April 07, 2010

The Really-expensive Rambling Road to Relevant

Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania... and more. My eyes are stuck on the laminated wall map lately... and my head in the clouds.

Relevant is still a few months off in late October, but those of us who are committed to going to the event are beginning to look for sponsors and map out our trip. There are decisions to be made about whether to go it alone or take the family, to fly and stay in the greater Hershey, PA area or to drive and see the country... making stops along the way. You all know me by now if you have followed me for any length of time - as my heart is on the open road... winding down ribbons of freeway into the sunlight... feeling the wind in my hair... and eating sandwiches out of the back of the truck while my kids put "We've Been There" stickers on their homeschool state notebooks.

We love a good road trip.

Relevant is different than any of the other trips, though... because Relevant is in Pennsylvania and that's REALLY far away.

When I first glanced at the map and discussed it with my husband, his comment was: "You can't go that far and not see DC."

It was the first time my man had showed interest in a blog conference (but he really isn't interested in the conference - just the chance to vacation with his family... something that never happens for us because we've never had the money to travel). His dad lived near DC for some time when he was a kid (in Leesburg), so he has a special fondness for the area. I saw the misty-watercolor memories floating around in his mind quite clearly and used it as an opportunity to make my case.

"Well, we could make it in to a 'family vacation' you know. We could take the kids on a field trip to DC and see the Smithsonian and the Monuments. Would you be willing to take off time from work and go with me?" My eyes lit up to think there might be a chance.

"Yeah! Yeah!" The kids threw themselves on the floor in front of the map to trace out the path between Texas and Pennsylvania... lingering over our nation's capitol. They began to list the new states we would be passing through that they could add to their 'been there' list. "Daddy, please?"

He didn't answer us that night, but I heard him talking to his dad about it on the phone as if he was considering it. They started talking about the things we should see in DC. My heart felt light and I decided to go out on a limb and empty my paypal account to purchase my ticket to Relevant before they sold out - just in case.

I knew it would be expensive, but I had no idea HOW expensive until I started doing the math just recently. Everyone planning to go has been tweeting online about beginning to try and gather sponsors to help them cover the costs, so I began the legwork of putting my media kit for sponsors together yesterday - which includes doing a rough budget for the trip. Boy, was I surprised when my total reached over $4,000 dollars. The light feeling I had about really reaching PA suddenly fell flat.

Which is why I'm telling you about it. I figure you can help me get my head straight... the more heads I have working on this problem, the better - right?

I need some help in cutting corners to make the trip more affordable... and I need sponsors to make it happen. There won't be any credit card to fall back on this time. I really have to get the funds together BEFORE I go... or we'll have to pass on this once-in-a-lifetime road trip. Trust me. Texans don't just routinely wind up in Washington DC. It's a special kind of rarity that we cowpokes make it that far.

Here are the costs that I've estimated:
5 people (including dad, mom, baby, 2 tweens)
9 days (leaving grandma behind to take care of the house and cats)
rental car (1200$)
24 hours on the road - one way, 3 days up, 3 days there, 3 days back
gas at $2.70-80 per gallon both ways ($1100)
hotel, 3 days up, 3 days there, 2 days back ($1050)
groceries for snacks and a few meals on the road ($180)
food, eating out for family minus my conference food ($575)
conference ticket ($220)
business card and related conf. expenses ($50)
museums, tolls, parking, misc. ($250)
TOTAL FOR TRIP: $4500ish

There's just no way to cut it down much smaller unless we take our own vehicle which has over 140K miles on it. My vehicle is in decent shape, but I am scared to death to drive it that far with so many miles already on it. If it broke down while we were that far away from home, I'd have to mortgage my house to get it back to Texas and get it fixed. While I know people along the way, I hate to 'use' them for a free night's sleep and a free dinner. Plus, most of our traveling time will be during weekdays when people are busy with their lives. We'll need to stay in hotels most of the time - especially since there are 5 of us. And we have to eat. Don't we? I can only force the family (and my sandwich hating husband) to eat one meal a day in the car. I found this out on the last cross country drive... and my mom doesn't even hate sandwiches. She's not as picky of a "traveling buddy" as my man would be.

I can tell you one thing... I really want to go to Relevant. I know it looks impossible, but my family would be ever so sad if we weren't able to work it out that they could go with me. My kids have been trip planning and map scouring since I first mentioned it. I'm certain that if God wants us to make the trip, the money will come. However, I'm dedicated to being a good steward and am VERY interested in ways I can cut down on my costs to make it more affordable for my sponsors and for us - to make it happen.

