious and there were so many choices for all of us. Plus they had an indoor salt water pool, which we all loved! Alejandro’s was recommended to us by a couple that we met on the street after our hotel shuttle guide dropped us off in their lovely little downtown City Market. It was also the best Mexican food that any of us have had in a LONG time and we all had extras to eat for lunch another day on the trip.
Roanoke Science Museum
Roanoke Science Museum

We went to their Science Museum the next morning and used our ASTC membership again to get in for free, but I did break down and bought the kids some candy on our way out.

Shenandoah Caverns
Shenandoah Caverns

We found Shenandoah Caverns on our way from Roanoke to Knoxville, so we decided to check it out.

Bacon Formations
Bacon Formations

This place was super awesome and has more “bacon” formations than any other cave, or so we are told.)

Sunsphere, Knoxville
  • Knoxville, TN – Gas ($30.00) + Home2 Hotel ($29.21) + Blue Coast Grill and Bar ($43.00) + The Muse ($6.00) = $108.21 (This was another free night, but we had to pay the taxes, because that is how the free nights work with Hotels.com. We found their Sunsphere, which was free, and then went to find dinner. They also have a Market Square that was full of food options. It was raining cats and dogs, so we hit the first place both kids could potentially agree upon. Blue Coast Grill was the kids favorite restaurant of the whole trip!
The Muse
The Muse, Knoxville

We hit The Muse the next day, which was also ASTC. But since they also have a planetarium, we paid the extra $2.00 per person to check out one of their shows.)

Sweetwater Valley Farm
Sweetwater Valley Farm
  • Athens, AL – Gas ($26.50) + Sweet Valley Farm ($15.90) + Lost Sea ($58.83) + Lost Sea Souvenirs ($37.05) + Hampton Inn Suites ($146.00) + Lucina’s Cocina Mexicana ($46.00) + Dairy Queen ($11.41) = $341.69 (We stopped at two places on the way from Knoxville to Athens that the kids found along the highway. The dairy was pretty awesome and they let us try all of their cheeses before we bought anything. We each picked out one cheese to purchase and brought them with us.
Lost Sea
Lost Sea

The Lost Sea happened to be along our route, which is the largest underground lake in the US. If you ever have a chance to check this out, then you should, because it was a real experience! This hotel was decent, but nothing to write home about. Plus, they were understaffed so I wasn’t able to get any directions or suggestions from their staff.

Athens, AL
Athens, AL Downtown Area

We were able to find their small downtown and hit the one restaurant that appeared to be open, Lucina’s. This Mexican food was pretty darn good also, so we couldn’t complain. After that though, the kids really wanted some dessert because I hadn’t gotten them any on the trip thus far. Apparently, the one ice cream shop that I could find was no longer in existence, so we found a Dairy Queen. I haven’t been to one of those in more years than I can remember, so it was a treat for them.

Air and Space Museum
Huntsville Air and Space Museum

We stopped by the Huntsville Air and Space Museum on our way out of AL, which was also free because it is ASTC. Woot! Woot!)

Dahlonega Ghost Town, GA
  • Dahlonega, GA – Gas ($36.01) + The Fudge Factory ($41.27) = $77.28 (This was the ghost town that my daughter wanted to visit. She took us on a walking tour, which was pretty cool. There is a college there and the downtown was pretty busy, which was great to see. We did find a fudge shop that was locally owned and we ended up talking to the owner for a little while about the town. The fudge we bought were souvenirs for the other kids.)
Dekalb Farmers Market
Dekalb Farmers Market, Atlanta
  • Atlanta, GA – Gas ($31.00) + Poke Bar ($31.55) + Sweet Heritage ($21.72) + Dunkin Donuts ($2.66) + Nacho Mama’s ($23.00) = $109.93 (We stayed with friends while we were in Atlanta, but met them for dinner and dessert upon our arrival from Dahlonega. They chose a couple of pretty good places! The next day I was on the hunt for coffee, so I ended up getting one while on the road back. There were some major GPS issues, so I ended up on I-20 heading back instead of I-85, which put us going through Augusta. Therefore, we decided to stop there for lunch and check out their downtown. This was the worst stop of our trip and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough!)

Grand Total: $1073.28

In closing, the real question is: Could I have done this even cheaper or do you think that I succeeded in making this a fairly frugal summer vacation?

If you have any money saving tips for vacation, then I would love to hear them!


  1. Tara says:

    sounds like an awesome vacation. I just wanted to add that I love the Dekalb County farmer’s market! My sister used to live in Dekalb county for years I always had to stop in there every time I saw her.

    I know they’re old school, but Rand McNally still sells Road Atlases. If you can find one used at a store, it might be a good back-up to have next time when you’re in a dead zone and get lost. I have a T-mobile MNVO carrier, so I know I will need paper back-up when I’m on the rural road and don’t get cell phone reception.

    • Shanah Bell says:

      Hi Tara! The Dekalb Farmers Market is really my favorite one in the country because it is so awesome! My kids loved it too, which is a bonus.

      That is good to know about Rand McNally. I will have to get one, as I don’t use GPS unless it is absolutely necessary. In fact, I printed out the directions to each hotel before we left so that I knew where to go and didn’t have to rely on GPS. But the one time that we decided to go somewhere too far off the path, that is the only time we tried the GPS and it was not friendly. But having a current road atlas in my glove box, would help with that. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Josh says:

    You guys definitely did it up right. I live near Knoxville and I never knew The Muse was around. Sweetwater Valley Cheese is one of my favorite places too, especially the free samples!

    We’re going to Vermont to see the fall colors this year and paying with our IHG points too. So, food and gas will be our only main expenses! It makes the trip affordable for us.

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