We’re wrapping up our two week road trip up the East Coast, and it’s been a heck of an adventure. With each stop, we’ve wished to have an extra week or two to explore the area, and the last few places were no exception. Acadia National Park, in particular, is somewhere that deserves a weeklong trip on its own.

I can understand the draw that people have to just pack up their lives and hit the road for an amount of time, because there is just so much to see. I definitely see why Money Metagame has gone on a year long slow travel trip around the country, because it would take at least that long to get a real sense of things. For now though, we’ll have to bite off small chunks in a week or two at a time.

Friday’s Frugal Five

1. We stayed in an old three bedroom house in Pennsylvania one night as a midway point between Virginia and very southern Maine. Since we have been traveling with five people, we’ve had to look for larger places to stay with at least three different sleeping spaces. Most often, that means one person sleeps on the couch in the living area since it’s usually cheaper to rent a two bedroom place.

The place we stayed in Pennsylvania was just $98, including all taxes and fees, and it had three bedrooms, so we all got our own sleeping space, which was awesome. Hard to beat that price for lodging, except for the nights we stayed with friends. The next morning, the Airbnb hosts introduced themselves to us and sent us off with some fresh homemade scones.

If you haven’t used Airbnb yet, I would highly recommend it; the stays are much more personal than a hotel and oftentimes you can get a better deal, especially if you’re traveling in a larger group. Use this link to get $40 off your first stay (affiliate link).

Playground stop in Pennsylvania

2. Once we arrived in Maine, another of my friends graciously put us up in their home for the night, and then she joined us for the rest of the trip. Between credit card rewards and a few stays with friends, our total cost for lodging for the trip was less per person than we spent in Hawaii last November. As we travel quite a bit throughout the year, it’s really nice to not spend much on the lodging aspect of our trips. We don’t spend much time in the room or house, so basic accommodations are all we need (though laundry and a kitchen is well used when available).

3. We’ve eaten the majority of the meals on this trip at the house or picnic style at a park, which has kept our food expenses quite reasonable for a two week vacation. Road trips are especially easy to rack up food costs because you don’t have access to a cooking spot throughout the day, so we loaded up sandwich and snack stuff in a cooler and could just stop and have lunch wherever. This was especially helpful when driving longer distances with a three year old, because a lunch stop could be combined with playing at the park to get some of his energy out.

However, once we arrived in Maine, we headed out to a lobster pound (or lobster shack) for dinner that first night. I’m not a fan of most seafood – and especially not lobster – but it was an exciting stop for everyone else. The restaurant allows you to bring in your own sides and drinks, but lobsters themselves aren’t cheap, so this was by no means an inexpensive meal. But it was a highlight of the trip and absolutely worth the money. My goal isn’t for us to spend the least amount of money possible, but to be intentional in where we spend it.

Waiting for lobster

4. We spent Memorial Day weekend in North Conway, New Hampshire, exploring the White Mountains. The trails were surprisingly empty on Memorial Day, and we decided to hike up part of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail that leads to the summit of Mount Washington.

Our son is starting to want to do more of the hiking on his own instead of in a carrier, so we didn’t expect to get very far. He surprised us all by hiking 1.5 miles round trip on his own two feet, scrabbling over boulders and fashioning himself a walking stick for balance. My husband worked on teaching him how to cross muddy sections of trail, and the little guy was loving the direction. For three years old, he’s getting to be quite the hiker. He didn’t want to turn around when we did, but we wanted him to be able to make the way down by himself.

Hiking is an activity that doesn’t cost anything to get into (I was wearing tennis shoes because I didn’t want to pack my hiking boots), and it’s something worth doing all over the world. It’s one of our favorite things to do on vacation, and you can really see a lot of a new place by hiking its trails.

Hiking Mount Washington

5. Back in Maine and heading north toward Acadia National Park, we decided to stop at Sebago Lake, the second largest lake in Maine, along the way. We initially stopped at Sebago Lake State Park and were a little shocked at the $8/person entrance cost. For a stop we planned to be no more than an hour or so, we were not interested in spending close to $50 between the six of us.

We ended up finding a free public park a little down the road, and spent our time there instead. It was small and simple, but since May isn’t peak season in Maine, not crowded even though the day was in the low 80s. It was a perfect place for us to dip our feet in the water, sit along the lake, and let our son dig in the sand for a little while.

Sebago Lake

While we could have covered the cost of the park entrance, we chose not to because of the steep price. In the Pacific Northwest, there are so many free parks, and an annual pass to park and many, many others is just $30 (or $10 for a day pass). I’ve never run into a per person fee before as far as I can remember either. The Northeast, on the other hand, seems to charge for parks every time you turn around.

I understand that it takes money to upkeep the parks system – I used to be a park ranger, after all – but I much prefer our system of payment to come equally from taxpayer dollars as well as donations, because anyone can afford to visit the parks for a cheap day out. $50 for a family day trip to the park seems insanely high, and I’m certain it forces people with lower incomes to crowd into the very small (few) public parks if they also want to enjoy the natural beauty of their state.

Running Update

Since last week, I’ve run four more times, and in Pennsylvania, Maine, and New Hampshire. The run in New Hampshire ended up a job around the park while our son played, a la The Smart FI, but I was glad to get a run in at all. When you’re a parent, especially of younger kids, you take what you can squeeze in.

