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My frugal hack vacation

A frequent-flier ticket and 1-cent snacks make for cheap traveling.

By Donna_Freedman Feb 12, 2010 5:13PM
I’m writing this from Anchorage, which seems to have only slightly more snow on the ground than our nation’s capital. (Of course, it'll last longer here.) Perhaps it seems counterintuitive to visit Alaska in February unless you’re a skier -- and I’m not.

It’s just that I’d promised myself a trip to visit friends and family once I got my university degree, and I didn’t want to wait until summer.

I figure I can visit again in June, my favorite month in Alaska, by making the current trip as affordable as possible. Here’s how:

I used a frequent-flier ticket and went carry-on-only to avoid the cost of checking a bag. (You don’t need to dress up in Alaska unless you really want to. I really don’t.) Also, I printed my itinerary on the blank side of a Psych 357 study guide.
To get to the airport I used public transit for $2.50 instead of a shuttle service for $35. Since my flight was very early, I brought along a bagel and an apple rather than buy airport food. Instead of buying Dramamine, I conked out during the flight with a penny’s worth of generic Benadryl from the dollar store.

I emptied and washed a couple of itty-bitty lotion bottles to fill with hair-care products rather than buy $1.29 "travel friendly" bottles at the store. And yep, I emptied them into the large bottle of lotion I’m currently using.
I’m staying with a friend (hey, she insisted!) and borrowing a car. For a hostess gift I bought her some movie tickets using a grocery store gift card that I bought more than a year ago -- and which gave me a $30 bonus for buying it. In other words, "sunk cost” vs. shelling out $50 in cash.

I bought a McDonald's gift card the same way and have already taken my great-nephews out for supper. They romped and roared in the play area while their mom and I sat and talked (and enjoyed free soda refills).

I spent less than $2.50 shopping at post-holiday sales for four small gifts for the boys, and also got them Spider-Man toothbrushes free after coupons and rebate.

Double coupons and an in-store rebate got me some granola bars for 10 cents a box -- yes, per box, which makes them 1 cent apiece. Other coupon-rebate deals in my snack bag: a bag of dried plums (prunes got an image makeover!) for 40 cents, a 9-ounce bag of M&Ms for $1, hot cocoa mix for 5 cents per packet, and a 6-ounce bag of peanuts for 99 cents. I added some 68-cents-per-pound apples, too. When I’m running around all day long, it’s good to have snacks on hand.

Except for taking my hostess out to eat at Harley’s Old Thyme Café, I’ll probably spend no more than a few dollars per meal. And maybe a lot less: Breakfast is always oatmeal, made at home, and lunch might well be the kosher hot dog and soda at Costco for $1.50, with something from the snack bag for dessert.

This trip, I’m a cheap date. I don’t need to pay for ski lift tickets or a bike rental or a bus tour. The reason I came this time was to visit people and to kick back. By traveling inexpensively now, I can afford to spread some money around in the summertime: a day trip to Seward, a weekend at the Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival, a visit to the Alaska Zoo or maybe a ride out to the Reindeer Farm (major Christmas-card photo op, that one).

This time around I’m spending time, not money. Tea at a friend’s home, a snowball fight with my niece’s boys, gossip and Animal Planet with my hostess. The two of us will also break bits off a couple of large extra-dark chocolate bars that cost me a total of 29 cents with coupons. Like I said: cheap date.

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