Vacation splurges

by Denver Dad

We are going to Iceland next month and we booked a tour for an obscene cost. It’s a helicopter ride to the Thrihnukagigur volcano and then you take an open elevator down to the volcano floor. It’s the only place on earth where you can go into the magma chamber. We went back and forth on it, and finally decided it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we figured if we’re going to do it, we might as well go all in and do the helicopter ride instead of hiking up.

What are the biggest splurges you’ve made on vacation? What was worth it and what wasn’t?


168 thoughts on “Vacation splurges

  1. We went into a private slot canyon in Paige Arizona including a Hummer ride. It was very nice. I would do it there if I only had time for 1 canyon.

  2. I want to chime in on this thread (love to talk travel)

    but I have a car question

    my 2005 kia has bit the dust

    we just put in new brakes and a new battery (sunk)

    Only worth about $1800 and they are saying $1600 to fix

    Should we fix and sell privately (that is what we have done in the past) or are there deals for a minimum trade in if we take it to a dealer?

  3. DD – I wouldn’t hesitate on an excursion like that – but my oceanography roots give me some love of geology. Plus how frickin cool!!!

    I have yet to regret an excursion on a trip. Only the ones I didn’t take because of money or time.

    My best splurges have been practical – DS getting his own airplane seat, renting a stroller at the destination, renting the larger vehicle. But if these practical splurges buy me sanity, then I’m enjoying my vacation more.

  4. Rhett, it made it to the shop, but it won’t be able to be driven far, was having trouble going over 30mph

  5. I am going to Disney World soon and staying at a hotel on the monorail. I had a hard time deciding between that and the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Next stop – minivan and fanny pack.

  6. For our honeymoon, DW’s parents arranged with the resort for us to have the private dinner on the beach in a candlelit cabana with your own dedicated waiter. I think it was about $400, and seemed incredibly absurd to my 24-year-old self, but it was fun. We still have the picture from it, which came out remarkably well, framed in our bedroom.

    Next month, four our Tennessee camping trip, we’re spending a little more for a site next to the river. :)

  7. CoC – if you see this here first, I asked you a question about your Asus on the previous thread.

  8. Great topic!

    Biggest splurge =

    I also consider the Disney cruise that we took a few years ago a splurge. I’d love to go on another cruise, but am holding off, so that we can use the funds to go somewhere new.

    London is still on our short list, although we had to pass this summer due to outrageous air fare (pre-Brexit).

  9. I agree with Rhode that small splurges are awesome. When we ski, we always pay extra to stay at a certain ski in/ski out lodging. We pay extra for direct plane flights during semi-convenient times.

  10. I don’t know anything about cars :)

    just passing along what DH told me

    he thinks we should fix it, but I’m not sure…

  11. winemama: Get a new car. I think you want one, and to me it makes sense. Get the old car appraised at Car Max and have your dealer match the price.

  12. I almost think of them as something that has a roughly 50% chance of failure around the 10-year point, so it’s almost bordering on routine, or at least expected maintenance. I had it replaced on my Honda, and iirc, also an O2 sensor, so maybe about $1,000 total. That was two or three years ago.

    How many miles?

  13. I’ve never donated a car, I thought about even donating it to goodwill for a tax write off

  14. our biggest splurge was the 2 week trip to China a few years ago. Simple coach tix for 5 people was a luxury indeed. It was by far the biggest expense since hotels and a car/driver (necessary for a number of side trips) were very cheap.

    The problem is, we really need to go again in the next few years. We need to visit DD’s hometwon, and also want to get to Xi’an.

  15. we won’t be buying a new car, would be buying a used car that was more than a few years like the frugalwoods did, probably a used prius

  16. Everyone I know who does one of those organized tours in Iceland raves about it. I think it is pretty hard to access a lot of interesting places there, so tours are the way to go. When we were there, we did a one day pony tour which was quite entertaining, although also challenging – it was sleeting (early Aug) and the ponies walk on these narrow ledges with enormous dropoffs – I kept worrying that a pony would slip

  17. “160K miles”

    First I’d want to check on what, exactly, is getting replaced, and ensure that the $1600 isn’t way too much. Then, if my mechanic were reasonably confident that this replacement will solve the problem rather than just temporarily correct the symptoms of a larger problem, then I may likely get it fixed and keep driving it. But I probably have a different mentality than others about squeezing the most value out of cars, particularly if it’s not your main car.

    If you simply want a new car, then sell this and buy one.

  18. like the frugalwoods did,

    You mean wildly overpay such that it would have been cheaper to buy new?

  19. I was surprised when you said how little it was worth, but I checked some online listings, and yeah, that’s about all they’re asking. There’s a big difference between the pre-c. 2008 Kia/Hyundai and after that, as they redesigned every model one by one.

  20. I lean to the splurging in that I am willing to pay for either convenience or comfort that my partner is less likely to do. When we went to Disney, I picked an on property hotel so we didn’t need a car, one that was kid friendly in room layout with minifrig, and where the ride to/from the park was about even in time. Also, we did the limo with a grocery stop on the way rather than the free bus. Yes, that all cost a bit more, but very worth it.

  21. Rhett once mentioned that the cruise lines (and other travel companies) make a huge amount of money on the trip insurance, since their target population really cannot know what the future will bring. But for us, prepaying an expensive vacation with preferential pricing (it is no more a discount than Amazon’s prices), and by prepaying I mean sending in the full high 4 or 5 figure cost including insurance sometimes as much as 1 year in advance, doesn’t just block out the time or save a little money, it secures us a scarce larger more desirable cabin with extra privileges or a place in a tour or on particular dates that will sell out. It is a privilege to have the cash on hand to do it, but it also means that when the actual trip takes place, the only bills that come in a month later are for a few meals and incidentals. Also, it like any other recurring prepaid expense – as long as this is your practice, you never have a year in which you get a double financial whammy with two big vacations. And if money gets tight, you skip the long range planning and take short trips.

