Sometimes you just need to get away. A change of scenery, a different routine, and some quality, uninterrupted time with loved ones can work wonders when you are feeling stressed. Unfortunately, the demands of work and school often interrupt the best laid plans for week-long vacations, so we decided this year to end summer with a short day trip.
The great thing about day trips is that a short ride can often reveal fun things to do in your own backyard (well, close enough). No expensive overnight hotel charges are required, and to keep things frugal you can even take along food to save on expenses.
This was the only time I actually feared for the condition of our car’s exterior.
Last weekend we ventured out a couple hours to a wild animal park that lets visitors drive thru and feed the animals from your car. We planned a trip to the zoo this summer, but my wife’s ankle is still a little bothersome, so the idea of driving around to look at the animals seemed like the next best thing. We surfed around online to find ticket prices, and unfortunately there were no discounts for online or advanced orders. The morning of the trip my wife packed up a cooler with a few sandwiches, bottles of water and enough snacks to keep us far away from McDonalds drive-thru windows. The park’s website indicated they had picnic tables and even a covered shelter so we opted for the picnic as opposed to the restaurant adjacent to their gift store (can you say $7 hamburgers?).
Amazing creatures, and surprisingly gentle when fed by hand.
The ride over was easier than we imagined and the kids had a blast seeing the various animals in their natural habitat. It’s not every day you can lower your window and feed a giraffe! The cost of the tickets, the food (for the animals), and the gas there and back totaled less than $100. Considering we would spend nearly as much on dinner and a movie for a family of four I thought this seemed like a reasonable expense. We probably shaved $30 off that total by bringing our own lunch. We also saved a bit of money by driving our own vehicle, rather than renting a zebra-painted rental for an extra $15. Of course, this is one benefit of driving an older vehicle. I didn’t see too many shiny BMWs weaving through the thousand-pound bulls smearing slobber and mud all over their windows.
We arrived home Saturday evening and gave our car a good washing! Our dog didn’t seem to happy with the scents she was detecting and probably wondered where the heck we had been all afternoon. A fun time was had by all, and it was definitely a “do-over.” The short trip also gave us some ideas on how to save on future “frugal safaris.” Here are a few of our ideas:
- Pack a picnic lunch. Call ahead and make sure it is acceptable to bring in your own food in a small cooler. Some places frown on this, but many zoos and animal parks are open to picnics-even providing picnic tables or shelters. If the place you are planning to visit does not allow outside food, try to grab a bite before entering, or pack a lunch and eat it in the car on the way (we call these “rolling picnics”).
- Buy tickets in advance if possible. Some places offer discounts for online purchases, or purchases in advance of the day you are visiting. Even if you don’t get a discount, it is usually worth ordering tickets ahead of time and saving yourselves some time by not having to wait in line to buy tickets.
- Stock up on hand sanitizer! I probably should have listed this one first, especially for zoo trips and safari rides. Animals are cute and cuddly, but they are dirty creatures out in the wild (the white rhino we saw was actually brown from laying in the dirt all day). Before unpacking the picnic be sure everyone lathers up with some hand sanitizer–the next best thing to soap and water.
- Fill up in your home town. Often times gas stations in tourist destinations (or near major attractions) charge a premium over other stations. It’s a good idea to fill up the tank before starting out for your destination, and holding off until you are well away from any tourist areas before topping off for the ride home.
- Don’t forget a camera, and extra film or batteries. Seems funny to recommend bringing film–I doubt many people use film cameras anymore. If you have a digital camera, be sure your memory card has plenty of room and you have a backup set of batteries.
Enjoy the safari! And whatever you do, don’t watch Jurassic Park the night before your trip!