The Frugal Traveler: A Mini-Memoir
The pattern started on our honeymoon, 1969, 40 years ago. Stuart had $600 in his checking account when we got married. I spent all the money I earned that summer– the summer of my 21st birthday, the summer of Woodstock and the moon landing, and the summer of our wedding– on the wedding dress, flowers, gifts for attendants, and the wedding cake. The picture below illustrates the dress and shows our parents as they supported us.
I was broke, but debt-free. Stuart had a modest NDEA loan but had that $600 in the bank. The way he chose to spend it would become a pattern for both of us in our marriage.
Stuart had the idea the planning the honeymoon without consultation with me would be a very romantic thing to do. I thought so too and was very curious about what location he would pick. Would it be Niagara Falls, the destination both sets of our parents had chosen, or would it be Ocean City, the place I loved to escape to in my teenage years, or a city neither of us had never been to (that would have been every major city in the country except for Philadelphia and New York)?
Our first night stay was a Holiday Inn in Valley Forge, PA. No jokes about the name, please. Actually, we had plenty of jokes already. They were written in white shoe polish all over Stuart’s ’64 maroon Ford Fairlane. “Just married.” “Going South for a little son.” “Watch out for the lovers.”
From Valley Forge we crossed the Delaware, like George Washington, but only from the air. We parked our car at the Philadelphia airport on our way to the destination Stuart had picked–Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was totally entranced, both by the second airplane ride of my life and by the exotic destination I had never heard of before.
We spent a glorious eight days in Halifax, to Yarmouth, to Boston, back to Philadelphia, then to Lititz, PA, my home, to return finally to Harrisonburg, VA, close to Stuart’s home , to “take up housekeeping,” as people then said, in a tiny basement apartment. We had $35 left to spend until Stuart’s next paycheck. I was still an undergraduate, heading for student teaching.
I will spare you the rose-tinted details of our honeymoon adventures in the Nova Scotia lighthouses, fish markets, bus, trains, hitchhiking. I’ll even forego the details about our first fight while walking on the Boston Common, but let me tell you about one aspect of the trip we have continued in our subsequent travels.
In one way we were profligates. Stuart spent all his money on the plane tickets and paid for the rooms, meals, and other forms of transportation with traveler’s checks. If we had been really cheap, we would have driven to West Virgina, stayed in a state park, had a wonderful time, and returned home after a two-hour drive with more than $500 to spend on rent, food, and tuition.
We weren’t cheap, but we were frugal. Those traveler’s checks had to cover all our expenses–hence the hitchhiking and one or two sketchy hotels. But making that money stretch became a big part of the adventure. We were so excited and so in love that food fell in our priority list. We made several meals from one loaf of bread, one jar of peanut butter, one jar of strawberry jam, a box of saltines, and two cans of sardines. They tasted like caviar and champagne in our honeymoon bed. Only problem was the crumbs, but that was easily handled, too.
I thought about our honeymoon and subsequent trips to Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and throughout the US because I drafted this post in Sarasota, FL, on the vacation part of a business trip. Over our 40 years we have traveled together often, and we still enjoy traveling the way we did the first year. We love to talk with the locals, visit them if we have friends in the area, eat the local food, walk a lot, and save dining in restaurants for special occasions, often hosting our friends. We could afford, now, to eat three restaurant meals a day and drive or be driven everywhere. But that would spoil some of our greatest fun.
One morning in Sarasota we walked four miles from our hotel to the amazing little neighborhood of Pinecraft, unlike no other place on earth. Amish people from Northern Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have converged on a little spot of land not much bigger than a mile square. They even have their own post office.
Their homes are very modest and often crowded together with maybe an RV or two on the lot and a lot of old-fashioned mobile homes scattered among the stucco and brick and stone and wood houses. Dark-colored shirts, pants, and dresses wave on wash lines in the Sarasota breeze. Little fruit stands sprout up, first selling backyard citrus, and then at least one as a serious business.
We bought a dozen backyard red grapefruits for $1.00. We rounded out our purchases with a pint of local strawberries and two pounds of Georgia pecans. Lunch was mighty tasty! We also have talked with several Amish people about the plight of their community in Elkhart County, IN (where the unemployment rate in January was 16 percent and where Barack Obama promoted his stimulus package a few weeks ago). One woman told us that, so far, the Amish people who have lost their jobs at the RV factories have been absorbed back into the community. The cabinet makers and woodworkers, entrepreneurs, take on the former RV workers or they return to family farms.