    In my 15 years with DH, we have had two vacations that were busts. One was not expensive, but our organized Amtrak excursion to Glacier Natl Park (middle class, same target group as Road Scholar) was a failure because of poor planning, a bad leader, and train problems (not anyone’s fault). The other was a very expensive alumni trip to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. The itinerary was changed so we only got one day in Nepal, we started out in Lhasa instead of working up to altitude, DH was really sick for a while, the docent was pedantic and it was all monasteries, all the time, the people were nice enough but not our types, and the university travel liaison came along to “supervise” because she was having an open prearranged getaway with one of the (married) guys who was traveling solo with several other couples he knows. Our previous alumni trip and the Nat Geo trips were overall enjoyable, but just because you can afford something, it doesn’t mean the other travelers are your peeps.

  22. we don’t get our cars fixed at the dealer, they typically seem to overcharge in my experience

    we are going to go ahead and fix it (I need it for work, driving MIL’s car today) and maybe buy a used prius, saw one from ’09 for 5K

  23. we don’t usually splurge on vacations (the airfare itself is the splurge)

    we have bought a larger rental car in the past when we went to the Rockies in late fall (worth it!)

    sometimes we will splurge on a nicer room than our normal Hyatt Place or on a fancy dinner

  24. saw one from ’09 for 5K

    How many miles? Truecar has ’09 with 100k going to almost 10k.

  25. We stayed at the KOA in Pigeon Forge. They had nice tent sites along the river. Great location and price.

  26. 11:26 was me, of course. I cleared my history a while ago and now I have to reenter everything.

    Sort of on topic, I am TOO BUSY this summer. From May through September, I have two 10 day vacations and 4 other short trips (all family related) that involve round trip flights. I have 5 New England driving trips that are one to five nights in a hotel. I had a full week of babysitting (mostly came home to sleep). I sold most of my Red Sox tickets because the trek is a bit much for DH and we have this nice big TV and a new HVAC system. And Aug 1 DD arrives and we will three in the house, which will be a big if welcome adjustment. Today’s task is to assemble the IKEA closet for the rec room/bedroom. At least we will have a resident cat sitter for a lot of the travel.

  27. I want to say the Uber back from Disney, but that was about $100. Maybe 2 hotel rooms when we travel? TOTALLY worth it to have the kids in one room!

  28. Meme – your vacations sound great! In our new house I only got local TV. NESN is not included on local TV – wtf? How can I watch the Red Sox, or do I have to get cable??? GRRRR.

  29. We went to the Post Ranch for DH 40th. Pretty, but I didn’t think it was worth it.

    Other splurge was Hayman Island in Australia. It was nice, but it wasn’t worth the money we paid.

    We had opposite experience last week in Vegas. Mandarin Oriental was very inexpensive per night for that level of hotel. They threw in a free night, free breakfast and a free spa treatment. Then they upgraded us for free. The whole experience was worth much more than we paid.

  30. As for splurges that were worth it – nice dinners. Splurges that were not worth it – going for twice as long as usual.

    I am curious what people have thought about the ideal length of a trip to Europe. My thought is that more than a week and it becomes kind of a slog of cathedrals, museums and palaces. Then again, you can take a break in some spa town or alpine lake if you wanted to stretch it to two weeks.

  31. I have several friends who have stayed at Ventana in Big Sur. I’d love to do that but I can’t justify it.

  32. Biggest splurge was entire trip to Australia, the total cost of which I have never calculated. Within that trip, best “splurge” was the Great Barrier Reef snorkel day.

    The males on the trip all voted for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb but were overruled on expense and nervous Mom grounds.

  33. Rhett, I think you need more than a week because two days are wasted on travel. Ten days is good.

  34. L – I assume you ordered high speed internet plus local TV that does not include sports (NESN, FSN, or ESPN). One of the big complaints of folks that need internet service and broadcast TV was that sports are expensive and if we don’t watch them we should not have to pay. that has been addressed with this packages. You probably need to add a low level sports tier to get Red Sox. But you will also get Celtics and ESPN.

  35. Milo,

    Truecar is saying a 2016 Corolla LE Automatic is $16,516. (MSRP is $19,570) A car with 100k miles selling for more than 50% of new seems a little high to me.

  36. Rhett, I usually prefer at least 2 weeks for a European destination. I only do shorter than that if it is a conference trip, in which case it isn’t a vacation anyway. If I am there 10 to 14 days, then I just stay in one or two places. All my bike tours over there have been 3 to 6 weeks.

  37. Rhett, Mr WCE and I spent a month in Europe over a decade ago. (4 weeks off from work + weekends) We started in Rome, to Venice, Alps, Munich, Berlin, Prague, Poland, Vilnius, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Helsinki, Stockholm, western Norway, flew out of Oslo. I wanted to see eastern Europe before it was just like western Europe. It was not relaxing (lots of long days) but it was memorable.

  38. Rhett, I think you need more than a week because two days are wasted on travel.

    True, but a lot of that hinges on location. From Boston, BA leaves at 9:35pm and gets to London at 9:00am and the return leaves at 7:55pm and gets in at 10:10pm. So really, no time is wasted.

  39. “A car with 100k miles selling for more than 50% of new seems a little high to me.”

    Yeah, there’s that. They’re reasonably priced for a useful life of about 250k miles. My parents’ cars are now both in that range, with relatively few repairs.

    And WM is looking to buy a house soon, so there are times when it makes more sense not to be making what’s essentially a 20-year capital investment (true, even if you sell beforehand).

    In my case, I would insure a $16k Corolla; I would not insure an $8k one. And the taxes would be a lot lower.