I can only go about 10-12 hours in the car per day. We've done 14 and 16 hour stretches before and they are awful on everyone. This time, with my husband on board, I'd rather cut a few corners on the drive time so we get the rest we need to maintain 'cheery' attitudes in the car. He's a grumpy bear when he hasn't gotten his beauty rest. Trust me on that.

Here are a few scenarios as to times and places:

Austin to Little Rock - Day 1
Little Rock to ? (10-12 hours) - somewhere near the George Washington Nat. Forest - Day 2
? to DC (short drive so we can spend the day doing museums/tour) - Day 3
DC to Hershey (including time for morning touring in DC) - Day 4
Hershey (conference) - Day 5
Hershey (conference) - Day 6
Hershey to Leesburg - Day 7
Leesburg to Memphis or Little Rock - Day 8
Home - Day 9

What a crazy homeschool blogging mama I am. I'm sure you didn't need me to tell you that, though.

So. Do you have any tips? Pointers? Must-see advice? Ways to cut costs? Traveling ideas? Change from under your seat cushions in your couch that you would like to donate towards the trip? Phone numbers to psychiatrists?

I'm sure you can help me figure this out. I'm counting on it!


Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience said...

I am just smiling and praying and praising that you are coming!

Isn't math hard? Math with dollar signs... That is always when I begin to wince...

Hmmmm... What kind of sponsor would be interested in a family road trip? A chain of restaurants? A hotel chain? What about a company involved in digital photography --- families taking photos on road trips? I'm sure the great Sprittibee family could pitch a really unusual idea to a company or two that would be willing to sponsor?

I am praying!

I can't wait to stammer a thank you face to face...

All, all my love...

Erin @ Home with the Boys said...

Ooh, I like Ann's ideas about hotel chains, photography and such! How fun would that be? Hoping you can make it - long drive and all! And I'll see you there!

Peggy Sue Brister said...

If you have a halfway decent car, 140k miles is not alot. You can save $1200 by taking your own car. That's ALOT! It seems you have your estimates on hotel rooms priced out at over $100 per night. If you stay in cheaper hotels like Econolodge or Super 8's you can stay for 50 or 60 a night(breakfast included) and save yourself another 3 to 500 dollars.
Good luck with the sponsors. I hope yawl get the money to go. DC is a wonderful family trip. I have been twice, and I lived in Texas both times I went.

Anonymous said...

I will be eagerly reading these comments. I am hoping to go, and we have also talked about turning it into a family vacation. I am in Dallas so any shortcuts you find will work for me! :-D

Sprittibee said...

Ann - I can't wait to hug your neck, sister! ;)

Erin - Can't wait to meet you.

Peggy Sue - Yes, I was estimating 100$ a night for the hotels because of taxes and surcharges... just in case we had to spend that much. I know that we went over our last budget for Blissdom (on my credit card), so I didn't want to aim low and then be in trouble later. You are right that the one place we can save is the rental car. I have asked what my husband thought about just taking our own vehicle (which is what I had to do for Blissdom and it nearly burned my engine up because Wal-Mart accidentally didn't put the rubber seal around my oil filter right and I was completely out when I got back from TN). I just worry that with 140K miles, and the car almost paid off, that if something DID happen in VA or PA - how in the world would I get home? Kev can't miss work, so I would have to get him to an airport, buy a plane ticket for him, and then stay somewhere we aren't familiar with - me and the kids - until we had the vehicle fixed by complete strangers. It would be so expensive if something did go wrong... more expensive than me renting a vehicle. :(

Amy - too bad we can't get a big school bus and travel together. We'll be driving through Dallas. ;)

Lesley Peck said...

Wow, Heather that's quite an expensive list. I'll be praying you are able to find a way.

Where have you researched the rental car? During the week it should cost less and you may be able to work with the company on mileage. Especially if you promise good reviews. Just depends on the company. I think at the last big conference someone actually had Chevrolet sponsor a car for their trip. Girl, if I were you I'd start calling every company known to man. I'm sure you could sweet talk them into giving you stuff. ;)

Hotel chains, as mentioned above, would be another great option for sponsorship. I believe I saw where someone sponsored someone earlier in the year for a vacation. Check out Kristie's blog @ http://savingdollarsandsense.com/

Also for dining out gather coupons! Since you know many people throughout the different states ask them to send you coupons for different restaurants. Then just organize them by state so you don't get them confused along the way.

