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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To The Girl Who Hasn't Been Herself Lately

Your spark return, and you will shine like you were meant to.
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Life gets tough. Life gets too much to handle sometimes, and those times make you stronger. However, right now, it seems like you have lost yourself.

It’s difficult when you catch yourself not being you. When you do something or act a certain way and just wonder, “what did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening? When will it get better?” The way you’re feeling is not so much that you’re unhappy, you just feel weird.

Your day will come. I promise you. This is just a phase.

The day you realize how much you have grown from this point in time will be your reward. It is so hard to see now, and I feel your pain.

Your light will return to you. Your pure bliss moments, they are seeking you. Your laughter where your tummy aches is in your reach.

Our moods change far too often for us as humans to understand why, but the encounters you make every day have this effect on us.

You must remember the pure happiness you experienced before your first heartbreak, before the first friend became someone you thought they weren’t, before you lost your innocence. That was a time of true joy as you had not a care in the world for the things that would harm you. Better yet, you didn’t have the option to experience them because you were just a child.

The world can be an ugly place, and your attitude towards life can change every day. One thing is for certain: you did not lose who you are internally. We all put on a face for the world. For the people who we try to impress. For the life we want to live. For the things we want to achieve.

Your definitive personality is still in the works. Believe it or not, it always will be. Times like this change us for the better even though we can’t see it.

Your happiness will return. You will be a better, stronger version of you. In fact, you will be the best version of you yet.

Once this phase is over, you will be okay. This I promise you.

Cover Image Credit: Megan Sutton

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Comfort Zones, Please Stop Holding Us Back From Doing Big Things

While I love the comfort of my home, there is a whole world out there and it is about time to go see it.

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The little boy that I have had the pleasure of nannying for the last year says (AKA, screams) this on a regular basis: "I WANT TO STAY HOME TODAY!"

And let me tell ya, I can't blame him.

He has a cozy house. He is 4 and that's "His" place. The little man knows that when he stays there, he'll probably have a pretty dandy day.

You could say he's wise for a 4-year-old, he has his comfort zone figured out and he hates the idea of leaving it.

Yet, whenever he finally exits the building, that is after I say, "Please put your shoes on" about 78 times, he doesn't regret it.

He has more fun at Chick-Fil-A or the park than he does playing with his blocks in his playroom.

Every now and again we even see his tiny 4-year-old friends from school out and about.

He thrives when he rides his bike outside, even though he falls sometimes.

He might get exhausted from attempting the monkey bars time and time again.

Yet, not once has he seemed to regret leaving the house and it's still what he prefers and loudly voices when I tell him to put on his shoes for the 77th time.

Comfortable places do that to us, they keep us in them and trick us into thinking that we belong in them 24/7.

Home isn't bad. It can be good, and YES you should absolutely take it easy every now and then.

Yet, when you get out of wherever you are currently calling "home" and dive headfirst into something new, even if it's the monkey bars or riding your bike without training wheels, you could end up thriving.

If your comfort zone is anything like mine, or a certain 4-year-olds, it's probably a pretty cool place filled with some of your favorite things. It might be silently taunting you and telling you to stay there forever and ever. Perhaps it's telling you that it is the best place for you right now and perhaps you have been following that lil' voice in your head telling you to stay cozy forever.

When you do leap out of your comfort zone, you might just find that the monkey bars are pretty fun, that Chick-Fil-A has good chicken, and that though your home is great, you don't need to stay in hiding forever.

I might not know what your comfort zone is or what part of leaving home scares you like crazy. However, what I can tell you is that taking risks will help you grow and that you will find that the world is big and scary, yet oh so beautiful.

I know that I have to take note from the 4-year-olds in my life.

Comfort zones don't need to keep us from missing out on the monkey bars of our lives anymore.



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