  40. Our most recent trip to Europe was 15 days, I believe. We stayed in Brussels the first and last nights. We stayed for 5 days at a family cottage resort on the Belgian seacoast, and a week at another cottage resort near Gouda in the Netherlands. The cottages were great because we could relax, and cook dinners, and so on. We mostly biked to various destinations like Delft, Bruegge, Den Haag, Rotterdam, etc. Yes, we saw a lot of museums, but we also went to places like Madurodam, and we saw a lot of countryside as you might imagine. Both cottage parks had great pools. The one in Belgium had an indoor pool complex similar to Great Wolf, and the other one was large with lots of pool noodles. So the kids had lots of non museum time. They often ask why we can’t go back.

  41. Rhode, I answered about the Asus on the other post.

    The volcano excursion sounds awesome, and it tips me over to getting excited about a trip to Iceland. However, I would prefer to avoid helicopters. I look forward to the post-trip report.

    One recent splurge was a day-long guided tour of French WWI battle sites. It was just four of us plus the guide who was a former prep school history teacher. Stupendous. If we had had more time I would have taken another day or two to visit the Normandy area also. Regarding length of trip, I could see taking a 3-day battle site tour (or wine or cooking or whatever) plus five days in Paris and maybe 3 days to visit beaches in the south. That’s easily 2 weeks.

  42. Meme – correct. I was afraid of that. Maybe I will listen to WEEI this season and get the sports package for next year.

  43. Milo,

    You raise valid points and if it was 30% of new I could see it. It just doesn’t seem like there is a lot of savings to be had at that price point. Keeping in mind, I’m 100% in favor of buying it new, taking care of it, and keeping it to 250k. But, Corrolla owners aren’t know for their meticulous maintenance so I’m not sure how much faith I’d have in one with 100k miles on it that I hadn’t personally driven and maintained.

  44. Chartering a plane for our last island destination. It was basically a wash compared to purchasing tickets individually but only because we ended with an extra seat on the plane and bed in the condo so had my MIL join us. Airline times were inconvenient and we avoided TSA.

  45. we don’t want a car payment and don’t have the cash for new, so new is not an option right now

  46. CoC, a guide can be a very good idea when visiting something complex. We use a private guide for a number of destinations while in China, although I don’t really consider it a splurge since the guide was very cheap compared to the airfare and we needed a car anyway. The first time we used a guide was on our first trip to China, for a one day visit to a place with Buddhist cave art. Without the car and driver, we couldn’t have gotten there, and without the guide to explain it all, we wouldn’t have known what we were looking at. Same thing for going to Emeishan, and for a visit to an important but little known museum of art from a prehistoric, non-Han society on our second trip. In both cases, our guides were incredibly knowledgable about the art we were seeing, and also simultaneously able to entertain the kids. On our trip to the cave art, in fact, DS2 who was pretty small at the time, fell in love with the guide and walked around everywhere that day holding her hand.

    I lived in Normandy for 6 months. Wonderful place, and the beaches are fine – most of them do NOT have hulks of old landing vehicles on them :-).

  47. BTW, my DS2’s summer reading project (for his own pleasure, not a school thing) is the full length Journey to the West. He has been looking at our photos of the Buddhist cave art, since it dated from that time. Journey to the West of course has a lot to do with the influx of Buddhism into CHina, although in a very fanciful way.

  48. Wine,

    No thought that a fixed $183/month to Toyota Motor Credit is better than random $1600 repair bills? Just to play the devil’s advocate as is my want.

  49. Europe – 14-15 days. From my part of the world, it is at least a full day of travel each way depending on where you are going. I have not been a big “tour” person and tend to do things on my own, which means I tend to plan in some “down time” in the trip – usually the equivalent to 1.5 days, often in half day increments. Again, depends on what you want to see/do and how many cities/countries you are talking about.

    Australia – spend a month – Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Coober Pedy, Brisbane and an island along the Great Barrier Reef. It took us two days each way in travel between time change and shear distance.

  50. For our honeymoon, DW’s parents arranged with the resort for us to have the private dinner on the beach in a candlelit cabana with your own dedicated waiter. I think it was about $400, and seemed incredibly absurd to my 24-year-old self, but it was fun. We still have the picture from it, which came out remarkably well, framed in our bedroom.

    Milo, we did this when we were in Puerto Vallarta about 8 years ago. It wasn’t that much, but it was well worth it.

  51. Winemama can’t add any debt right now nor can she deplete her cash. I assume she is preapproved for a mortgage, and will have to go through a version of the hoops again during the days before the close – change is baaaad in this circumstance. A lease is considered additional debt. DS had to borrow a car until the closing a few years back because a lease for the second car would have required another round of approvals for his mortgage (admittedly, he was borrowing above his weight and was only approved because he put down 50% from the prior house).

  52. If you’ve ever hiked the South Kaibab Trail at the Grand Canyon, you probably remember Ooh Aah Point. This is sad.

    A woman from Florida was hiking with two friends in the Grand Canyon when she plunged 400 feet to her death.

    Rangers found her body below Ooh Aah Point, a famous landmark on the South Kaibab Trail on Friday

  53. Winemama, if you just want reliable, I’d buy this Buick Century with 59,000 miles. It’s a year older than what I drive and they reliably exceed 200k without major repairs. When I shopped in 2003, they were statistically more reliable than that year’s Camry and Accord per US News and World Report.

  54. @Wine: Are you still buying a house? You might not want to take on car debt when you’re shopping/buying — if you get another @2 years out of the current repairs, that’s still a lot less than a car payment, and you’d be settled in and over the hump by then.

  55. yes, like Meme said, we aren’t supposed to do any thing that would change our credit right now, we are pre-approved for a loan

  56. but generally speaking, I don’t like car loans, last new car we bought was in ’08

  57. But for us, prepaying an expensive vacation with preferential pricing (it is no more a discount than Amazon’s prices), and by prepaying I mean sending in the full high 4 or 5 figure cost including insurance sometimes as much as 1 year in advance, doesn’t just block out the time or save a little money, it secures us a scarce larger more desirable cabin with extra privileges or a place in a tour or on particular dates that will sell out.

