How I Took A Super Cheap Vacation With My Friends This Winter Break

How I Took A Super Cheap Vacation With My Friends This Winter Break

A travelougue filled with lots of ideas to help all the other budget travelers out there.
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Several months ago, I happened to see an advertisement for super cheap flights through Frontier Airlines. Though I had no travel plans in mind, I clicked on the link and started searching. The first thing that stuck out to me was the fact that nearly every city had flights departing to Denver — and all for under $50.

I've been a passionate traveler since my early childhood, when my family began teaching my siblings and me that there are few better things to do with your money than travel. Ever since I began college and gained my independence, my desperate desire to travel as an adult has been eternally nagging in the back of my mind. Needless to say, when I saw super cheap flights to Denver, I messaged two of my best friends, knowing that they were my best bet for willing and excellent traveling companions. I sent them an unexpected message: "come to Denver with me" and, somewhat to my surprise, they agreed immediately.

The two things we knew when planning our four-day trip was that it needed to be culturally stimulating and incredibly cheap. In my opinion, we succeeded at both. Here is an account of how we made the most of our short trip, with suggestions for other budget travelers, coming from our experiences of making the most of a few days and a few dollars.

Flights

We booked our flight the same day that I found the sale on Frontier tickets. The tickets for my friend Anita and me from Milwaukee to Denver were $39 each way, with some small fees added on. Another friend, Carmel, joined us as well, flying from Portland where she lives, for a slightly higher plane ticket price. Cheaper airlines like Frontier are great, but be warned that they charge extra for almost everything. Anita and I decided to share one checked bag for all of our clothes and split the $25 fees. It was totally worth it and we had abundant space for all of our sweaters, as well as the extra food we took from our houses.

Food

Aside from the food we brought along in our suitcase (oatmeal and cereal for breakfasts, popcorn and pretzels for during the day), we went to the grocery store on our first day and picked up ingredients for the meals we'd carefully planned out. In the end, we only ate out twice, and both were delicious and fairly inexpensive meals that we stumbled across in our explorations.

Before heading to the grocery store, we made a list of all the meals we'd need to be prepared for, and all the cheap meals we could make for them. We bought a loaf of bread that was used in three or more meals, eggs, cheese, ramen, fruit, vegetables, and a couple of frozen pizzas. Knowing we couldn't afford to spend a lot at the supermarket in order to eat healthy, we bought a few simple produce items: onion, zucchini, tomato, apples. We added fresh fruits or vegetables to most of the meals we made. In the end, we split our grocery costs and each spent about $11 total at the store.

Transportation

Before even heading out on our trip, we did a lot of research. While I hope to someday take a spontaneous vacation with no plans and ideas, traveling on a budget was made much easier for us by being very prepared. We planned our transportation ahead of time, making sure we knew how to get anywhere we wanted to go. While we planned to use only the bus, we actually ended up using Uber several times as well, and only paid for one of our many rides. Of the three of us, I was the only one who had ever used Uber before. In the app, there is a code you can deliver to your friends which will make their first ride (of $15 or less) completely free, as well as give you a free ride, too. So, of course, when it was late or we were tired or cold, we used the app and our free rides without having to worry about catching a bus.

On other days, we did use public transportation, of course. And I don't know if this is just a Denver thing, but two or three times when we got on buses the ticketing machines were broken, and we rode for free then as well.

Housing

We were very lucky with our choice of destination. Coincidentally, one of Anita's cousins had a house in Denver that she wasn't currently using. She was extremely generous and let us stay in her house for free for our entire trip. It made the entire experience 100 times better. It was nice to have someplace to come back to where we could relax and cook our own food.

However, for those budget travelers who aren't fortunate enough to be going somewhere where they have a great lodging connection, there are a ton of options out there for cheap travel. One is Couchsurfing, a site and app where fellow travelers and explorers all over the world post when they have a couch, bed or room for people to stay in. Yes, you have to put your trust in the good of humanity, but tons of people really swear by this idea! There are hosts all over the world, many who are verified and have tons of reviews. You can sort by age, gender, location, amount of space available, etc. All totally free.

