Going On a Frugal Safari

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!


  1. What a fun day trip! I’ll bet the kids had a great time, they got some serious family time with their parents. Doesn’t it seem that, when you end up in the plane-hotel-amusement park racket, there’s more to draw the attention away from the family unit and everyone just ends up entertained, rather than closer?

    Beautiful pictures, too. 🙂

  2. I like your blog frugal dad I really do and I agree that it’s important to get out and have fun and relieve stress. But, these animal parks are anything but natural. Riding around wild animals in cars and feeding them is a bit strange and sad for them, but great fun for the family I guess.

    But then again in our country we find going to the mall(Walmart,Target) and shopping all day to be a grand past time as well.

  3. Dude, I would almost swear the horns on that buffalo HAD to be photoshopped! LOL! Those are HUGE!

    Sounds like you had a great time!

    Emily (first commenter) made an excellent point. Entertainment doesn’t always bring the family closer, but unique experiences do. That’s what happened on our family trip to Yellowstone. Of course 54 hours (no joke) in the mini van will do that to you….

  4. @AT Lighten up. What? The animals would be much happier in the wild succumbing to disease, starvation, predators, drought, etc. Natural absolutely does not equate with comfortable or happy. If you’re going to do the moralistic wet blanket routine, try incorporating some facts.

    Frugaldad. Thanks for the practical tips to make it a fun time.

  5. Aww… wish we had something like this here.

    Great blog!
    I always admire guy blogs incorporated with family matters.

  6. I just had the beach boys tune go through my mind with the words Frugal Safari rather than Surfin Safari. Sorry in advance to anyone else’s brain this gets stuck in.

    Yes Im gonna (frugal) take you frugal (frugal safari)with me.

  7. One other tip that we use a lot as we live in a very tourism heavy area — a lot of the attractions will give “locals” a discount if you show your driver’s license. Some of them will charge full price for the first admission, but give you a pass that will let you come back in free all year. Also, before and after peak summer offers discounts too.

  8. I think the money was well spent! One of the points of being frugal daily is to be able to splurge occasionally on some great family trip like this one. The kids got to see animals that they could never experience at home in their daily lives (unless they are the safari keeper’s kids) You’ve brought the big wide world to them so it was well worth it. And you stayed true to your frugal self with the picnic lunches!

    The kids will remember it always and that’s what keeps families together in later years – those shared memories 🙂

  9. I guess having a difference of opinion is not allowed to be expressed. It is a FREE COUNTRY still isn’t it.
    To Michael @Awareness*Connection why don’t you lighten up and do more research on these types of places as well. Read and learn more, it’s quite enlightening.
    I remember going to the zoo as a kid and seeing animals pacing back and forth in cages and elephants shackled by the leg and other children being allowed to taunt animals in their cages. These are some “fun memories” that children can also take away.
    My point is there are better places for family fun. I guess people want to believe what they want to see at these types of places.

    I like Frugal Dad’s blog and his posts but I do think a difference of opinion is allowed to be expressed. I have seen it many times on this blog in the past.

  10. It is indeed a free country. I couldn’t stifle your opinion if I wanted to. I have no interest in doing so. And I’m completely in favor of expression differences of opinion.

    As I reflect on your post I think I was responding less to your opinion about where animals are happier, and more to what appeared to me to be a condescending, snarky tone toward frugal dad, and anyone else who happens to enjoy this activity with their family. And you didn’t bother to back up your tone with with any facts.

    I probably could lighten up also and I may well have responded too strongly to feeling like you were spoiling the fun here.

    I have no interest in derailing what I think is a fun and useful thread for families, so I leave you with the last word concerning our difference of opinion here. If I jumped the gun I apologize to FrugalDad and to other readers, including you, AT.


  11. What a great trip- I wish we had a place like that near us! That looks like a blast!

    I started carrying hand sanitizer in our cooler bag for times just like those. We have a zoo pass and there are so many times where I am glad that I have that handy little sanitizer when I need it 🙂