    We’ve prepaid for most of the trip already – airfare, lodging (all AirBNB places), and the volcano tour. We still need to pay for the rental car, which is obscenely expensive compared to US prices, and then food, museum/pool/site entry fees, and souvenirs. So we won’t be coming back to a huge bill. We paid an extra $100 for cancellation insurance on the flights, and the AirBNBs have reasonable cancellation policies.

  58. I like the way WCE thinks. Plus, that Century has the custom Brougham top. That’s *style*, Huck.

  59. Did Ada ever report how her AirBnB experience was? I’ve been wanting to try it, but hesitant at the same time

  60. this introvert loves our online community :)
    thank you all for listening to my rants and hijacks

  61. I love this post DenverDad. Please give us a full report when you return!

    On our last 2 trips to NYC with the kids, we splurged on really good seats for the Broadway shows – right in center, about 7 or 8 rows back. I am so happy to be at a show that I’m content to sit anywhere. But I wanted the kids to be engulfed by the wonderfulness that is a show, so I paid more for the good tickets. Totally, 100% worth it. They were mesmerized in a way they wouldn’t have been if they’d had to crane their necks to see.

    Any time we’ve done a really nice dinner on vacation with the kids, I always come away feeling ‘not worth it.’ They’re good in restaurants, but they just don’t care and I feel like I’ve wasted the $$.

    2 rooms on vacation = always, always worth it.

    Upcoming trip to Alaska – I splurged on first class tickets. Not sure yet if it will be worth it, but I did it for my own comfort. It’s a LONG plane ride.

  62. On our last 2 trips to NYC with the kids, we splurged on really good seats for the Broadway shows – right in center, about 7 or 8 rows back.

    I’m at the point with shows and sporting events that I’m usually willing to pay more for good seats, especially if it’s something I’m really excited about.

    Any time we’ve done a really nice dinner on vacation with the kids, I always come away feeling ‘not worth it.’

    I usually feel that way even without kids. But totally not worth it with them.

    2 rooms on vacation = always, always worth it.

    We do VRBOs and get condos. Usually it’s not that much more than a hotel room (and definitely not more than two rooms) and so much more comfortable. This trip is the first time we’ve used AirBNB, but they are all complete unit rentals, not sharing someone’s house or apartment. One of them is a guest house on a farm, which looks really cool.

  63. Wine – we did VRBO in Charleston SC. It was great! We kept enough food for snacks and breakfast. It was a studio with a kitchenette, so we really couldn’t cook. But it was cheaper than a hotel in the same area.

    I’m looking into both VRBO and AirBNB that accept pets for a small whole army trip to Bar Harbor in October. So that would be 3 adults, a toddler, and 2 dogs. It may not happen as we have some house repairs this summer we also need to pay for. I may try to convince her of a cheaper trip to my BIL’s house in the Poconos… provided he allows both dogs.

  64. Agree – we also get condos whenever available. In fact, Alaska will be the first trip in a long time that we are straight up hotel rooms.

  65. For our upcoming trip to the beach in two weeks, we’re sharing a VRBO four-bedroom oceanfront condo with DW’s parents.

  66. @ Rhett – I’ve decided I want to do one of those 10 day European river cruises with the kids. You get to see a different place each day, with guides to show you around, but no moving from hotel to hotel. And 10 days would be the right amount of time for me.

  67. I’ve done several 16 hours flights in coach, though the most brutal trip ever was the 24+ hours/3 flights it took to get home with new DD from China, much of which was spent with said baby strapped to my chest. It wasn’t just the time spent in coach -it was the time spent milling about in 3 really crowded airports with strapped in baby, dragging a large duffle on wheels, and trying to hang onto a 4 year old and a 6 year old. To top it off, when we arrived in NYC, it was 2am, and was 10 degrees outside, and our car service didn’t show up for over an hour.

    Another brutal trip, taken when I was 20: Cincinnati to JFK, JFK to Keflavik, Keflavik to Luxembourg (can you guess which budget airline?), bus to Zurich, a 1am train to Milan, several early morning hours in the Milan train station (and I couldn’t get anything to eat because there was no money change open and I had no lira), and then a 12 hour odyssey on the slow train to Naples. Because of the money change problem, I went 24 hours with no food. When I got picked up in Naples, we had missed the last bus out to where my hosts lived, so my friend took me to another friend’s house to find a ride. It was about 10pm. They fed me green beans with a fried egg on top, and those were the best green beans of my entire life.

  68. Oy, Lark, my vision of hell is being stuck on a river boat with my loud kids and lots of senior citizens glaring at us!!

  69. If you are forced to eat dinner on the boat in a dining room, you are trapped. Think kids fighting, spilling water, making loud fart jokes, and racing around, all in a small dining room with said senior citizens glaring. These river boats aren’t like the mega cruise ships that go out to sea.

  70. MM,

    I didn’t think it would be that geared toward the elderly, but it looks like it very much is.

  71. @DD: Those pics look *awesome* — I would totally do that and not think twice.

    Honestly, I can’t think of a vacation splurge I have regretted. Of course, this comes against a background of me being fundamentally cheap, so a splurge is a treat; otherwise, you get hedonistic adaptation. I go back to Moxie’s lesson of setting the bar low: since happiness is the delta between expectations and reality, keeping normal daily life “normal” makes the occasional splurge feel awesome. OTOH, some of the biggest disappointments have been where we expected super-nice and it was just sort of meh.

    My favorite splurge is the house in Tuscany, where we are staying for our third time. The guys who run it are awesome; they did DH’s bday dinner before and brought a crate of labelless wine and grappa from their buddies the farmers. :-)

    My second-favorite splurge was when we splurged a few years ago for one business class seat to Italy (got the second with miles), and then there was a plane change and we ended up in the “real” first class with the separate pods and all. I do *not* sleep on planes and do *not* handle jet lag well — that saved me 2-3 days of feeling normal, which on a @8-day trip was priceless. Even made me willing to splurge on the $1000 business class for this trip (low-rent Condor air) instead of the huge deal $300 coach class seats — that was such a no-brainer I basically clicked “buy” without even thinking about it.