Also I was looking at your route. Since you are coming this far. You should really let the kids enjoy the great state of WV. :) There are so many beautiful places to see in the southern part of the state (where I am from and still live). Oh boy, I'm starting to sound like a travel brochure. But really in October everything is usually bursting with fall colors and I'm not sure the exact dates of your conference and the annual celebration of Bridge Day. But who would want to miss that? Crazy people jumping off the New River Gorge Bridge! http://www.officialbridgeday.com/ People from all over the world come for this event. But even if you missed that there are some beautiful state parks to see.

Ok, well, that's all I have to say. For now! Hope it helps a little...

shale said...

I highly recommend checking out the train. For what you are paying in gas & rental car, SURELY you can get train tickets for all, and the beautiful thing is you can usually include stopovers at no extra charge. You can stop at Union Station in DC and take the metro around wherever you need to go. PLUS...no driving exhaustion. We've enjoyed train travel as a family. You can walk around on the train, with bathrooms, dressing rooms, etc. We haven't splurged on a sleeping car, but you could do that if you wanted with the baby. It's at least worth checking out the possibilities. It might even save you a packet. And the offer for using our house (and car) in the DC area stands...

Gwen T said...

Our crew went to DC a few years ago when we were in PA for a wedding - I was pregnant with our fourth and I'll never forget how, as we were during the tourist thing around DC, we felt like we had the only kids in the city. People stared at us - I remember one lady - very professionally dressed to the 9s - walking out of her brownstone in Georgetown - she stared at us - her eyes got really wide and she mouthed Oh, My God. Somehow I don't think she was praising our creator for the blessing of children... :)

Anyway, the BIG thing we'd do different for the DC visit is to stay in a motel on the outskirts and only take the subway in. I can't tell you what a pain it was to try to find parking around the city - the times we did take the subway it was so much easier and would have made our sightseeing much smoother.

The highlights which I would recommend for you are Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum and the Naval Yards - both were well worth the trip. For any museum you go to, call in advance, but you can probably use your HSLDA card to get a teacher discount for both you and hubby. We've found that's usually a substantial cut in cost.

Saving money on the trip? Can you visit friends on the way? - even 1 or 2 nights can save a lot of $$. We try to stop at grocery stores along the way and buy stuff for sandwiches and have picnics. It's much, much cheaper than eating out, plus you can eat in a park or rest stop (mapped out ahead of time) and the kids can run around and get energy out of their systems!

We always save our change and "cash it in" before trips and it always provides a few hundred bucks. That's like finding treasure! :)

Those are things that have worked on our trips with our crew - (now 7 munchkins)

Hopefully some of that helps!

Sheree G. said...

Well, I'm not the expert, and my kiddos are young. But last year we took our first road trip and had a blast. We did take our own vehicle (over 100K miles), and remember I am a single mom traveling alone with 2 children under the age of 9. We did eat out of the car, just get creative with the microwave in the hotel room and then eat out when you get to the conference. Also, KOA campgrounds have camping cabins that are heated and have A/C, and if you are going to eat out, then all you need is a place to sleep and shower, normally about $59 to $79 a night. Love me some KOA, brings back childhood memories. Also, I priceline hotel rooms and lowball them on the bidding/choose your own price thing. I've gotten 2 1/2 to 3 star hotels for $40-$50 a night. Not bad, huh?

Now, switching hats to my "take care of the creation that our Creator gave us"; staying with friends when they offer is a great way to conserve resources. And the blessing you will most likely recieve, as well as give, will be greater than you can imagine. When someone offers, they truly mean it and would love to have you!

I wish I were going, we would get a big bus and have a blast on the way to PA.

Love your blog, prayin'!!

Sheree G.

Sheila said...

