I went into this summer knowing that even with our deep-seated commitment to our financial goals, we were eventually going to want to get out of town. See some new sights. Traverse some new trails. Try some new beer. Spend some money.
Sure enough, we started getting antsy for a break in mid-June. Obliterating our credit card debt gave us the perfect excuse to celebrate with a mini-vacation. We decided that for just one month, we'd pay the bare minimums on our student loans and use our remaining disposable July income for a much-anticipated getaway, one that would give us a breather from our debt repayment and the daily grind.
The destination: the mountains of Colorado
We hemmed and hawed for weeks about our destination. Our requirements: it had to be beautiful and within a day's drive (flying was out of the question due to time and financial constraints), and it couldn't be too hot. We considered New Mexico and coastal California before settling on southwestern Colorado and the breathtaking, cloud-skimming peaks of the San Juan Mountains. Fortysomething and I spent time there while I was in college, and we've been wanting to go back for years. Our only concern was that the area was being ravaged by the 416 wildfire, which ultimately burned more than 54,000 acres. With rain in the forecast, we took a chance and decided to go anyway (our gamble paid off: by the time we got there, the fires were largely out thanks to the tireless efforts of fire crews).
|The San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado|
Five days of R&R
Day 1: After an uneventful six-hour road trip, we arrived in the laid-back creekside town of Durango and treated ourselves to a sushi dinner followed by homemade mulberry crumble ice cream (the sushi was okay; the ice cream was scrumptious: creamy vanilla ice cream streaked through with crunchy crumble topping and fat, fresh, tart berries). We moseyed along Main Street and peeked into shops before heading to the store to stock up on groceries and get gas.
|Durango Main Street. It was decked out with HERO signs for the firefighters.|
Then we ventured up the highway to our rental, a vacation condo that we booked for three nights through VRBO. Tucked away into the mountainside, it offered a secluded retreat that was still central to everything we wanted to see and do. It featured two bedrooms, access to a swimming pool, amazing views, and a fully-equipped kitchen, allowing us to prepare some of our own meals instead of depending entirely on restaurant food.
|Views near our rental|
Day 2: We explored the old mining town of Silverton, where we had lunch at a sandwich shop (three sandwiches plus soda = $38...) and admired the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon rock (shown below in all its glory). Free things to do in Silverton are kind of limited, so we hopped back into the car, toodled around, and eventually found ourselves at Andrew's Lake, a gorgeous spot with hiking trails and fishing access. It would have been easy to spend an entire day there, but the troops got tired and cranky so we returned to the condo for a swim.
|Silverton, CO: elevation 9,318 feet|
|Long-distance runners will understand the significance of this painted rock,|
which graces Silverton's main street
|Andrew's Lake was one of our favorite stops of the entire trip|
Day 3: The Kiddo planned our schedule that morning and chose a diesel-powered train ride. In all honestly, this was really not my thing: the train was crowded with people who seemed to lack a basic understanding of personal space, and the whole setup was pretty kitschy. Plus, it was insanely expensive... like, Disney-level expensive (I said yes to the idea before fully evaluating the cost). But we did see some gorgeous whitewater rapids, and the Kiddo enjoyed himself immensely... so I'll call it a win. Afterwards, we drove back to Durango, visited the fish hatchery (it's free!), strolled along the bike path, had homemade tacos full of fresh local ingredients at Zia Taqueria, and enjoyed a few pints at Ska Brewing. (Did I mention that we absolutely love, love, love Durango?)
|I'm comfortable dangling this close to the edge of a bridge.|
I am not comfortable being this close to so many people.
|View from the bike path in Durango|
|The SuperTaco at Zia Taqueria in Durango was perfection|
Day 4: We checked out of the condo and drove north to Ouray, known as the "Switzerland of America" because it's surrounded on three sides by impressively steep mountains. Before we were married, Fortysomething and I spent several days here holed up in a hotel room during a snowstorm. It was very romantic. You can imagine, then, that my memories were of the rose-colored-glasses variety. What we found as we re-acquainted ourselves with our old haunt was a town that, while still charming, seems somewhat tired and worn despite its eyebrow-raising price tags. The vibe was just... off somehow. Whereas Durango felt cheerful and energetic, Ouray felt like it was in need of a nice long nap.
|The Kiddo proudly took this shot of Ouray|
We ditched the crowds of Ouray and went to the next town over for a picnic lunch in a tree-shaded park. Later, we enjoyed a taco dinner at the delectable Taco del Gnar. Important side note: I would happily eat tacos every day at every meal for the rest of my life.
We stayed at a Comfort Inn that night and... I kind of wish we hadn't. It was fine, but at $155 a night, it was just too expensive. On the plus side, it did come with a full breakfast.
Day 5: I got up early to run at the track in downtown Ouray, and then we packed up the car to leave. A highlight of the trip home was a foray through Monument Valley, which is particularly spectacular when the monsoon clouds start rolling in.
Breaking down the budget (and what we'll do differently next time)
Last summer, one of my big financial wins was taking a cross-country trip on the cheap. This trip was... not as budget-friendly. In the interest of full disclosure, here's a complete tally of our trip expenses:
Food (including groceries and restaurants): $396.69
Activities and souvenirs: $188.71
Cat boarding: $102
We exceeded our trip budget by more than $300, but instead of beating myself up about it (why ruin a perfectly enjoyable vacay by lamenting the budget in retrospect?), I'm just going to consider what we'll do differently next time:
- The condo rental was comfortable and cozy, and I'm glad we stayed there. In the future, though, we'll pay more attention to fees that get tacked onto the initial cost. For example, the condo was listed at a reasonable $129/night, but the total price was jacked up thanks to an automatic $100 cleaning fee and a $57 service fee.
- When (not if!) we go back to the glorious San Juans, we'll probably bring our camping gear and camp for a couple of nights to save money. I can handle that. Plus, now we know where the good local camping spots are.
- We'll try to avoid expensive one-night hotel stays during the tourist season.
- While I certainly want the Kiddo to help plan our activities and excursions, I'll research costs in more detail before saying yes to what he wants to do.
In short, I couldn't have asked for a better vacation. Sure, I wish it had been longer, but we packed a surprising amount of activity and relaxation and fun into just a few days. I have a feeling that this trip is going to be a meaningful one for my family, one all three of us will remember fondly and talk about for years.
In that sense, it was worth every single penny.