    My biggest splurge right now is time. This year I am taking off 3 weeks again, even though I can’t really afford it because work is suddenly busy again after a ridiculously slow June. But screw it — life’s too short.

  72. I have mixed thoughts on AirBnB and VRBO. I like having the space and the kitchen, but sometimes the places are not as clean or well-maintained as I would prefer. I really see no difference between AirBnB and VRBO or Homeaway. A lot of the units are listed on multiple services anyway. One condo that we stayed in in a major metro was nice enough, but it was obviously illegal/frowned upon to do short term rentals, and so we felt very uncomfortable going by security & using the amenities of the complex. It soured the rental a little. And the beds and bathrooms are never as comfortable as a mid-range hotel (e.g., Westin) or even low-mid hotel (Hyatt Place/Homewood Suites). A lot of times, I prefer a suite in a hotel instead these days, except at the beach where the washer/dryer and full kitchen/outdoor space are more useful to us.

    I think a week to Europe is fine. I don’t like marathon vacations. I would prefer to go on a shorter trip & see fewer places. Especially if I was traveling from the East Coast.

    For sporting events, I like to splurge on good tickets when visiting new stadiums, but at home, I usually don’t.

    @DD – any thoughts on ticket sources for Coors Field? Do tickets sell out where I would need to visit Stub Hub or are they priced under face anywhere due to low attendance? Any sections of the park to avoid?

  73. I feel like we should go to Dollywood and surrounding area next spring. I was thinking it would be cheaper and closer option to do because next summer I will most likely be going to London to visit family.
    Any suggestions for Dollywood ?
    I am tired of beach resorts and I would like to try some other vacations options.

  74. this comes against a background of me being fundamentally cheap….the house in Tuscany, where we are staying for our third time

    Whatever you need to tell yourself is fine by me.

  75. Louise, Gatlinberg/Pigeon Forge is a blast! We always went there when I was a kid. It was kind of the Lake George of the Appalachian states. I took our family 3 years ago and we had so much fun. You can hike in the National Park, ride the rides at Dollywood, play lots of cheesy minigolf, and even get cultural by visiting the cabins at Cades Cove or the Cherokee museum across the state line in NC. And of course you have to watch the taffy machine at work.

  76. One of my favorite memories is a hot air balloon ride on the south island of New Zealand on our honeymoon.

  77. Louise – Agree with everything Mooshi said. And our first time there, we stayed at Riverstone Resort and Spa in Pigeon Forge. It’s almost across the street from Dollywood, and still feels somewhat tranquil.

  78. Mooshi – we visited Cherokee and the Tennessee Valley Dam. We also drove on the Tail of the Dragon roadway but never did Dollywood.
    I have been to Lake George so I know what you mean.
    Milo – thanks for that resort name.

  79. @DD – any thoughts on ticket sources for Coors Field? Do tickets sell out where I would need to visit Stub Hub or are they priced under face anywhere due to low attendance? Any sections of the park to avoid?

    Unless it’s a big-name opponent like the Cubs, tickets are easy to come by. If you want good seats, you can usually get good deals on StubHub, if you wait until a day or so before the game, you can usually get field level boxes for less than face value. If you are going in the summer, go for the third base side so you aren’t in the sun.

  80. Viking doesn’t take children under 12 and limits/discourages children between 12 and 18.

    I have never found an adult european river itinerary that didn’t bore me. But that 8 day tauck family one with lots of trains and chocolate sound like I would enjoy it. Grandma trip maybe?

  81. Are there any trips for those who want to avoid the glaring seniors AND the noisy kids?

  82. Completely off topic — wishing that Dallas police chief Brown were running for President. Maybe we can write him in.

  83. “Whatever you need to tell yourself is fine by me.”


    But in reality, the place in Tuscany is a week every two years; the rest of the time, I fly Southwest and stay in Residence Inns. So that trip feels way more special than if I spent the other 101 weeks traveling like, say, you. :-)

  84. LfB,

    I don’t know what you’re implying – we’re all just salt of the earth middle class folks here.

  85. Great post and lots of great ideas and info here. One of our regular splurges is slope-side accommodations when skiing. With little kids, it’s hard enough to get everyone dressed and ready to hit the slopes without then having to drive to the ski area, find parking, and then trek to the lifts with everyone and their gear and us all wearing ski boots, plus whatever inclement weather. I think when you are introducing kids to an activity, the simpler the preparation the less trepidation and more enthusiasm they will have for it. We also always put them in a lesson or two, so that they get instruction from someone other than us and DH and I get a chance to ski together sans kids. Another splurge is always staying in a hotel when visiting family. We do better when we have our own space to retreat to at the end of the day. For those who get a separate hotel room for the kids, how old were the kids when you started doing that? Are you able to get two rooms close together?

  86. Here’s an example of the weirdness of flying First Class. So I am booking a trip for this weekend, and United has some killer fares in Economy. Like, $137 each way between DEN and SFO. The listed prices for First Class (as I’m selecting my flights) are $476 on the way out and $693 on the way back for the selected flights. So according to my calculator, it’s $274 RT in Economy, but $1,169 RT in First. Well, that’s too big a difference for me, so I book Economy. At the very end of the process, United’s website says, “Wait! Don’t you want to upgrade to First Class for $129 each way?” thus making the total for First $532. I only upgraded for the way back. But this is why I often fly First — the pricing is hugely variable, and they often dangle sweet deals after you’ve booked the flights.

  87. GFM,
    It depends on the maturity level and number of your kids, and how well they get along, but with adjoining rooms we did it as young as 8 or so. You might have to pretend that one of the adults is bunking in with them when reserving the rooms.

  88. Like Scarlett, we’ve always found that you have to list at least one adult in each room when making an online reservation, but the hotel doesn’t actually care who’s sleeping in which. And they will almost always give you adjoining rooms, but they may or may not have actual connecting rooms so with younger kids it’s worth calling to make the reservation so you can check on that.

