In my previous job with State government (circa 2014-2018), I was in a position without benefits. That meant no paid holidays, vacation or sick time, and no pension contributions. So when I took this new job, I vowed to myself that I would make good use of my vacation days each year. These included 11 paid holidays, and 3 personal floating days. Within a few months of starting, I took my 3 personal days for FY18 to attend FinCon in Orlando. I live about a 3 hour drive from there and made the drive after work on Tuesday. After New Year’s, I took 2 more personal training days to attend CampFI Southeast in Gainesville, FL. The floating holidays must be used within the fiscal year or they will disappear.
As I wrote about last Fall, I flew to New York City for Veteran’s Day weekend to use some hotel and airline points and to enjoy some cool northern weather. But by the middle of February, during President’s Day weekend, I wanted to take another trip. I live in a very touristy area of Florida where flights can be prohibitively expensive from Thanksgiving to Easter. That meant a road trip was my best choice. I would drive 3.5 days around the Southeastern US.
Day 1 – Get out of Florida
Being careful not to get too far north and incur 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 found it difficult to find an available hotel room for the night. At this point, I had already worked a 9-hour day and drove nearly 6 hours. I just wanted to close my eyes and relax. But luck was not on my side, since there was a big baseball tournament going on, and there 0 rooms available in Southern Georgia.
After searching through my various hotel apps, I found a room available in Warner Robins, Georgia, a full 2 hours north. 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. I convinced myself that it would just mean 100 less miles to drive the next day.
Day 2 – Exploring day
After some 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 hadn’t committed to taking this particular trip until I left the office parking lot on Friday afternoon. For that reason, I hadn’t let anyone know ahead of time that I was passing through.
As I reached Atlanta, I thought I should go check out Stone Mountain, a few miles east of the city with a mountaintop view of Atlanta. But as I pulled up to the park entrance, there was a traffic jam of weekend climbers stacked up 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. And lots of homemade ice cream!
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.
Crossing into South Carolina
Since Helen is in Northeast Georgia, I was pretty close to the border with South Carolina. Not far across that border is Clemson, South Carolina, home to the National Champion Clemson Tigers football team. It’s also home to a certain former Clemson Linebacker that we all know as Coach Chad Carson in the PF/FIRE community. I couldn’t find Chad, a difficult challenge to complete, 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 issue I’d had finding a last-minute hotel. I wound up booking 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 winding roads after dark.
I checked in and grabbed some supper at a little tavern next door. The hotel 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
I hit the road early and quickly booked my Sunday night hotel room in downtown Charleston, SC. The plan was to get to the city and park my car so I could walk around and explore. But traffic heading into Charleston on I-26 changed my mind. I decided to venture south to Kiawah Island across some back roads and come back to the city in the afternoon.
As I was completing a quick loop through Kiawah, I coordinated with the blogger SC, the blogger behind MissFunctionalMoney. I knew she lived in the Charleston area, and we had discussed possibly meeting up if/when I passed through. 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). I was able to park my car in a city-owned parking garage next door. Then 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. We ordered our respective drinks and grabbed a table in the cute little courtyard pictured above.
As it turns out, I am the first person from the Personal Finance community she’d met. It 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. We talked about our favorite bloggers like Luxe Strategist, Champ, Penny, Chelsea, and 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. He 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. I tried to watch the wild final hour of the Daytona 500, but I fell asleep right before the final 2 lap shootout. After a quick nap, I ran upstairs to the rooftop bar called Pour. It has 70 self-pour taps of craft beers, wines, and even root beer. You get issued a card with a QR code, scan the card before pouring, and only pay per ounce that you pour. No more paying for a full beer and then hating it and wasting several bucks. You’ll pay a little more for the novelty and the ability to try so many different beverages. It was very cool, though, and there were a bunch of board games available to play if you come with a group.
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 on a college trip in 2004.
Next stop was Jekyll Island, a beach community in southern Georgia. 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 called the Bearded Pig. It is across the street from a hotel I’d stayed in back in 2017, so I had to go grab a sandwich there. But after that stop, I went full-bore to get home. I wanted to be able to relax and unpack before heading in 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 for my 1,678 mile trip. I spent exactly $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 another free night in my Hyatt account for exploring 5 Hyatt brands in the past. Guess it’s time to start planning my next vacation 😉