Penny’s Travel Journal: Harry Potter World on the Cheap

Dear Rich,

You used to love going to water parks. What happened?

I would LOVE to go on a water park vacation! I was seriously going to plan a road trip where we would hit a bunch of great water parks in the United States. It was going to be called The Great Water Park Tour of North America (even though all of the water parks were in the U.S., I thought “of North America” made it sound better).

But, alas, it never came to be. We are not able to vacation like we used to. When my husband was an elementary teacher, we would go on all sorts of vacations in the summer. Now that he owns his own chiropractic practice, and he’s the only doctor there, he is not able to take that much time off from work.


This past year we made it a priority to go to Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in California. I had finished reading all the books to our third child, the seven year old (the others had read them with my husband already), and we were all simply crazy about Harry Potter. The trip was the culmination of our love affair with that wonderful wizard.

Mr. Penny took a long weekend. We had to fly out there, of course (previous vacations had us always driving, since it was less expensive), since we didn’t have time to drive, but we got cheap plane tickets (only $111 each) and off we went!

It was amazing! We had so much fun. And here are 3 reasons we could do it on the cheap:

1) The only recreation we really spent money on was for Universal Studios. The rest of the time we went on hikes, swam in the ocean, and did the Hollywood Walk of Fame — all free and fun activities.

2) We stayed with friends, so we saved money on lodging there, thank goodness. Lodging costs in California are really high.

3) We ate at a handful of restaurants, but most of the time we got something at Trader Joe’s and brought it with us. One time we ate outside the Trader Joe’s store on a bench, which was kind of lame, but whatever.

So, the total cost of that California vacation was only $1,678, which I think is pretty good. The majority of that went toward the plane tickets and Universal Studios.​

I like being able to do stuff and be active on vacations.

It seems like your idea of vacationing might be a little boring for me. (Seriously, no water parks?) You look at castles and drink Scotch in nice restaurants? Snooze.

We’ve always gone on kind of dumb, obscure, active vacations. One time we went to Roswell, New Mexico for the 60th Anniversary UFO Festival. We went to the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, which is so insane it’s beyond description. We’ve seen the World’s Largest Ball of Twine for no reason other than to see the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Mr. Penny and I have went whitewater rafting in Colorado and on canopy zip line tours on the North Shore of Minnesota.

Back in the day when we would take road trips, we would camp instead of staying in hotels. We’d drive all day, and set up our tent by the light of our car headlights at night. There’s a website where you can find free campsite listings for wherever you’re going. It’s extremely helpful.

If we had more money, we would have stayed in hotels, because camping like that is not the easiest way to travel… But there is something about the experience, about doing it all together and getting through it together, that ends up making it pretty wonderful in the end. I don’t think that is something rich people can fully appreciate.

I get why you love vacationing the way you do, and that it is obviously a value to you and who you are in the world. I get that. But there is also something to be said for the simpler way of vacationing that our financial situation forces us to embrace.

I’m not sure how much I’m interested in vacationing anymore anyway. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of what there is to see in the world already (I’ve been to 33 states and 10 different countries). Right now, I’m feeling content sticking around home. Other than wanting to get to Harry Potter World to celebrate our love for one of the greatest literary characters ever created, I don’t really have the travel bug anymore. I used to have it, I used to feel that pull… but now I don’t. Just feeling like I’ve been there, done that, I guess.

Which is good, because that means we have more money to put toward student loans, right?

Plus, traveling with kids is fun, but it’s also kind of hard. I know you do it more luxuriously than I do, but you still have to fly on a plane with your kids, you still have to adjust to different time zones, you still have to find something to do with them at 6:00 in the morning when the rest of the world is asleep. That’s hard.

I don’t think 2017 will see many vacations for our family. Maybe something closer to home, something where we can still have an adventure (because I still love an adventure), but without all the other stuff. Maybe we’ll just go to a water park or something.




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