In my previous job, from 2014-2018, I was in a position that did not provide paid holidays, vacation or sick time, and no pension benefits (and this was State Government)! So when I took this new job, I vowed to myself that I would make good use of my 10 vacation days each year, 11 paid holidays, and 3 personal training/floating days. Within a few months of starting, I took my 3 personal training days for FY18 to attend FinCon in Orlando, since I am about 3 hours from there and could just drive there after work on Tuesday. After the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, I took 2 more personal training days to attend CampFI Southeast in Gainesville, FL, especially since those floating days are use-em-or-lose-em days. I can carry over my vacation days until I have several weeks saved up.
As I wrote about last Fall, I flew to New York City for Veteran’s Day weekend to use up some hotel and airline points and to enjoy some of the cool northern weather. But this past weekend, in the middle of February, was President’s Day weekend. I live in a very touristy area where flights can be prohibitively expensive from Thanksgiving to Easter (late November to April this year), so I started thinking about taking a road trip around the Southeastern US.
Day 1 – Get out of Florida
Being careful not to get too far north and incurring the wrath of this year’s terrible winter weather, I set out after work on Friday to cross north into Georgia. After pulling off the highway around Valdosta, Georgia, I had great difficulty in securing a hotel room for the night. Mind you, at this point I had already worked a 9-hour day, then drove nearly 6 hours (mostly after sunset), and I just wanted to close my eyes and relax. But alas, this was not my luck on Friday evening, since there was a big high school baseball tournament going on, and there were no rooms available in Southern Georgia.
I searched through my various hotel apps, and found a room available along my route, but 2 hours to the north in Warner Robins, Georgia. I booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn using 30,000 Hilton Honors points, and put my eyes back on the road for another 100+ miles. In my head,I told myself that it would just mean 100 less miles to drive the next day.
Day 2 – Exploring day
After a somewhat restless sleep in Warner Robins, it was time to hit the road and head towards Atlanta. I have some new friends from CampFI that live in the Atlanta area, but since I didn’t really commit to taking this particular trip (or route) until I left the office parking lot on Friday afternoon, I hadn’t let anyone know ahead of time that I was passing through.
But as I reached Atlanta, I thought I should go check out Stone Mountain, to the east of the city for a mountaintop view of Atlanta. But as I pulled up to the park entrance, there was a traffic jam of Saturday morning climbers stacked up trying to get through the gates. So I pulled a U-turn and hit the road towards Helen, Georgia.
Helen is a little Bavarian village up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Every storefront has German-styled lettering, gingerbread accents, and bright colors. There are traditional German foods, biergartens, candies and toys. There is live music, observation/party decks along the river, and several souvenir shops.
I was fortunate that the weather on this Saturday afternoon in February was absolutely perfect: 66º and sunny! I explored a bit on foot, took some pictures, and ate a scoop of delicious ice cream! Then it was time to get back on the road.
Since Helen is in Northeast Georgia, I was pretty near the border with South Carolina. Not far across the border is Clemson, South Carolina, home to the National Champion Clemson Tigers football team, and a certain former Clemson Linebacker that we all know as Coach Chad Carson in the PF/FIRE community. I didn’t find Chad, which would have been difficult, since Clemson is like a Where’s Waldo in orange and purple instead of red and white!
I spent an hour walking around the cute little downtown area, and snapped several now hiring signs using the JobSpotter app. That paid me a few bucks for taking some time to get my steps in that afternoon.
But shortly after leaving Clemson, I decided that I didn’t want the same predicament that I’d found myself in the previous day, so I booked a hotel room using Chase Ultimate Rewards points that I transferred to my World of Hyatt account for a Category 1 Hyatt Place hotel in Sumter, SC. The app made it seem like Sumter wasn’t too far outside of Columbia, in the middle of the state, but it probably took me a good 45-50 minutes to get to Sumter, via dark winding roads.
I checked in and grabbed some supper next door at a little tavern. The room itself was nice, and this would turn out to be my best night’s sleep of the trip, sleeping over 9 hours in the comfy king-sized bed.
Day 3 – Charleston, SC
After a swing and a miss of a free breakfast, I hit the road and quickly booked my Sunday night hotel room in downtown Charleston, SC. I knew I wanted to head into the city and park my car so I could walk around and explore some more, but my GPS was showing me a considerable traffic delay on I-26, so I took off across some back roads and found my way to Kiawah Island.
As I was completing a quick loop through Kiawah, I coordinated with the blogger SC, otherwise known as MissFunctionalMoney on Twitter and Instagram. I knew she lived in the Charleston area, and she was interested in meeting up with me, just as I was interested in meeting up with her! SC is Twitter besties with my good friend Champagne & Capital Gains. Admittedly, a big part of my motivation was just to make Champ jealous!
I checked in to my Hyatt House hotel (booked using my annual free night certificate for holding the $75/year Hyatt credit card). After stowing my car in a city-owned parking garage next door, we arranged to meet up at a nearby coffee place called Kudu. SC’s husband dropped her off just a couple minutes after I had walked there, and we grabbed our respective drinks and grabbed a table in the cute little courtyard.
As it turns out, I am the first person from the Personal Finance community she’d met, and that made me so giddy to be her gateway person! I told her about all of the amazing people I’d met at FinCon in Orlando, and we talked about our favorite bloggers like Luxe Strategist, Champ, Penny, Chelsea, and many, many more. SC is coming to FinCon in Washington, DC this year, so a lot more of you will get to meet this amazing gal!
As we left Kudu, SC led me on a bit of a tour of Charleston, and we departed at Colonial Lake. When she was leaving, she introduced me to her husband, who reminded me of Mr. Jamie Griffin, one of my favorite good guys of the PF community!
I was starting to feel some exhaustion from the past couple days of driving, so I went back to the hotel room and chilled out for a while and watched the wild final hour of the Daytona 500 (before falling asleep for the final 2 laps). After a quick nap, I ran upstairs to the rooftop bar called Pour, which has 70 self-pour taps of craft beers, wines, and even root beer. You get issued a card with a QR code, and you scan it before pouring, then you only pay by the ounce that you pour. No more paying for a full beer and then hating it and wasting several bucks. You pay a little more for the novelty and the ability to try so many different beverages, but it was very cool, and there were a bunch of board games available to play if it had been more than just me.
Day 4 – Heading home
On Monday morning, it was time to head home to Southwest Florida. That’s about 570 miles away, but I didn’t want to just spend a whole day driving. So I headed south and veered off towards Savannah. I didn’t actually stop, but it was cool to see those old historic squares again, having visited there before in 2004.
Next stop was Jekyll Island, a beach community in southern Georgia. There, I stopped and walked to the beach, then grabbed some ice cream at the Westin Hotel and then set out for the Florida line.
Once I crossed into Jacksonville, I stopped at a BBQ restaurant across the street from a hotel I’d stayed in before, so I had to grab a sandwich that I’d loved a couple years ago. But after that stop, I went full-bore to get home. I wanted to be able to relax and unpack before heading back to work on Tuesday morning.
In total, I spent a total of $261.83 on my 3.5 day weekend road trip. $94.44 of that was spent on gas for my car (a hybrid, so it gets great gas mileage) for my 1,678 mile trip. I spent $0 on my hotels. The rest went to meals, a couple small tolls in South Carolina, and parking fees in Helen, Charleston, and Jekyll Island.
Overall, I would say that’s a pretty frugal trip, and I got to see some cool sights and make an awesome new friend! Plus I was pleasantly surprised to see in my Hyatt account that I earned another free night stay for exploring 5 Hyatt brands in my past stays. Guess it’s time to start planning my next vacation 😉