Monday, July 18, 2011

Along The (Mainly) Frugal Open Road

One of the many advantages of retirement is the chance to take off and hit the road as the mood strikes. Obviously, if we are working part time, or our spouse is still working this becomes more difficult.  Anyway you look at it though, the ability to travel increases as we head for retirement.

Being on a fixed income, I make every attempt to be as frugal as I can in my travels as possible.  However, I am not above budgeting for a one of a kind experience, even if it means conserving elsewhere.  My current trip is a perfect example of this.  Three or four times a year I visit my family in Denver (I look to relocate there in the next year or so, it seems).  During the warm weather especially, I try and make one leg of the trip an adventure, choosing different routes there and back.  On this trip, I drove what was basically a straight route into Colorado.

Clayton, New Mexico is a small town on US87, which is the most direct route from Texas and places south to most of the mountain areas and Denver. This is one of those cases where the freeway alternative is neither faster nor more efficient, even for traditional freeway drivers.  On a tourist highway that is not a truck route, Clayton has somewhere around three thousand or so people.  It serves mainly as a stopover on the thirteen to twenty hour (depending on location) drive, although camping, fishing and other recreation exists nearby.

Smack dab in the middle of Clayton is the local Best Western, one of three small motels.  This little Best Western on my route is one of those examples of good frugal value.  As we all know, with most motels being individually owned and run, quality can be haphazard. I can say unequivocally that the worst night of my entire life was in a Best Western, location to remain unnamed.  The Kokopelli Lodge was, however, a pleasant surprise the first time I arrived. At a rate of less than a hundred dollars a night with my discounts, the motel has nice clean firm beds that don't sink a foot when you sit down. Even better, each bed has multiple pillows per person, rather than the normal stingy one or two. I don't even have to get mine out of the car. The pool is excellent, as is the varied breakfast. This is a perfect example of a good frugal value.

My dinner, however, was also a perfect example-of when it may be worthwhile to go off the proverbial frugal reservation and enjoy a unique experience.  Normally when I travel, I do so with a large picnic cooler. You know, the kind that has plates, napkins and glasses. The inside is  a cooler.  This time however, I went out to eat. The Eklund hotel in Clayton was built in the late 1800s.  Recently refurbished, its a perfect example of  the Old West, when this town was on an offshoot of the Santa Fe Trail.  While I was unable to take advantage of the inn, the dining room and saloon are unique (and my pictures of it and the lobby don't do it justice). The meal, which was reasonably priced for a variety of excellent food was well worth the cost, both in terms of taste and ambiance/experience.

This trip, and others I take, will be filled with seemingly opposite choices like this. During my return via Santa Fe, my hotel will be minimal and most of the sightseeing will be of the outside, walking variety. In contrast, I plan to eat one really good meal and see the Georgia O'Keeffe museum, no matter the cost.

Overall, my road trips are of a frugal nature. Although I wont be caught camping, I look for low cost comfort that meets my minimum level.  I eat from the grocery store and local markets rather than restaurants as a rule, and enjoy the general ambiance of walking and exploring at no cost. Life is meant to be enjoyed, however. For me this may mean spending on a really good piece of art in Santa Fe for my long empty dining room wall, eating at one really good restaurant at each location, or splurging in some other way.

I'm off to explore Denver and learn about its neighborhoods and living areas. More soon about my travels, as well as my current and updated "social security" budget.


  1. Enjoy the O'Keeffe museum for me. It is on my bucket list!
    Happy travels

  2. I am in your camp, regarding lodging. Even in a place as expensive as Maui I found a condo for under $100 a night for our trip this fall. It took a lot of research but I think we'll be pleased. After all, when on Maui we are rarely in the room anyway.

    I had a client in Denver for many years and always liked the different neighborhoods. Except for the cold and snow of winter I bet you'll find a lot to like.

  3. Bob, this is a case of sacrificing climate to be near family. Im sure I will love denver, but im also sure ill need to rent a trailer or something to visit between January and April, lol. Life is a compromise


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