The Amish have their own forms of frugality. Formerly they did not travel at all-except to find new land to settle. The phrase Amish vacation is an oxymoron-or used to be–until a generation ago. They don’t travel as individuals for the sake of adventure. They travel with members of their community in buses to visit the members of the Pinecraft community. They bring food from home, purchase fruits and vegetables at the Amish-run stand on the edge of the community, treat themselves to ice cream cones at the drive-in across the street, ride bicycles everywhere, build houses for the birds, and plant flowers. They always look happy despite their many layers of dark clothing, as incongruous as they may seem, playing shuffleboard under Sarasota palm trees.
Stuart and I do not have biological Amish relatives, but we have a shared history with these people that goes back nearly 500 years to Switzerland and Southern Germany. Frugality and community, cheapness and generosity coexist. We have tried to take the frugal, leave the cheap. Keep community without the conformity. Have we succeeded? In Sarasota, walking through Pinecraft in our shorts and tee shirts, no one could tell that we are ancient kin.
But when we peel open one of our dozen-for-a-dollar grapefruits, we smile. We are back in honeymoon land again.
When you travel, are you frugal, profligate, cheap, or moderate?
I enjoyed your pictures from Sarasota on Facebook, too!
Shirley, your blogs always transport me into time-travel into the past, into a similar experience – or, at least, a familiar-sounding scenario!
Pinecraft of the 60’s is a familiar, sometimes-funny, sometimes-fond memory. My first two children were one and two years of age when we moved from upstate NY to Sarasota. Kauffman Avenue in Pinecraft was where we lived for several months. Several years later, having bought a house in Sarasota Springs, we bought a car repair business which was on the corner of Bahia Vista and Kaurffman, in the same building as the Pinecraft Hardware. When our four-year-old heard we were going to be working in Pinecraft, he asked “Will we have to talk Amish?” (at the time he didn’t yet realize that his mother could already “talk Amish” – PA Dutch!)
My memory of Pinecraft is “Good people, good neighbors, good Mennonite Cookin’ ” ala the Blue Gate Restaurant!
Thanks, as always, for jogging forgotten memories!
Pinecraft is a one-of-a-kind place, and in the 60’s must have been even more so. Keep those memories flowing! Hope you have a way to copy and paste your responses. Thanks for sharing them here!
Shirley, this is another of your wonderful stories. I love your wedding photo above with Stuart’s dad kissing your cheek and your mother ready to kiss Stuart on his cheek. Your (1969) and my (1972) wedding dress, veil and shoes were remarkably similar.
Bill has subscribed to your blog. In your book, he likes your mother’s “The Magic Elevator” story. I do, too.
Barbara and Bill, I replied, then lost the reply, on my iPhone. Traveling and blogging don’t always go well together. So glad you enjoyed the Magic Elevator story. I’ll tell my mother. She loves having readers and responses too.
You must not have been the child bride I was. My father had to sign at the Justice of the Peace so that I could get a marriage license before my 21st birthday!
I not only know how T or C got its name I have been there and soaked in one of the many hot springs locations. And that is the old name for the town – Hotsprings, New Mexico where is there is an incredible Mexican restaurant at the top of the hill. In 1950 the programme on TV called Truth or Consequences said that it would hold its programme in the town that would change its name to Truth or Consequences and so Hotsprings, NM decided to do just that and it is now T or C. (Great 2nd hand bookstore too)
Karen, you win the prize! Wow, I wish I had known all these things about the town. We had to keep moving and couldn’t explore very much. But we did meet one six-year-old boy named Wyatt who was dressed head to toe in real cowboy gear, spurs and all, and captivated us with his stories of how he ropes sheep from his horse. It was all Truth, I am sure. 🙂
Shirley, this is amazing. It was indeed a surprise to find a July 8, 2014 comment that I wrote about Stuart’s and your wedding. As you know – from the time Bill and I stayed in a Microtel in your town of Harrisonburg, VA, before we heard your Blush book talk – we are frugal travelers. We, too, had a frugal wedding – on June 17, 1972. It turned out to be the day the Watergate break-in had happened. We like to say that although President Nixon’s presidency didn’t last, our marriage has lasted. The photo of your mother with her great grandchildren in one of your previous posts is precious. I regret that neither my mom nor dad lived long enough to see their two great granddaughters. They would have loved seeing them interact. We are now in Alexandria. Today Natalie took a day off from preschool to spend a day with Bill and me. @BarbaraMcDWhitt
Shirley, I was having a senior moment when I wrote that my parents had two great grandchildren. There are fourteen. My youngest sister Ann and her husband Tim have two sons and six grandchildren, Virginia and her former husband Ron have three children and six grandchildren, Phyllis and Tom don’t have any children or grandchildren, and Bill and I have two daughters and two granddaughters.
