budget, adventure, cheap, roadmaps, maps, travel, interest
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Anatomy of a Shoestring Adventure: Lots of Fun for Not Much Money
by: Jan Kovarik
Just like most people, my husband I live on a “just barely” income. We’ve got
“just barely” enough to pay the rent, just barely enough to pay our bills, just
barely enough to keep groceries in the ‘frig, just barely enough to put a little
bit into a savings account, and just barely enough to have a few “disposable
dollars” left over at the end of the month. However, with today’s prices our
disposable dollars get “disposed of” really quickly. There just isn’t much out
there that you can do for entertainment that’s “cheap.” That is, there isn’t
much out there unless you know where to look for it, and if you know how, you
can do it on a “shoestring.”
We’ve been going on Shoestring Adventures since the day we got married. We never
had much money to spend on splashy vacations, and even when we went “on
vacation” stretching our dollars was the rule. Over the years, I’ve learned how
to stretch our money to cover all sorts of incredible “road trips”---sometimes
just for one day, sometimes for a whole week. Whenever and wherever we’ve gone,
we’ve had experiences that “money couldn’t buy.” The two dozen or more photo
albums that are stacked up in my hall closet prove it!
There’s little point in me telling you exactly where to go, how to get there, or
what to do when you get there. Since our Shoestring Adventures are tailored to
appeal to us, they may not appeal to you. What I can share with you, however, is
how to create your own Shoestring Adventure---one that is tailor-made to fit
you, your family, your budget, and your interests. With a few simple skills, a
handy collection of “stuff,” and just a little bit of planning and preparation,
you’ll be on your way!
Keep These Things Handy!
First, if you don’t have a really good roadmap for your state (or the state into
which you intend to travel)---BUY ONE. I’m not talking about a simple map that’s
got the major roads, like a travel atlas, I’m talking about one of those big
paper roadmaps that you can never refold correctly. You can usually buy an
excellent state roadmap in stores like Kmart, Wal*Mart, Walgreen’s, or any
bookstore. Before you buy the roadmap, make sure that it has “Places of
Interest” marked on it. To verify this, open the map to the “Legend” or “Key”
(where they explain all the symbols used on the map). Places of interest are
usually marked with something like a red dot, a blue square, or the like. In
fact, so many roadmaps that we’ve purchased use red dots that we know simply
refer to interesting places as “red dots on the map.”
Second, assemble a “Road Adventure Kit” and keep it ready to go! You can use
anything from a cardboard box, a plastic milk crate, a “tub” (like a Rubbermaid
storage tub you can buy at Wal*Mart), or even a nice whicker picnic basket.
Personally, we use a crate; it’s easy to carry and it fits nicely into the bed
of our truck (along with all our other Road Adventure items). You should start
assembling your kit by including in your crate any or all of the following:
A roll of paper towels and a bottle of hand sanitizer
Picnic items (paper plate, plastic utensils, etc.)
A plastic tablecloth (like the “disposable” kind you can buy for cheap)
A couple of big beach towels
A small first-aid kit
A sharp knife, a can opener, scissors
Travel-sized games like Scrabble, playing cards, etc.
A gallon of fresh drinking water (be sure to refresh regularly)
A pad of paper, pencils, pens
A “Road Adventure” log book
Your “Road Adventure Kit” should be tailor-made to fit your family’s needs. If
you aren’t big on picnics, the picnic items can still come in handy for
fast-food meals like fried chicken or even burgers and fries! Eat your lunch
outside in a park! You might be glad you have the tablecloth (public picnic
tables are rarely anything close to clean), and the towels can be spread out on
the benches so you have something clean to sit on.
You should also think about including in your kit personal needs (a couple of
clean diapers for the baby, a box of facial tissues for runny noses, some
feminine sanitary products for when you get caught “unaware,” any anti-allergic
medications that you might need, etc.). Be creative! Also, let your first few
road adventures teach you what you need to have along. If you’ve forgotten
something, make a note of it. The next time you are re-assembling your kit, be
sure to add that item. Also, it helps to buy duplicates of things like the can
opener and such so you can leave them in the kit and ready to go.
Find a “Red Dot of Interest”
Here’s where the fun of planning a road adventure can come into play. First, you
need to determine if this is a day trip, a half-day trip, a two-day trip, etc.
