One Tank Vacation for Two

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By Lisa Scarbrough

We work hard. We spend a lot of time and energy taking care of our kids. From time to time, we just need a vacation away to relax and get back in touch with our beloved. But how can you do that in this economy?

A growing trend right now is what is known as “one tank trips.” These are vacations you can take that are within one tank of gas driving distance. We are very fortunate here in Savannah that one tank can get us to the mountains in North Georgia, the city scene of Atlanta, or, as my sweetheart and I chose this past May, the quiet Ocala National Forest in Florida.

My sweetie and I clicked because of our love for the outdoors. Although he grew up in Mississippi and I in coastal Georgia, we discovered through our chats that we had camped at a lot of the same places in Georgia, Florida and Alabama over the years. So for our first vacation away from the baby, he picked Ocala since neither of us had ever been.

The first thing you should know is that there are no hotels in the Ocala National Forest. We even discovered on our way down there that there are no signs to direct you to it (we had no GPS, only an atlas that took us down a highway that just ended at Lake George, opposite side of where we were going). But we have a popup camper, and for just $28 a night, we save a lot on lodging.
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So after setting up (and making sure the AC worked properly) at Salt Springs, we headed out to adventure around the forest. We drove down to the springhead for a swim. While the springs remain 72 degrees year-round, they were quite frigid upon first entry. My sweetie was more interested in the fish that were jumping out of the water, something they seemed quite happy to do since fishing was prohibited in the springheads.

We spent the next four days bouncing from spring to spring, visiting Juniper Springs (my favorite but not kid-friendly as there is no shallow end to play) for a swim then a hike along their trails, then driving down to Silver Springs (too much like Disney for our tastes), over to a horseback ride at the Ocala Equestrian Park, and then a 2-hour tube float down the Rainbow Springs River. We also visited Alexander Springs (a favorite for kids as even toddlers have an area to be able to splash in the water and still stand) and Silver Glen Springs (my sweetie’s favorite), and ended our trip with a hike along the Salt Springs Trail (would have been more enjoyable had we lathered in bug spray and remembered baseball caps). I came away with a nice tan, and best of all, the exercise I got made for a great weigh in with my Jenny Craig center that week!
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While it was a great chance to reconnect for the two of us, it was also a relatively inexpensive getaway. Admission to the springs inside the Ocala National Forest is $5.50 per person per day per spring. Tubing down the Rainbow Springs River cost us $5 for the both of us. The horseback ride I bought using credits I had at Groupon.com, which ended up being free for both of us. Silver Springs, because it is essentially an amusement park, was the most expensive part of our trip, and cost more than everything else we did the other 4 days combined.

So, how can you make the most of a one-tank trip?

1. Get online and find areas within a 4 to 5 hour drive from you that you may not have discovered before. Look through travel blogs online for suggestions as well as cost-saving ideas. Sign up on national half-off sites for deals in that city to come to your inbox.

2. Keep lodging simple. If you have a tent, make use of it. Tent and RV camping will cost much less than lodging in a hotel or motel, especially if you are making use of state or federal parks.

3. Take your own food with you and minimize eating out. It will help you to not only make healthier choices but save money.

4. Plan your route and activities ahead of time. We spent a bit more gas than we probably should have just driving around because we didn’t have a clear plan. We could have saved on gas if we had grouped our visits to particular areas in the same trip.

5. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It had been 10 years since I had been on horseback, and probably just as long for my sweetie, but when I saw that deal in my inbox for a horseback ride, I just had to try it.

6. Avoid holiday weekends. Rates tend to be higher for lodging and activities, and you’ll spend extra gas in traffic.

A vacation is a chance to get away and forget about everything you stress over from day to day. You don’t want it to be something that you have to regret the next month when your credit card bill arrives.

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Lisa Scarbrough offers mom-on-a-dime advice for parents like her who still hold out hope that they’ll be able to afford the rising costs of college tuition (yeah, right). Course, Lisa has some time to prepare; her son, Ian, is three years old. Lisa lives in Guyton, GA, and when she’s not chasing after her little man, she serves as the Digital Properties Manager for Paula Deen.
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Reader Comments:

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Lisa- Great tips... We love camping! Looks like you had a wonderful time!

By Candy Thornton on June 16, 2011

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I am from Fla.I have family from tip to the other.I now live in Ms.My mother went on to be with the Lord & my Dad.I guess they needed her more.We always watched ur show together & we loved it.A freind went to ur Rest. and u was there.U gave away cook books that day.When she told me she was going,I told her SHE BETTER bring me something & she did,ur cook book & autograph & a picture !!!!!:] One day I will go & eat there.Thanks For The Fun U have on UR shows. Ann

By Ann Bowden on June 11, 2011

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Laying out on the beaches of South Carolina...On vacation in Myrtle Beach Havin' a fabulous time!!!):)

By Diana Browder-Owens on June 11, 2011

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My mom is celebrating her 61st birthday today. All the kids and grandchildren came up to be part of Nana's celebration. We even get to enjoy rare summertime landscapes, free of fire season smoke. grin

By Tara on June 11, 2011

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We are visiting my mom for her birthday! We all came up and brought all the grandchildren to celebrate Nana's 61st! The Bitterroot Valley is beautiful this year, and all the water has held off the fire season. grin

By Anonymous on June 11, 2011

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Paula, I would love to see your videos of your South or Central American vacaation a few years back. They were a hoot!! Please show those again some time I hurt myself laughing at you!!

