Yellowstone National Park on the cheap
My family and I just got back from our summer vacation to Yellowstone National Park and we had an incredible time! Yellowstone is so beautiful I would describe it as a 3,500 square mile postcard and I would recommend that anybody take a trip there if you haven’t been before. While we were there we saw animals, geysers, mountains, and waterfalls. We hiked, camped, and picnicked. It will come to no surprise to you that we also participated in my favorite activity… saving money.
Although I haven’t mentioned it before many of the articles I have written the last several months have been about the decisions I have made in planning this trip. But now I have put them all together in an easy to follow guide on how to save money at Yellowstone National Park.
Fly or Drive
To figure out if is cheaper to fly or drive after considering all the expenses, I created this Fly vs Drive calculator. For me, the calculator told me to drive, but I probably would have driven anyway. We saw a lot of great stuff on the way there and back that I would have missed by flying. We were able to see Mount Rushmore, the Rocky Mountains, Devil’s Tower, the Black Hills, and best of all my sister and her family. Spending the night at my sister’s house also saved us from having to pay for a night at a hotel. The lesson here is to take advantage of whatever resources you have available to you.
Drive my own car or rent one
The next decision to make was what car to drive. My Prius would have been the cheapest way to get there, but there just isn’t enough room for a family of four with that much luggage. My wife’s SUV would do the job, but I wondered if putting all that mileage on her car would actually cost more than renting a mini van for the week. That is when I developed my car rental road trip calculator to figure out if I would save money by renting a car. After running the numbers, I figured out that it I would save money by renting a car.
Then a funny thing happened. I was discussing this decision with my dad and he offered to let me borrow his old mini van. That old van has so many miles on it that putting more miles on it doesn’t really hurt the value of it anymore and if you ran the numbers through my cost per mile calculator you would see that driving this van is a cheap way to get anywhere. So I got lucky on that decision and my transportation costs dropped dramatically.
One more thing about driving. Long car rides with kids means lots of electronics to keep them entertained so they don’t fight with each other the whole time. CD players, hand held video games, and portable DVD players need batteries to run, and I saved money by using rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones.
Where to stay
The next major expense to figure out is lodging. Staying at my sisters solved the problem of hotels on the way, but I needed a place to stay while at Yellowstone. Camping is the cheap way to go, but I was never going to convince my wife of that. So I looked at cabins in Yellowstone National Park and found them to be quite expensive. A couple of friends of mine suggested looking at a KOA campground right outside of the gates to the park in West Yellowstone, Montana and that turned out to be a great idea.
I wanted to get the best deal possible of course, so I followed the steps in my guide to online shopping to find the best possible price. I discovered that buying a KOA membership for $25 gave me a 10% discount. Because I was spending more than $250 at KOA, it was easy to figure out this would save me money, even if I never stay at another KOA again. (I probably will, because I had a great time there)
Not only was the cabin cheaper than an equivalent cabin in Yellowstone, but there were lots of other advantages. The cabins in the park did not have wifi, but the KOA campground had a very slow wifi that was just fast enough for me to check email on. There is little to no cell phone coverage in Yellowstone, but at the campground my Republic Wireless phones got coverage with no problem. The campground also had a playground and an indoor swimming pool for my kids to play at. Everything in Yellowstone National Park is very expensive, so stocking up on food, bottled water, and gas in West Yellowstone, Montana really helped out.
The big thing that saved me money though was the kitchen. None of the cabins in the park had kitchens, but we will come back to that in a minute.
The one complaint I had was about the mattresses. They were awful! Next time I go I will be sure to bring along this air mattress I keep around in case of company that I got off of Amazon.
You all know that going out to eat is no way to save money, and vacations don’t change that one bit. My family saved a lot of money by bringing a cooler full of food and drinks along on our car trip. At lunch time we would find a picnic table at a rest stop and make ourselves some sandwiches. Not only did that cost a lot less than a restaurant but we were also able to eat quickly and get back on the road much faster.
Another picnic was on the schedule when my family and my sister’s family spent a day at a museum on our way to Yellowstone. A hotdog and drink for all seven of us would have cost over $50, but the picnic lunch we packed cost us less than $10.
In Yellowstone National Park all the places to eat are run by the park service and charge the kind of high prices you normally see at a concession stand. So every morning before driving into the park we would stop at a grocery store to get a bag of ice and stuff for lunch. We would spend all day in the park then come home to our cabin to make some dinner. Not only did this save us money, but having a picnic is more fun than eating at a restaurant any day.
Legitimate Business Expense
This didn’t exactly save me money, but I purchased this really cool camera off of Amazon so that I could take better pictures for this webpage.
To prove to the IRS that this is a reasonable and necessary business expense, here are some of the cool pictures I took:
A panorama of a field full of geysers
We ran into a windstorm on the way home and some poor trucker who was taking a mobile home down the road blew over.
A herd of buffalo, including a couple of baby buffalos.