  89. We spent a week at an all-inclusive dude ranch a few years ago, which certainly qualified as a splurge even when adding up comparable hotel and meal cost and activities in the general area, but it was worth it. It’s a different experience to be basically away at camp with other families for a week as compared to doing a bunch of stuff a la carte, and the kid program that kept them occupied while parents could go off and do their own activities was sweet.

  90. We’re doing Alaska this summer on the (somewhat) cheap, but we are indulging in one big splurge by taking a day-long boat trip in Glacier National Park. It’s hundreds of dollars for the four of us (for only about eight hours), but this might be the only time in my life that I ever get to see glaciers, so I think it will be worth it.

    Next year, I am hoping to celebrate my 50th birthday by taking the family to Europe. I am thinking about a two-week trip, with one week in Paris, and the other in London. I don’t want to have to pack and unpack a bunch of times, and I think it would be fun to settle into an apartment for a full week in each place. There’s obviously a lot to do in each city, but I also figure that we could do some day trips by train.

  91. Scarlett — Re. trips that might avoid noisy kids and glaring seniors: If your husband and you are at all interested in active travel (walking vacations, biking vacations, etc.), check out companies like VBT or Backroads. They have lots of really nice trips all over the world, and I think a lot of their clientele are somewhere between middle-aged and young-elderly.

  92. NoB – we did the Loire Valley as a day trip from Paris. We got there and back by train, we were met at the station by a guide who took us around the whole day and dropped us back in time for the train.

    I saw the surfing documentary View from a Blue Moon and I wanted to go to all those places starting with Hawaii. Thought of HM and Finn !

  93. North of Boston,

    We did several bike trips with a company similar to VBT back before kids, and you’re right — they are the sweet spot I was looking for. We were in our 20’s and usually the youngest people on each tour. After we had kids, we figured out why.

    GFM, HM is right. You want connecting rooms if possible for younger kids. Adjoining rooms are OK for tweenagers. We found that some hotels were not able (or willing) to guarantee connecting rooms when we made the reservation, but being a member of the loyalty program sometimes helps. And a real suite can sometimes be ok.

  94. Italy trip report coming. After I dig out from a pile of charts.

    I hate taking cabs (grew up in a place where no one ever used them, read too many things about cab scams) – so every one feels like a splurge to me. I once made DH and two good friends march (with heavy packs) from the end of the subway to the port in Athens (about 2 miles) in the midday heat – because one can’t trust cab drivers. I will never hear the end of that.

    OT – there was a very expensive (and worth it) cab ride in Italy.

  95. Scarlett – If you pick trips with active to challenging physical requirements, you will self select into the 50 to 70 empty nester group. Every company uses its own rating system and active can mean anything from Road Scholar – you can get around without a walker and keep up with a group, cane okay – to a nature company where active means the group engages in an 8 mile hike or 5 miles of paddling everyday. What I mean by “active” is at least one or 2 days with 5 miles of non optional walking or the equivalent.

  96. Louise — I’m actually thinking about the Loire Valley as a day trip from Paris. Maybe the American D-Day beaches in Normandy, too. Given that France has true high-speed rail, going pretty far away from Paris and back in a day seems quite do-able.

  97. On the hotel thing, our kids are still too little to be in a room by themselves, but we try to get a suite where DH and I have a bedroom and the kids sleep on the pull out in the main room. That is ideal for us right now. Was just checking out Great Wolf Lodge in Orange County pretty close to Disneyland for a family get together before Christmas. They have theme suites with a “Cave Room” that looks like a cave and has bunk beds in it which my kids would love.

  98. Have fun Denver! I am afraid of heights though and you couldn’t pay me enough to get on that death trap, I mean, elevator! Or a helicopter, for that matter.

    Our travel big splurge was our French Polynesia honeymoon- the luxury overwater bungalows and all. Don’t regret a penny of it.

  99. Back in my adult only bike tour days, we just arranged everything ourselves and carted our own gear – the freedom and flexibility was part of the joy. When I started considering touring with kids, I looked into tours with companies like Backroads because I thought it would be easier if someone was schlepping the bags. But those companies are also clearly oriented to adults, and usually feature luxury B&Bs as the only lodging option. I rate staying in a quaint, antique filled, floral chintz B&B with kids as only slightly more acceptable than being stuck on a canal boat with kids. Every moment in the B&B would be terrfiying, waiting for DD to knock over an antique vase or DS2 to swipe his hands on the floral wall paper. Plus, B&B’s tend to charge by the (small) room, and once you have 5 people, it costs a fortune.

    If we had gone to France, I was looking at a company that sets you up for bike touring in Brittany. They rent you the bikes, the panniers, the tent, the stove, etc, and give you tour maps. They will also come if your bike breaks down. If we make it to France next, year, I may well try them

  100. Lodging wise, we have veer between camping and Residence Inns. In fact, our upcoming trip will feature both

  101. We just booked a house in Cape Cod for a week next month through VRBO – I’m nervous because we have never used VRBO before, but with three kids too small to sleep alone in an adjoining hotel room and our multitude of food allergies, I hope a house with three bedrooms and a kitchen and fenced yard will be easier than cramming five of us into a holiday inn.

    Slightly more expensive than a hotel, but not much.

    Past splurges were the helicopter tour of the Big Island on our honeymoon, and a tour guide with a car and nice hotels in Shanghai.

    We wound up being really glad we had the tour guide, as the driving around Shanghai was insane (and I have no problem driving in Manhattan and Boston).

  102. Wine, I’m wondering if you’d be able to find a car as good as your current car for $1600. Perhaps your best option is to repair your car and keep it for a few more years.

    After all, this would be your third repair, and those things tend to happen in threes.

