Ben’s on the Road: Day 1
Welcome to the very first entry in our very first travel blog series! My name is Kristin, but if you’ve been around Ben’s at all, you might know me better as AgentK. For the last five years or so, I’ve spent a lot of time finding and posting deals for Ben’s, and by this point, I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at saving money online. But when we decided to hit the road for 15 days, and head for California with our three kids (5, 3, 10 months…yes we’re a little insane), I knew I was going to have to try and take my “bargain hunting” skills to a whole new level.
To clarify: this is not going to be a trip where “cheap” means picking a 4 star hotel over a 5 star, or going with Subway over Jimmy Johns for lunch. We’re talking let’s spend as close to $0 as possible each day, until we get to our destination. Basically, we can’t afford this trip. But because I believe you can’t put a price tag on making memories, we’re going to do it anyway…and just be really, really cheap about it.
Because technology is cool (and again, we’re on a major budget here), I will be working my regular hours for Ben’s the whole time we’re on the road. This will be my second long trip working remotely (we did a two week long trip to New Orleans last fall), and I have a lot of good tips to share on how to make it work, thanks to a lot of trial and error.
Anyway, I’m super excited to get out and see some parts of the country we haven’t seen before, and I hope you’ll follow along!
We’re leaving from Minneapolis, going as far as Southern California (Disney! LEGOLand!), and then heading back home again. Because we have small children with even smaller attention spans, we don’t plan on driving more than 6 hours total on any given day. Places we’ll be spending time along the way include Denver, Southern Utah, Las Vegas, and then on the way home we’ll hit the Grand Canyon, Albuquerque, and Kansas City.
Our car setup:
When we bought our minivan a couple years ago (I know, so lame, but have a few kids and you’ll get one too I promise), we purposefully didn’t get one with a built-in DVD/Blu-ray player because I knew as soon as we went there, I’d never talk to my children in the car again. But I am definitely not above keeping them entertained with movies on longer trips! So we have this super fancy setup for our vacation: a portable DVD player we found for $7 at Goodwill, mounted on top of a cooler (when I say I’m cheap, I’m not kidding!).
For sound, we have the DVD player plugged into the aux port of our car, and adjust the fade so that the sound only comes out of the back speakers (next to the kids). Up front, we have this Altec Lansing Solo Bluetooth Speaker ($15 in the pink color), mounted to the console with velcro 3M Command Strips. Allows us to listen to our own music or podcasts while the kids get their movies in the back.
Most of the movies we have at home are Blu-rays/digital copies, so we had fun picking out DVDs the kids hadn’t seen before at Goodwill in the weeks leading up to our trip (they’re $1.99 each there).
Food: We’re planning on eating sandwiches for lunch each day, so we brought loaves of bread, lunch meat, cheese, peanut butter and jelly, etc in a cooler and will picnic it up at rest stops or random parks along the way. We also made a huge batch of cold press coffee ahead of time and put it in an empty 2-liter soda bottle. As much as I’d like to hit up Starbucks drive throughs, this is much cheaper and probably tastes better!
Accommodations: We’re doing a mix of hotels, camping, staying with friends/family, and maybe even just sleeping in the van. Because we don’t know exactly when we’ll want to be done driving for the night (depends on how crazy the kids are being), we don’t book any hotels until like an hour before we arrive. More on this on another post, but we use Priceline Express to get cheap (under $75/night) rooms last-minute, and we also have a Priceline credit card that earns us points toward free stays. For me, half the fun of a road trip is not having solid plans and playing it by ear. It’s an adventure and I absolutely love it.
So day #1 is complete and we made it past the most boring part of the journey: through Iowa and part of Nebraska. Our stops included a rest area and, wait for it, Fleet Farm. Thrilling! Tomorrow we’ll get into Colorado and things should start to look a little more interesting.
Off to swim with the kids…check back tomorrow for a post about my “work from the car” setup, and more!