While it’s certainly going to be more difficult once we get home, I’d really like to keep up the momentum of three to four days a week; even a twenty minute run makes my day so much better.

Do you pay to go to the park in your town? What does the entrance fee look like? How do you feel parks should be treated in terms of cost and upkeep?

22 thoughts on “Friday’s Frugal Five (Road Trip Edition, Part II)

  1. We do a lot of picnic meals on our road trips. It’s so convenient, and it keeps food costs waaaay down.

    Also, I agree with you. I think park entance should always be free or super affordable. We purchase an annual state park pass each year (it’s super affordable) so that we can take full advantage of the parks with minimal expense.

    1. Yeah, I didn’t even see annual passes listed at a bunch of the parks. But maybe that’s still possible online? I hope so.

  2. I love how your son is already getting hiking training! He’ll be an awesome hiker as he grows up.

    As to parks; urban and local parks are always free – they are council run and usually towards the grotty side amenity wise and built where they couldn’t fit houses. Country parks and estates can vary – lots charge for entrance or charge for parking. I’m a big fan of the National Trust, who have a lot of land and houses, and you can get an annual pass.

    1. I sure hope so! At least at this point he sure loves hiking, and just being outdoors in general.

  3. $8 per person per day seems pretty steep. I’m in the western US so I experience similar pricing to yours in Washington State. We spend a lot of time in national forest lands that are usually free unless you stay at a campground. I recognize that parks are expensive to run and many national parks have large infrastructure issues that need to be addressed, but I also want parks to be visited and therefore affordable to all. While many historic lodges are being (necessarily) renovated in national parks I am concerned at the escalating costs of lodging. Even camping in national parks has become quite expensive, although still cheaper than lodging. It concerns me that many are being priced out of visiting these national treasures. Its a tough issue for sure.

    When flying to a destination do you take a cooler with you or have you had success borrowing or renting one?

    1. Exactly my feelings. As far as the cooler is concerned, we bought one the first day and then left it with a friend as a parting gift on the way out. Though you can always bring one as luggage.

  4. All of our local parks have free entrance, but some of the state parks charge a fee. I have mixed feelings about park fees. On the one hand, it seems a little excessive to pay to go to a park, but on the other hand, they don’t maintain themselves, and maybe people are a little more invested in taking care of (not littering, etc) something they’ve paid to visit. We don’t live there, but I think Charleston County, SC has a good system. There’s a park there we love, and visit multiple times the week we vacation there. It has a parking fee, so I looked into buying a pass to see if it might be cheaper. The pass is super cheap if you’re a resident of the county, but fairly expensive if you aren’t a county resident. The reasoning is that county residents support the park through taxes, and non-residents don’t. Even though buying the pass didn’t make sense for us because of that, I think it’s a very fair way of handling it.

    1. County vs non resident fees make total sense to me as well. My concern is more about the ability for regular family visits more than the one off vacation time.

  5. looks like a successful trip! i always liked vermont and new hampshire. maybe this is the year that we get back to new england, but maybe after the high season. well, the 5 is here so it must be the weekend and it’s a 4 day in our house. i’ll be running the dog around the state park near the in-laws’ place to make up for a lazy week.

    1. We unfortunately didn’t have time to see Vermont this trip, but we definitely want to be back to the northwest again now that we got a taste of the area.

    1. $14/month for unlimited bike usage is pretty awesome. Bike shares are just starting to show up in my area but I’m pretty excited about it.

  6. Beautiful pictures and a lovely vacation! We have some great hikes up here in British Columbia (you should come up! The West Coast Trail and Juan De Fuca Trail are gorgerous). For multi day hiking we have to pay but for day hikes we usually don’t have to pay.

    1. We plan to spend some time in BC soon…. once we finally renew our passports 🙈

  7. So cool! I’ve climbed Mt. Washington 4 times, twice in winter. It’s so awesome.

    And Acadia is amazing as well. I spent a week there in 2016 and there’s endless stuff to do. Lots of that involves just chilling and watching the waves crash on the rocks, it’s so beautiful.

    1. It’s crazy to think how short the hike is to the TOP of a mountain on the east coast 😉

      Hopefully we’ll get back some time soon – I’d love to camp in Acadia.

  8. Sounds like you had an idyllic trip overall! Hiking and exploring parks really is the one of best things someone can do. I started doing 3 – 5hr ‘urban’ hikes a few years ago. Sometimes that meant walking along streets, other times it was winding a network of paths around ravines and nature/parks throughout the city. Best part, you can stop in for a snack/drink and sit along the way.

    We had originally planned to do a 2 week road trip across western Canada this year until a chance to travel to Iceland with good friends for a week came up. Maybe we can do something with 1 week….

    1. We are looking at Iceland possibly for next year! I can see why you altered your plans for sure 🙂

  9. That’s awesome the little guy is getting into hiking! I’m sure it will be an extrovert he enjoys for a long time 🙂

    But yea.. gotta love all the fees along the east coast right? Been dealing with that for too long

    1. Yeah, the fees along the east coast are totally nuts. Something I was not expecting in the slightest.

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