About a year ago, I found myself traveling from New Hampshire to Minneapolis, with a kind of forced stop in Chicago.
It was all part of a half-baked and probably ill-advised plan to travel as cheaply as possible, so I’d hitched a carpool to Boston, then taken the train down to Washington, D.C., caught a flight to Chicago and then made my way across downtown in the middle of the night to catch an interstate bus to Minneapolis.
Once in my final destination, I still had two more city buses and a few miles of walking to my friends’ house. I showed up sleep-deprived, freezing and ravenous — somehow I had budgeted far too little for food on this 60-hour odyssey.
I remember a particularly mournful moment in the aisles of a gas station, calculating how many calories I could buy with my measly 75 cents.
How much money did this ordeal save me? Less than $100. It seemed like a good idea beforehand, comfortable on my couch, but in real life, there really is a lot to be said for convenience.
So why do I tell you this? Maybe partially in a lame attempt at sympathy-mongering, but also as a word of warning.
Luckily I’m not going any farther than Copper Mountain for Thanksgiving, so I’m not in any danger of getting sucked into a similar mire this year — but I know that this Friday, campus will empty out faster than a busted party on the Hill.
Here’s a couple words of wisdom, earned slowly and painfully (and multiple times) from experience:
1. If you’re flying, take the RTD skyRide. I know they advertise it so much it’s probably old by now — but seriously. With the bus pass that comes with CU tuition, you ride free — otherwise it would be $9 each way, and more like $30 if you take a shuttle. You might as well put all the money you give to CU to work, and enjoy a nice hour-long nap on the way.
2. After my awful bus adventure, I’ve actually become rather partial to flying. Interstate buses end up being near the same price as a plane ticket, as long as you’re not buying last-minute flights on Orbitz. And for me, any margin in price is overtaken by the long time it takes to get anywhere.
As an environmentalist, this is a little sticky, because buses are so much more fuel-efficient — but after my sufferfest, I have to admit I might prefer convenience.
3. My favorite airline by far is Southwest. Its prices always seem to be cheaper, probably because they don’t bother with seat-assignment computer programs and other complications.
Of course, that means that everyone just stands in a line to board — but how often do get assigned the window seat? Never, right? Southwest doesn’t charge you for bags either, and best of all, they still serve snacks on every flight! Budget a dollar or two less for food along the way there. Barter for or steal other peoples’ snacks and start a mini-hoard.
Window seat for your peanuts, sir?
4. Carpooling is awesome, too, but only if you have the right companions. On a number of trips, I’ve calculated comparative costs of flying versus driving, and the general consensus is that driving alone is about the same price as flying, in terms of real dollars and environmental costs.
Driving with a buddy or two is far cheaper and always makes my conscience feel better. Just make sure they’re your good-smelling, quiet and fast-driving friends.
In any case, good luck traveling. I’ll be here gloating over the lack of traffic and crowds.
Vivian Underhill’s Boulder Frugalista runs every Tuesday in the Colorado Daily.