  103. Oops, pulled an SM. Posted a couple of comments to this thread on yesterday’s.

  104. Mooshi, my twins finally graduated to two wheels on Grandma’s wide, flat streets and then practiced on our loop at Ohanapecosh. But at $20/night, it didn’t count as a splurge.

  105. It is inspiring to read about everyone’s travel experiences. Thanks for sharing!

    For those who travel light, I like this 20″ carry-on bag. It’s lightweight and meets international standards for carry on. Yet it is expandable so it offers some flexibility for packing extra stuff. I noticed the black is $40 more than the blue, and the purple is even more expensive.

  106. Re: bikes: For my Bar trip 25 years ago, I went with these guys — — I can’t believe they’re still around! It was a splurge at the time, but it was a reasonable compromise — you schlepp your own gear, but you stay in inns or small hotels at night; they gave you maps and plans, but you could get from here to there on your own pace; they had organized the routes so there were train bailouts on the long days and had a support van if you had a real problem; etc.

    Re: suitcases: So I caved last night and got the suitcase I wanted, in an even more expensive color. And then, as proof that dithering and whining doesn’t pay, I had to pay $20 more for one-day shipping so it gets here today, because apparently as of Tuesday at 8PM, “two-day” means “Friday,” not “Thursday.” But whatever. Definitely killed more $$ in terms of losing-potential-billable-hours-dithering than I would have gained even if the thing had dropped back to $60.

  107. I would love to do one of those bike tours, but DH wouldn’t be able to, need to find a friend to go with

  108. MM, we went on three organized bike trips before kids, all run by the same outfit. Two of them definitely involved the family-unfriendly B&Bs you describe, but the trip to the Canadian Rockies was not at all like that, because we rode along the Icefields Parkway and all of our overnights and dinners were at government concession hotels. Not a single chintz bedspread or fragile decorative doll in sight. If you pick the right trip, it can work with kids. We really enjoyed having tour guides and a van to carry all of our luggage and deal with mechanical issues, and our fellow cyclists were very interesting people who added a lot to the trips.

  109. Ugh had never heard of Backroads until you people mentioned it here…now on the website and have fallen down the rabbit hole of dream trips…goodbye productive work day…

  110. @Finn – I think of Westin as a mid-level hotel with Four Seasons/Peninsula, etc as the high-end hotels. I mostly stay at Westins for work when I travel, which is not that frequent, and I’ll stay there or the equivalent when I travel with DH alone, which is also not that frequent. At negotiated business rates, it is often quite reasonable anyway. For family travel, I prefer suite hotels with free breakfast and a fridge in the room where you don’t have to pay for lots of extras like wifi and gym/pool use. Why do the nicer hotels charge $10/day for everything? I get that they figure that it is going to be expensed and that they throw it all in for “free” for their frequent business travelers, but I still don’t like feeling nickled & dimed that way, even on the company AmEx.

  111. My DH and have been talking about doing a VBT bike trip one of these days. In the mean time we splurge on Disney Cruises, and the rest of our trips are budget – lots of camping or staying with family or friends.
    My parents love the European river boat cruises. They also arrive in the departing city a few days ahead of time and hire private guides. Bad knees makes it harder for them to get around and they’ve mentioned that those private guides are worth every penny – private tours through Rome (in a golf cart) down narrow streets, and access to museums and sites through back entrances.

  112. MM – our house is currently decorated like the late 80s-early 90s B&B style. Lots of FLORAL curtains, jacquard wallpaper, and matching (!!!) bedspreads and cushions. We have removed a lot of them already, but the top valances have all these giant cardboard things underneath attached to pipes attached to the wall, so DH needs to locate the power drill so he can take all those off. Rrrrr…

  113. I regret being so late to this, away yesterday on college visits in the Pittsburgh area with DS3.

    Splurges we’ve done and almost always seem worth it: special meals, for the experience, location/view, the actual food. Ones that come to mind:
    – Kamuela Provision Company at the Hilton Waikoloa outdoors at sunset
    – Botin (officially Restaurante Sobrino de Botin) is a must-do in Madrid
    – Weber Grill Restaurant in Chicago…there were 4 parents and 6 kids (ages 5-10)…and we had a great time. Not high end / fancy but just memorable.
    – Having coffee/drinks/appetizers at the sucker/tourist prices in Piazza Navona (Rome), Piazza San Marco (Venice), Plaza Mayor (Madrid), I’m sure there are others. Totally worth it for the people watching and just soaking it in.

    Once I accepted the “dangle” RMS talks about and took business class on Air France from Paris to NY; the flight/in-flight was nothing special but on the ground in JFK was great since my bag was delayed Air France was excellent about finding me to tell me and getting it to me early next day.

    Length of trip to Europe…depends. Last year with my parents I left on a Thursday night and was home 8 days later on Friday night. Perfect. Next week DW & I are going to Portugal for a week. But we’ve also done 2+ weeks and found that to work well because we always build in at least a couple of nothing-planned days.

  114. “Why do the nicer hotels charge $10/day for everything?”

    I wonder the same thing. Also, with many mid-range and even lower offering “free” breakfast, I cannot understand why the suburban Hilton Garden Inn we recently visited charged $7-15 for breakfast. They had one of the biggest bar/cafe areas I have seen in a hotel of that kind, and it was barely populated. It doesn’t seem to make sense as a business model, because they had copious amounts of fresh food items out on the buffet, plus cooks hovering about ready to make eggs and bacon on demand, but the demand was tepid and most of that stuff would have to be tossed by noon. IME, most guests at “free breakfast” hotels in suburban areas show up for the free breakfast, and surely they have algorithms to build in that cost to the room charge.

  115. Ah my favorite topic and don’t have time to post!

    We prioritize travel. Now that kiddo is almost 4, we can ramp it up again.
    My dream travel includes Houstons splurge, the awesome travels done by meme and a few others.
    We usually stay sheratons or Weston’s if available but also often find ourselves at days inn/red roof inn etc during our road trips.
    This year we will travel to Asia and get in some jungle safari experience. Thankfully there are categories that are very reasonable. Though I would love to do this, it’s not in budget. Sigh

  116. Why do the nicer hotels charge $10/day for everything?

    For things like resort fees, etc. it’s so they can appear higher up on Expedia when people search for hotels.