Another option is Airbnb, a website similar to Couchsurfing, where people post their available spaces. However, there are several key differences. First, these aren't free options. While the prices can be very low, you are usually paying for your own apartment/house/condo or bedroom for your trip. For the most part, these are unused living spaces that the owners rent out for cheap for budget travelers.

Activities

Research a ton ahead of time. There is a huge wealth of knowledge to be found on the Internet about any location. Search "free and cheap activities in ..." and start planning!

Take advantage of public art and interesting stores. This is an activity where there will never be a charge! We stopped at every mural and neat-looking shop, which was an awesome way to see the city without spending any of our money. Large, culturally exciting cities like Denver are filled with art and great unknown places.

Take advantage of free tours and events. There are websites that will tell you any free events for the upcoming weekend. We found one of these and ended up at a super serious and amazing all-day writer's workshop. It was held in a gorgeous old house, filled with tables and desks and staircases, all of which were absolutely packed with people silently writing. It was amazing. The event also offered free food and yoga classes in the basement, both of which we took part in. We didn't stay long, but this was one of our favorite experiences for the fact that it was both free and fascinating.

Appreciate the scenery. An amazing view is something you won't forget for a long time, and it's also totally free. Of course, Denver is incredibly picturesque, but any city will have it's fair share of beautiful natural sites or parks. We visited a park near where we were staying, and also climbed to the top of a parking garage to watch this sunset over the mountains.

Look for activities that are low priced, free, or "payment by donation." These can be hidden gems and, of course, great for your budget. One of the best things we went to on our trip was a poetry slam at the Mercury Café. This was an incredible venue and an amazing experience for all of us, and the entire event was by donation only. Of course, we donated a few dollars apiece, but it was a very cheap, but memorable, evening.

Check out free art galleries or free days at local businesses. Most museums and zoos have one or more free days every year or every month. There are also plenty of galleries that are free to the public. We visited a few during our trip. One of the highlights of the entire experience was the insanely unique art gallery we visited on the morning before we left. We had the place to ourselves and got to walk around, checking out the amazing art and even interacting with a lot of the sculptures.

Take advantage of student discounts or any other discounts offered. Lots of places have them and they can make for much better deals. We went to an interesting art museum for only $6 just because we were students. We also planned to go while the museum was having a special event, so there was a live musical performance during our visit.

Don't stress about not seeing or doing all of the "touristy" things. Just because most people do them, doesn't mean they're necessary! Feel free to skip boring, expensive museums or experiences that are way out of your budget. Be a cheap traveler and be okay with it!

Overall, our trip was an amazing experience. Yes, this was partly because we managed to keep it super cheap and still see a ton of Denver, but there were plenty of other even better reasons.

The beauty of traveling is in every part of the trip. For me, the beauty was in the companionship, the camaraderie, the art and every time we got lost. It was in the homemade meals, fascinating conversations with strangers, and the feeling of being immersed in a new place as a grown-up traveler. By the end it felt like, in a small way, we had conquered the world. And that's exactly how traveling should feel.

Cover Image Credit: Anita Durben

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8 Reasons Why My Dad Is the Most Important Man In My Life

Forever my number one guy.
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Growing up, there's been one consistent man I can always count on, my father. In any aspect of my life, my dad has always been there, showing me unconditional love and respect every day. No matter what, I know that my dad will always be the most important man in my life for many reasons.

1. He has always been there.

Literally. From the day I was born until today, I have never not been able to count on my dad to be there for me, uplift me and be the best dad he can be.

2. He learned to adapt and suffer through girly trends to make me happy.

I'm sure when my dad was younger and pictured his future, he didn't think about the Barbie pretend pageants, dressing up as a princess, perfecting my pigtails and enduring other countless girly events. My dad never turned me down when I wanted to play a game, no matter what and was always willing to help me pick out cute outfits and do my hair before preschool.

3. He sends the cutest texts.

Random text messages since I have gotten my own cell phone have always come my way from my dad. Those randoms "I love you so much" and "I am so proud of you" never fail to make me smile, and I can always count on my dad for an adorable text message when I'm feeling down.

