A few months ago, I gave a TEDx style talk at RTP180 of education and travel where I discussed being able to travel on a budget and use it as an educational opportunity.
I am just now returning from a spontaneous trip to Florida. My wife wanted to take our kids swimming with the Manatees near Ocala Florida while they are located more inland because the water is warmer. We wanted to go, but we also wanted to keep our cost low since it was not a planned trip.
On Christmas Day, we found an AirBnB in Micanopy, near Ocala, for $44 a night. The next day, we were on the road heading South. We drove most of the way and then decided to use Priceline to book a room and drive the remaining two hours the next day. We snagged the hotel room for $70 at a Courtyard by Marriott. This was something we planned on doing.
The next day, we had some time to kill before checking into our AirBnB, so we stopped at Devil’s Den and did some snorkeling. The Devil’s Den is an underground spring where you can either snorkel or scuba dive. The water is a constant 72 degrees.
We decided to rent wetsuits, flippers, and masks. We are glad that we got the wetsuits since the water was a bit cold. The water temperature is a constant 72 degrees and the air temp was in the 50’s. There is a limit of two hours in the Den since it is small and there are a lot of people there to see it’s beauty. It was very enjoyable. The water is clear and there is also sunlight that comes in from above. We had the opportunity to see some fish and even a turtle. It was also cool to watch the scuba divers from above. If you ever come to the area, I recommend it. We spent a total of $140 for admission and gear. If the air temperature is warmer and you don’t need wetsuits, reduce that by $50. We ate a picnic lunch before we got started to save some money.
Later that day, we arrived at our apartment and found that it is located on a micro-farm. The owners have a garden, orange trees, sheep, and chickens. They are also growing shiitake and button mushrooms. There is an area to hang out around a fire, play badminton, and scoot on a zip line.
The apartment was small but met our needs. It was basically a studio apartment with a queen bed and pull out couch. It has a small bathroom and kitchen. Since we were not going to be spending much time in the apartment it was fine for us. For $40 a night, it met our needs and our budget.
The next day, we headed to Crystal River Kayak Company to rent a three-person canoe to go swimming with the Manatees. Again, we rented wetsuits to stay warm because the air temps were again in the 50’s. We paddled up the waterways to where Manatees are known to hang out. We tied the canoe up to a designated boat area and disembarked the canoe and swam to the Manatee area. We saw numerous Manatees and some of them actually came very close. One swam up to my daughter and rolled over, begging to be petted on the belly.
Swimming with the Manatees was a great experience. As a family, we all ranked the experience really high. You can also see Manatees by walking on some of the boardwalk areas or from rented boat tours. The total cost of swimming with the manatees was $100. If the air temperature is warmer and you don’t need wetsuits, reduce that by $60.
We also went to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to experience an animal show and underwater mermaid performance. The park entrance was $13 for adults and $8 for children. They also had a 25-minute riverboat tour where we viewed another Manatee as well as fish and birds. For the entrance fee, you can watch as many shows as you want and you can ride the boat numerous times if you wish.
For some extracurricular activities, we went on some hikes in hopes of seeing some alligators. We were not lucky enough to see any alligators at Paynes Prairie Preserve, probably because of the lower temperatures, but did see a Manatee mom and a pup at Hunter Springs Park. It is a good thing there was a young alligator being exhibited at the animal show in Weeki Wachee. The kids even got to touch it. At least we can say we saw an alligator!
We also went to The Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville and let the kids learn and play. There were numerous interactive activities and opportunities to learn about animals, Indians, and land evolution from prehistoric time to present. The admission for the museum was free, so it fit right into our budget!
By preparing some picnics and cooking a few meals, we were able to keep our cost pretty low. We spent around $1,000 for everything: lodging, food, and activities. I could imagine that Disney would have cost us around $3,000 if we were lucky and wouldn’t have had the educational impact for both parents and kids!
I hope that this post encourages you to think outside the box for vacations and incorporate educational activities into your travels. Experiences matter.
Do you have a memorable experience to share?