By rebecca stringer on June 06, 2011

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HI there, I live just an hour or so nw of ocala, in Levy county and there are alot of fantastic places here as well. Manatee springs state park and Hart Springs is a great place to go and very kid friendly. With camping and swimming. Play areas ect.. Just thought i'd share!! Glad you enjoyed our Heart of florida springs...and yes bug repellant is your friend!!! smile

By tonya on June 06, 2011

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There's alot of people, that can't take vacations because it takes money. They did a good job camping, and had a good time. Just being together and enjoying each others company.

By nancy wallin on June 06, 2011

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I love this new post, Lisa! We have always been big fans of "one tank trips" and Sweetwater cabin at Ocala Nat'l Forest has been a family favorite since the '70s. They hold a lottery each year for 52 guests for the year because of it's popularity, but there is a hot spring & underwater cave located at the dock. Absolutely lovely area to visit! I know yall had fun!

By Martha Lee on June 06, 2011

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By Anonymous on June 06, 2011

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My husband and I have recently started to enjoy camping and outdoor activities. Never did I think I would enjoy camping out but when my grandsons were born we started going to the local state parks in our area. It has been a wonderful experience. Getting back to nature and saving money at the same time. One of our favorite parks is Chippokes State Park. It is on the James River near Williamsburg, Va in Surry. Beautiful plantation to tour with farm animals, swimming, biking and cabins to stay in as well. The campground and facilities are immaculate, $25 a night to camp or you can just visit for the day to tour the plantation. It is also not far from the small town of Smithfield. Colonial Williamsburg is a 20 minute ferry ride away and that is wonderful for children. My grandsons think it Grandma's boat when we go visit the campground every summer. I have cooked many a Paula Deen recipe on our cookouts. Preparation makes all the difference in the world. Your vacation will be enjoyable and you will be bringing joy to others. And I love spoiling my grandsons who are 4, 5, and 7. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes that have made our trips that much better.

By Gwen Slade on June 06, 2011

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Lisa that sounds great and great tips for anyone looking at going to other places. Thanks a lot and hopefully we can put together something like this for our family vacation this summer.

By Dena on June 06, 2011

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Thanks so much for a wonderful article on reminding us that vacations don't have to be expensive stressfull endeavors....:o)

By Carol Harris on June 06, 2011

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Tammy, we are going back down to Ginnie and some other springs in FL later this month, and this time, we're taking our 10-month-old with us. We're excited for his first trip to the springs!

By Lisa the Admin on June 06, 2011

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Thanks for the great ideas. One of the best days my husband and I have had in a long time was a day that my daughter spent with a friend. We didn't have anything planned and the day alone was unexpected. So, we got in the car and headed up the mountain. We drove like we were tourists - stopping at festivals, wineries, and bookstores. We didn't have any destination in mind so, we just drove, looked, walked and talked. We didn't even know that there was a great little winery so close to home. Vacations don't have to be long or expensive...they can just be a short drive and a day away from it all...

By Jeanie on June 06, 2011

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I love this!!! I am so getting my one tank vaca on!!! My husband and I have been together for 16 years this month and we have never taken a vaca!!! Yes I know its sad, but we are going to fix that real soon wink Thanks for the awesome idea!!!!

By Tracy Gibson on June 06, 2011

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What a wonderful article! As a young airman in the Air Force I was stationed at Eglin AFB, which is near Ft. Walton Beach. I lived in the dorms and didn't have a lot of money, for fun a bunch of us "dormrats" would gather our camping gear and head to a nearby lake for some cheap fun. We cooked out like pro's, hiked and to cool off would go to the local springs for a cooling dip. Now, I'm married with two kids and often think how wonderful it would be to have a "vacation" of simpler means with the kids and how much they would enjoy jumping in those refreshing springs. Thanks for bringing back some great memories and giving me some new ideas.

By Tammy Sechler on June 06, 2011

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love the table paula would look good on my new patio. so glad you are back. I hope to get there to see you in person one day.i will start tomorrow to find the patern form the tablecloth.
Gladys Rainesl in Savannah Style: A Spring Table for Two on April 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

I just want to say this I don't even know if is the right page all I ever wanted to say to Paula Deen welcome back I have missed you. You are my favorite home down girls keep your head up and hang on and feel the love. P.S. from a woman of color.
in Chicken Salad: A Southern Staple on April 13, 2014 at 2:55 pm

I just love love love the table and flowers and am so glad that I can still access all of Paula's recipes, her family life, Bobby's lighter versions and Brandon's beautiful work. Truly thankful to see such beautiful tablescapes. You guys are my heros.
Patricia in Savannah Style: A Spring Table for Two on April 13, 2014 at 9:14 am