Two years ago, my husband surprised me with a trip. Due to the necessity to take time off of work and the kids’ schedules, he had no choice but to spoil the surprise after the flights and hotel were booked. With two kids in daycare, we didn’t have extra money, so he opted to go low budget.
Excited about the surprise vacation, I kept asking him the location of our trip. Were we going to the Caribbean? Florida? California? A beach hopefully. I love the beach.
When he said South Dakota, my mouth dropped. What in the world would we do in South Dakota? Surely Mount Rushmore wouldn’t take more than a couple hours. Couldn’t he have thought of a better location?
As soon as I started stressing the location of the trip,I stopped. I thanked him for arranging the trip and was determined to make the most of it.
I assumed he chose South Dakota because of our love for hiking. Knowing what activities we’d do there made packing so much easier. I didn’t need many things. I packed my usual hiking clothes and some jeans and sweaters for the evenings.
There was no stress packing for this trip.
The simplicity of packing was a nice change. Usually, I create a long list of everything I need, different shoes for different occasions and different day and evening outfits. In addition to this, I create a list for my dog sitter and one for my mother. The planning and checklists make travelling stressful. For weeks, I would lay out clothes only to spend my vacation trying to sort out what to wear. For weeks, I’d write down things I needed to buy or do before the trip.
After we arrived in Rapid City, we picked up our modest rental car and drove to our budget hotel, the Quality Inn. We woke up early every morning, had breakfast at a nearby Perkins and spent the rest of the day exploring.
We saw Mount Rushmore. It was just as I thought – a very short walk. It was nice to see but certainly not enough to make a trip worthwhile. It was nice to do some tourist things however.
Memories are made from experiencing things together.
The next day, we hiked Black Elk Peak in the Black Hills National Forest. The top of Black Elk peak had 60 mph winds and was one of the most difficult hikes I have ever done. I’ll never forget slouching down at the top of the hike because of the strong winds. I’ll never forget the fear as I reached over for my husband’s hand so we could walk across the little bridge at the end to get to the summit. I’ll never forget the view from the summit.
Post hike, we had a celebratory beer at Miner Brewery. There is something wonderful about sitting near a fireplace after a long cold hike. I always enjoy drinking a beer with my husband but there was something special about this one. It felt earned. The brewery was cozy and the beer was good.
Spontaneity makes trips exciting.
The following day, we planned to go to Badlands National Park. On our way there, we stopped at Wall Drug due to the many signs for it all across the highway. The stop wasn’t planned but it was worth it. Unknown to us, Wall Drug is a well-known tourist attraction. We decided to go because of the hundreds of signs on the highway advertising free ice water!
The Badlands didn’t disappoint. The layered rock and canyons were stunning. We hiked, enjoyed the view, took picture after picture and tried spotting prairie dogs. It was one perfect day.
When asked about my favorite trip, South Dakota is top of the list. It was much more than I expected. We enjoyed the little things on that trip. We enjoyed beautiful views. We enjoyed beef jerky we purchased at a gas station. We enjoyed the challenging hikes and the post hike beers. We enjoyed the time together, talking, laughing, challenging ourselves and eating good food.
As we think about our first post pandemic trip, we’re opting to go low budget again. While we can afford more now since we’ve been home saving money, we’ve realized we don’t need to spent a lot to have fun.
You don’t need lavish vacations to be happy.
Lavish vacations end up being stressful. With the amount you spend on flights, hotels and activities, you end up coming home with a dwindling bank account. Most times you return and limit outings and activities due to how much you spent on vacation.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy people who take luxury vacations. I thought I was missing out on all inclusive hotels with childcare. But after the South Dakota trip, I have a new mindset. Sitting around a pool drinking a Mai Tai isn’t a memory I want to make. I want more. I want challenging experiences. I want to see beautiful things. I want to engage in these activities with my family, so we grow together.
There is something to be said about spending all day and night with someone and still wanting to spend more time with them. South Dakota united us. We grew closer due to the time spent together and challenging activities we overcame.
Simplicity is freeing.
From low stress packing to a low budget hotel, I was able to spend time focused on experiencing things instead of buying them. This focus was freeing. I wasn’t concerned with what I was wearing and what expensive restaurant we had booked for dinner, I was focused on nature, beauty and making as many memories as possible.
The best things in life are the places you go, the people you love and the memories you make. - Unknown
Adding a low budget trip to your annual vacations (once we can all travel again) will give you another opportunity to make memories without breaking the bank. Who knows — the next trip could be your South Dakota.