4. He taught me how to be brave.

When I needed to learn how to swim, he threw me in the pool. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike, he went alongside me and made sure I didn't fall too badly. When I needed to learn how to drive, he was there next to me, making sure I didn't crash.

5. He encourages me to best the best I can be.

My dad sees the best in me, no matter how much I fail. He's always there to support me and turn my failures into successes. He can sit on the phone with me for hours, talking future career stuff and listening to me lay out my future plans and goals. He wants the absolute best for me, and no is never an option, he is always willing to do whatever it takes to get me where I need to be.

6. He gets sentimental way too often, but it's cute.

Whether you're sitting down at the kitchen table, reminiscing about your childhood, or that one song comes on that your dad insists you will dance to together on your wedding day, your dad's emotions often come out in the cutest possible way, forever reminding you how loved you are.


7. He supports you, emotionally and financially.

Need to vent about a guy in your life that isn't treating you well? My dad is there. Need some extra cash to help fund spring break? He's there for that, too.

8. He shows me how I should be treated.

Yes, my dad treats me like a princess, and I don't expect every guy I meet to wait on me hand and foot, but I do expect respect, and that's exactly what my dad showed I deserve. From the way he loves, admires, and respects me, he shows me that there are guys out there who will one day come along and treat me like that. My dad always advises me to not put up with less than I deserve and assures me that the right guy will come along one day.

For these reasons and more, my dad will forever be my No. 1 man. I love you!

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The Ultimate Going Abroad Guide For The Upcoming Fall Semester Travelers

Here's everything you need to know before you pack your bags and travel the world.

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Studying abroad is argued as being one of the best parts of the entire college experience, and this fall, I'm going to be able to see if this statement is true. I can't wait to be able to travel all throughout different countries in Europe with my friends, where we'll be trying new things, visiting cool places and landmarks, and making some of the best memories. Although it's still only a few months away, preparing to go abroad is essential because you want to have the right things to pack, ideas on what you want to do while you're abroad and much more. So if you're going abroad soon in the Fall, here are some tips on what you should try to do while you're there.

1. Do your research 

Find multiple reviews and suggestions online on landmarks to visit, restaurants to dine at, and things to do while you're abroad. That way, once you're there you'll have a less stressful time figuring out all of things that you want to do and will have a concrete plan.

2. Start saving up now and throughout the summer

Studying abroad is anything but cheap, so if you want to enjoy yourself and have fun while you're abroad, start saving your money now so you aren't limited to doing certain things. It also might be beneficial to get a credit or debit card before leaving.

3. Set goals for yourself

Do you want to learn a new language, or travel to as many places on your bucket list as possible, or maybe even learn how to be more independent? Make a list with a few important things you want to accomplish while studying abroad so you go into the experience with an agenda that will essentially keep you driven and focused.

4. Document. Everything.

This is probably going to be the only time in your life where you can say that you'll be living in another country for a few months, so it's important that you try to document all of the fun memories you're making that you can look back at later in life. Whether it's pictures on your phone or with a journal, find a useful and consistent way to snapshot all of the fun things you're doing and learning.

5. Keep an open mind and try new things

It's often common to go into a new country with a few pre-conceived stereotypes in your head, but instead of doing this, try to open your eyes and mind and embrace the culture you're immersing yourself in. Learn more about the culture, interact with locals, eat new foods, and so on. You'll most likely find that some of the stereotypes you originally believed were incorrect and will leave with a different perspective.

6. Plan a consistent schedule for when you'll contact friends and family

Remember that you'll be in a different time zone than all of your loved ones, so try to find accommodating times for everyone where you'll be able to talk to everyone back home. Having this consistent schedule will help combat any feelings of possible homesickness and will help you be prepared for when you go abroad, since it will give you something to look forward to each week.

7. Don't forget to travel

While you're already going to be in another country for study abroad, there are also so many other places that you'll have the opportunity to visit. Make plans with friends and discover which other countries or cities that you want to travel to during your time abroad, since there's always so much to see and do when you have free time and aren't in class.

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