Try to get the car through Priceline. I've had great success getting cars much cheaper this way, and I've used it several times. I have friends who have used Priceline for hotels and they rave about it. On a trip like this, I would check it out. You have to pay up front and you don't get to choose the rental company or hotel, but neither I nor my friends have ever been disappointed. The rental cars are all the national ones, and you can specify the type or hotel such as 2 star, 3 star, etc. If you rent a car, make sure you have coverage through your insurance agency if something happens to the car. You should already be insured for damage, but they may be able to charge you for loss of rental fees if the car isn't drivable. Obviously, there isn't much chance of this, but the insurance (which you should be able to add before the trip and drop immediately after) will only cost you a few dollars. 6 months for me is $14, to give you an idea. I have been renting cars fairly often lately, and like having this coverage. My insurance company has agreements with several rental companies so that they don't charge this fee anyway, but I don't always rent from those companies.

MarshaMarshaMarsha said...

For $1200 on a rental car, I would drive my own... get a tuneup at a trustworthy place that is not Wal-mart before you go. Even if you had an unlikely breakdown, it would surely cause much less than $1200 to fix.

Washington DC-- the best part is that the museums are all free. You pay for FOOD. And it is ALL overpriced McD's!!! $10 for a combo meal anyone? Even the kids meals are over $5. BRING SNACKS AND DRINKS. If you ride the train, you don't have to worry about parking... or you can park and then take the train. Everything but the Air & Space Museum is easily accessible by walking (or train).

Hotels- try Priceline ahead of time. I don't know if you are familiar with their bidding system, call me if you have questions. And definitely stay at a place that includes a hot breakfast-- you save so much money that way. :)

Ms. Anita said...

I do have phone numbers for psychiatrists! :)

Also, we usually look for hotel coupons at state welcome centers and/or local gas stations. They usually cover several states, and you can find some good deals that way.

Angela Foltz said...

Heather, I live in Hershey. We could offer you a room in our house. There is a double/single bunk and we have a pack n play. You'd need a sleeping bag for one of the tweens but it could work. I'm a Christian homeschooling mom, too. I know it seems weird to think about staying with people you don't know but look at it as God's possible provision for you all.

There is a relatively new museum in DC called the American History museum I have been wanting to check out. You'll have to look at that. Also, in Hershey, Chocolate World is free. It takes you on a little ride where you learn how they make chocolate. There is a pay museum called the Hershey Story that I've heard great things about, too.

My email is jafoltz1@comcast.net

Your blog is a great encouragement to me and if there is anything I can do to help while you're here, let me know.

Hannah Braboy said...

I really like Ann's ideas! Relevant would be a wonderful conference to attend.

Mirinda said...

Awww, I'll be praying you are able to go! We are in Mobile and home school, too. For a second we considered it being a family trip until we did the math as well! So for now I'm trying to raise enough cash for just me to attend. My best friend and her family are being transferred to DC this summer, so I know there will be visits in the near future...otherwise it'd be tempting to haul the kids and hubby :)

Good luck!

SomeGirl said...

I don't have any tips, but I love the idea of a hotel sponsor! And I look forward to meeting another Texan at Relevant! I'm in the DFW area. :) Hope to see you in October! ♥ Michelle

Rachel R. said...

I live in Winchester, VA - you'd reach us about an hour before you'd hit Leesburg. My folks live here, too, and have a basement apartment, or half-apartment, or some such. If you were interested, we might be able to make arrangements to put you up for a night, if that would be the appropriate point in the trip for you. (But then *I* will be off to Hershey. :) )

I am totally serious. We would be willing, but you'd be crashing on the couch, 'cause we don't have nice space. My parents have more room, and have absolutely been known to put up folks they've never met before.

Sprittibee said...

Lesley - I did get a car from Chevy! Yay! FREE. So that part is covered now. I'll look in to the hotel chains and restaurants... I have some ideas. Planning on getting some DC brochures soon.

Shale - Train sounds lovely, but I'm not sure I can do it this trip. :( Email me some time about the DC part of the trip!

Gwen - Thanks for the tip on the HSLDA discounts and the sightseeing in DC. I recently cashed my change in - we had 30$ and spent it on eating out for dinner. Oops.

Sheree - Thanks for the prayers!

Marsha - the museums are FREE? How cool is that?! I'm good at bringing snacks. The train sounds fun. I'll definitely call you before we book hotels. ;)

Miss Anita - Good idea to check the gas station magazines for coupons.

Angela - We are still planning to do the flatties with you if we could ever get around to it!

Hannah - Would be cool if you could go!

Mirinda - :)

SomeGirl - Looking forward to meeting you.

Rachel R. - That sounds wonderful, but I would hate to put your parents up. My husband LOVES Leesburg. His dad lived there in the 80's. ;)



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