Also, do you have very young children who might not do well on a longer car
trip? If your trip limit is no more than a one-hour car ride one way, then look
for places of interest within about 40 miles of home. Even though most speed
limits on major roads are at least 60mph, never figure that you will actually
average more than 40-45 miles in one hour’s driving time. You might even want to
trace a general circle on the map around your home so you know what lies within
your desired traveling distance. You can even draw incremental circles on your
map to indicate one hour, two hours, etc., away from home. Just remember! You
always have to come home, so make allowances for that when you plan your
Once you know how far you can easily travel (and return), then you can start
looking on the map. Look for those “red dots of interest” marked on the map
anywhere in the circumference of your desired travel radius. The places of
interest usually have some short description next to them: “Pioneer Park,”
“Children’s Museum,” “Historic Home.” If there are no red dots, then look for
towns you’ve never visited, or roads you’ve never traveled. We’ve often been
pleasantly surprised at what we’ve found: a quaint little town with some
interesting shops; a long winding rural road dotted with small farms or old
homes and maybe a sign that says “Fresh Honey for Sale” where we got a
spontaneous “tour” of a beekeeper’s hives; a historic landmark marked by road
When there are no red dots, you can also do a little bit of planning ahead by
phoning a local Chamber of Commerce. Find a small town, learn the area code (if
necessary), and call directory assistance for the number to the Chamber of
Commerce (better yet, surf the Web for a town website!). Ask what’s interesting
in their town. So many small towns have their own historic museum, or other
historic landmarks. Maybe all they have is a really great community park where
the biggest tree in the county is growing!
Your places of interest choices can really be limitless. If small town parks or
two-room county museums aren’t your thing, then first determine what things your
family would find of interest. Surf the Web, call Chambers of Commerce, or visit
your bookstore or library where you can find books of “Things to Do” in your
state. Your Adventure can be anything that will take you away from home for the
day and create a delightful memory for your whole family!
If you have children who are older than 5 or 6, then this is a wonderful
opportunity to teach them how to read and use roadmaps. You can even let them
plan their own Shoestring Adventure! If you have more that one child, then you
can appoint a Trip Planner, a Navigator, and a Supplies Officer. Give them
specific tasks that include finding a place to go (what is it, where is it, and
how far away is it), how to get there (what roads you need to turn on, how many
miles to travel before you get to the next turn), and what you will need to
enjoy the day (like special clothing for outdoor activities, picnic lunch items,
toys and games to enjoy in the car, pillows for sleepy-heads after a long day’s
outing). Instead of telling them where you’ll be going, let them tell you!
I do need to caution you: be prepared for that “red dot of interest” to turn out
to be nothing. We’ve often tracked down dots that claim to be “Historic Fort” or
“County Landmark” that have turned out to be nothing more than a bronze plaque
on a rock at the end of a residential street. When that happens, we simply
wander around wherever we are and see what there is to see. Sometimes we’ve
happened upon local street fairs or windsurfing tournaments or a model train
museum. Sometimes, too, all we’ve gotten out of it was a day away from home.
When this happens, and if you’ve got disappointed kids in the car, then it might
be a good time to find an ice cream parlor and treat them to a double scoop of
peanut butter fudge ice cream!
Use your Road Adventure logbook to record everyone’s comments about the day. You
can collect brochures, or restaurant placemats, or ticket stubs, and keep a
memory album. If you take pictures, be sure to include a few! This can be a
great basis for school reports for younger kids.
Basically, your Shoestring Adventures can be just about whatever you want them
to be. Know in advance what your budget is, what will “work” for your family as
far as meals are concerned (whether you can pack a picnic lunch or stop at
McDonald’s), and how far from home you can venture for the time you have for
traveling and adventuring. Never plan more than you can comfortably do in a day.
If the place has several interesting things to see or do, then plan several
repeat visits. Cramming more than just a couple of activities into the day can
put the whole family on “Adventure Overload.”
I hope you enjoy your next “Shoestring Adventure” and that you continue to get
away and find those “red dots of interest” that are marked on your map. Make it
a habit to enjoy being together and experiencing new or different things!
About The Author
Jan K., The Proofer is freelance proofreader and copyeditor. Visit http://www.janktheproofer.com
for more information about Jan’s services; http://work-at-home.janktheproofer.com
for work at home articles and free printables; and for work at home moms, visit
Jan’s sister site http://work-at-home.momsbreak.com for articles, free
printables, and work at home T-shirts and other fun products.
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