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.
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!
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.