  117. Lauren, the Saturday trip was fun. Fiddler on the Roof was great. I knew it would be because I have heard all the music before. As I have said before, I am not big on most Broadway style music, but there are exceptions – Fiddler, Sweeney Todd, Cabaret. The production was energetic although a bit dark. The actors were fine. The only role that requires much acting, really, is Tevye – the rest of the characters are pretty one note. The person who played Tevye did what he needed to do. I also appreciated that the did not overmike this show, as was the case for Wicked, so there were actual dynamics to the music rather than just a wall o’ sound.

    One thing I noticed at both Broadway shows I have seen is that they have vendors walking around selling refreshements. And they have wine in spillproof sippy cups. What a good idea! I think they need to do that at the Met. It would make opera feel less stuffy. I got wine in a sippy cup just for the experience, and peanuts(!). Kids got M&Ms and were happy.

    We ate at a ramen place that also did sushi. Most of us had ramen of various sorts. DS1 had teriyaki salmon, and DS2, who hates ramen, had a dish of raw salmon and salmon roe on rice. I also had excellent panko breaded oysters, and DH and DS2 picked apart a grilled mackerel app.

  118. I try to avoid the business hotels because of that sense of nickel and diming. Unfortunately, I end up in them when I travel for conferences, and since I only get reimbursed 50% for a trip, I feel that nickel and diming. I usually end up eating poptarts in my hotel room to avoid the overpriced breakfasts. Thankfully, most CS conferences negotiate free Wifi when they negotiate the conference rate, so that usually is not a problem.

    I have to stay in a Westin this weekend, out in the middle of nowhere suburban Chicago. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

  119. We love Westins, though some of them can be terrible. Usually those are some other brand name hotels that have been turned into Westin.
    DH has status at Westin and we get treated really well there, including made to order breakfast and generous upgrades including penthouse suites.

  120. Now that kiddo is almost 4

    Wasn’t he just born? I feel that about so many of youse guys’s kids. What do you mean, your youngest is 6?? Weren’t you just talking about recovering from the birth? And so on. Of course I can’t believe my stepson is 28, and that means before long he’ll be 30, and I’M the one who’s supposed to be 30.

  121. For those of you who use VRBO/AirBNB/etc, do you look into the legality of those rentals?

    Most such rentals here are illegal and, IMO, a major factor in our supposed highest rate of homelessness in the country and near $800k median home price.

  122. @Scarlett – exactly. Last year, we stayed at a JW Marriott on a weekend, and the “breakfast” package was only $10 extra for the room and included parking (which was usually $5 or 10 – this was a small city). So $20 for the two of us for the weekend for both parking and a nice sit down breakfast buffet. It was totally worth it. And I’m sure they still made plenty of money on us in total.

  123. RMS – my “kids” are almost tweenagers. I’ve been on TOS and this one for around eight years.

  124. I love Sweeney Todd! I got to see the version where the actors played the instruments on stage, Anthony and Johanna were playing cello, etc

    I want to see the original version

    Love Angela Lansbury in it

  125. I wonder the same thing. Also, with many mid-range and even lower offering “free” breakfast, I cannot understand why the suburban Hilton Garden Inn we recently visited charged $7-15 for breakfast.

    In my experience, the “free” breakfasts are usually your dreaded pancakes from a box and fake syrup, pre-made breakfast sandwiches, cheap sugar filled yorgurt, etc. The higher the price, usually, the higher the quality of the ingredients.

  126. Rhett, big time. He has top status with Starwood and is upset about coming changes.

  127. “In my experience, the “free” breakfasts are usually your dreaded pancakes from a box and fake syrup”

    At something like the Hampton Inn, the Carbon Malt waffles that you make yourself are the best. I’ve taken to ordering the mix on Amazon. I don’t have a problem with them packing dry ingredients like flour and baking powder in a box–it’s economical and efficient.

    At places like Embassy Suites, they do eggs and omelets to order.

  128. Oh man, now I’m hungry for waffles. I may have to try Carbon Malt.

    I’m not too finicky, so that probably explains why I’ve been pleased with many free breakfast options. At the Marriott Residence Inn in CO last year they had a nice selection including a pepper and onion potato fry along with sliced fruit. Their eggs may have been powdered, not sure. When I did the Route 66 trip it was fun to compare the biscuits and gravy quality among the free breakfasts offered at places like La Quinta. Most were pretty darn good.

  129. My kids all prefer the free breakfasts to the fancy ones that you have to pay for. I don’t really care myself because I am not really into breakfast style food

  130. ITA on the good theater tix. E.g., when “Dirty Dancing” came to town, I bought my mom front-row mezzanine tix as her Christmas present for a few hundred bucks each. I do enjoy being able to do stuff like that for her and for my Granny — they’re the kind of people who would *never* do that for themselves, so you know it’s really special for them.

    Of course, I still couldn’t bring myself to scalp “Hamilton” tix when we were in Manhattan last weekend on our belated anniversary weekend. :-) That was just ridiculous. (And DH would have grumped the whole time anyway, not being a theater guy at. all.)

    My new happy thing is the local little theater has full motorized recliners, with assigned seating and everything. I’ll happily pay a buck more to go there. :-)

  131. Oh, the “free” breakfasts at Homewood Suites or La Quinta are lower quality, but they are good enough for a lot of instances. Especially if you are eating out for a good lunch/dinner. Especially with kids – I can get DS cereal, milk and a banana, and that keeps the hanger at bay first thing in the morning.

  132. And let’s be honest, the breakfast buffet at the Westin is generally NOT worth the $25-30 they are charging either.

  133. L, you would laugh if you saw what we eat at home for breakfast. This morning, it was leftover burger-mac.

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