Well, senior moments don’t keep you from pouring your love into your children and grandchildren, Barbara. I’m glad you enjoyed reading your own comment from a few years ago. One of the advantages of these online relationships is that we can revisit them and see what we were thinking years ago. There is usually a recognizable thread! Have fun as you play together in Alexandria.
Your travel stories mirror ours running the full range from frugal to moderate over the years. The only time I remember our being profligate was splurging thousands of Delta SkyMiles for commodious business class seats on our trip to Austria and Czech Republic.
By contrast, our honeymoon lodging (except for the first night) was a mattress on the floor of a Ford pickup with topper furnished with a Coleman lantern, stove and cooler. The fact that we rarely found level ground for parking in the Smoky Mountains added to the adventure.
I got an image of you and Cliff sliding off the back of the pickup which was indeed amusing, Marian. It looked like one of Cliff’s cartoons. 🙂
And a great splurge in travel is anytime you know you are helping yourself to arrive rested. It’s hard to enjoy and to even notice the interesting details of a new place if you aren’t awake. Glad you used those miles.
Loved this Shirley thank you! Imagine, a town called Truth or Consequences. Every town or city, hamlet or village could have their place so subtitled …
My husband is more of a man with a plan when we travel – the day he comes up with a plan for some glorious travel for our honeymoon (we were married 35 years ago) I’ll be impressed. Our first night after our wedding was spent in a charming rustic hotel, which I thought was just the first night before being whisked away on some exotic adventure – but it was not to be.
Have happy continued travels …
Susan, maybe after 35 years you get the chance to be the whisk-er. 🙂
Every couple has its own style. Maybe you have the adventure gene and your husband prefers to stay at home?
Memories of our frugal wedding 1971.
I had been a volunteer in India, and my fiancé was a young missionary in Thailand. When a Danish girl at the volunteer center heard about my plans to get married, she offered to make my dress. She was a seamstress. I found a beautiful white brocade material for a few dollars in Madras (Chennai). She created a lovely dress and refused to accept payment. She had been in a team sewing for the Danish Royal family!
I returned to Helsinki, Finland for a few months. I needed shoes to match my dress. I had no income. Window-shopping led me to Stockmann, a large department store where there was a SALE sign. Almost empty shelves stared at me in the sales corner. Like a bright light, a pair of white satin shoes shone on one shelf. I tried them on. A perfect fit. The price – half a dollar!
My fiancé arrived from Thailand shortly before the wedding. We went to a jeweler store to buy a ring. They refused to accept any money when they realized we would be working in Thailand.
The ladies of my fiancé’s home church made all the arrangements for the wedding. The only expense for my bridegroom was a beautiful bouquet of scarlet roses with sprigs of lily-of-the-valley.
Lisa, this is a frugal person’s fairy tale! I love hearing these stories. Definitely material for your memoir!
Here is more about our frugal wedding. http://www.bepreparedforapurpose.com/2017/03/26/unbudgeted-wedding/
Thank you, Shirley! You make everything sound like a fairy tale! I guess there is more ‘magic’ around us than we notice. Your life and your writing bring to your readers an awareness of the blessings showered on us through grace.
Aww. Thank you, Lisa.
Dear Shirley, my husband and I are frugal travelers. When we got married, we spent our first night in a hotel. We traveled to Bonaparte lake in BC and spent a couple of days with my husband’s friends in a cabin with no power, a wood stove for heat. We went up to McBride and I met my husband’s Mennonite parents, we stayed with his sister and brother in law for a couple of days, then we traveled to Prince George and stayed with his son and daughter in law.
There’s a name for your kind of honeymoon: “Mennonite Your Way.: 🙂 There’s even an organized website and print catalog to help you do it. http://www.mennoniteyourway.com/Myw/
I hope you have fond memories of your frugal travels. The best part of frugality is that it is based on relationships, both new and old ones. My guess is that you often host other people in your home also.