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Traveling to the Windy City

June 28, 2011
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I have to admit I was tempted to purchase the over-the-top and overpriced sparkling volcano dessert at the Rainforest Cafe in Chicago, where my I ate this past week with my wife, Kerri, and daughter, Quincy, during our vacation in the Windy City. I was a little envious as I watched the servers bring out this gigantic chocolate dessert to nearly every table in the restaurant. If their hollering about the dessert to everyone in the place is not enough to get your attention, perhaps the lit sparkler on top will. I kind of wanted one, but when Kerri passed on the idea, I listened to the voice of reason. After all, if my nine-months pregnant wife said no to chocolate, it probably was not a good idea. I decided the large bag of M&Ms in the car, which we bought at Wal-Mart before the trip, would satisfy my sweet tooth just the same. We easily could have spent $100 or more at this gimmicky restaurant, from drinks and desserts to purchasing merchandise in the store. However, we got by with a $28 tab, not including the tip, by drinking water, ordering less expensive entrees, and sharing our food with Quincy, who I believe has a stomach the size of an acorn. Not only does she get something a little nicer and more nutritional than a hot dog and chips; we save that extra expense. My family and I have enjoyed some great vacations, but we are sure to not break the bank. While I am not the penny pincher that I once was before I was a family man, I still try to be smart with my money, even on trips, when it seems like everyone tries to get their hands on my money. My money-saving mission began a few months before the trip, when Kerri and I talked about the mode of transportation we would use. We considered traveling by plane, train and automobile. While driving would take the longest, it would be the cheapest. Since we had some time, we decided that would be the best option for us. Rather than taking our Suburban, we opted to take the Focus, which gets about twice as many miles per gallon. We made it to Chicago for less than $100 in gas. We could have flown for a couple of hundred more. It would have cut a 16-hour drive down to about four hours, but we would have had to pay for airport parking and a rental car to get around Chicago. For the three of us, a train trip would have been more than $400 one way —actually the most expensive of the tree options. I know what you are thinking: We are crazy to drive that far. However, driving works out well for us. Kerri, who works as a writer from home, has time to work from her laptop in the car; Quincy watches movies, draws, takes naps and is completely content entertaining herself for hours; and I get to listen to books on tapes and free podcasts I download for my iPod. We also get to see parts of the country we have never seen before. There are some extra expenses when you drive as opposed to fly. Because we could not make it to Chicago in one day, we spent the night along the way. Fortunately, I am a member of a couple hotel rewards programs and had enough points to qualify for a free night on the way to Chicago. We stayed with my brother and his wife in Omaha on the way back, which brings our lodging expenses both ways to $0. I have several other tips on saving money while vacationing, which I will share with you in a future column. In the meantime, I want to hear about what you do to save money on vacations, even stay-cations to destinations within the state. Please e-mail me your tips by July 14 to andrewlong@fastmail.fm or leave a comment at greatwonder.wordpress.com. The entry with the best tip will receive a prize.

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