Tips for Taking an Impromptu Vacation

By Ann Hartter

Not everyone can afford the impromptu vacation, and we couldn’t have done it without having done some basic preparations. Here’s what we did, and what we spent, that made our two days refreshing and allowed us to arrive home relaxed.

What an Impromptu Vacation is: The past weekend surprised us with a vacation hidden around the corner. An hour before we left on a road trip, we decide to stay out overnight and come home late the next day.

Where we went: A touristy town in the mountains, Steamboat Springs, is a place we have always wanted to visit. It was only 40 miles from a previously planned day trip destination, a town called Craig, but 190 from home.

Why we went: An opportunity arose to save money on old Jeep parts by buying another inexpensive old Jeep. The kicker was my husband had to travel 150 miles into the mountains and tow it back. It made sense to turn the weekend trip into a family drive, as gas mileage would be the same in our vehicle capable of towing. We found out that Steamboat Springs was near by and thus, the impromptu vacation was hatched.

What we had to accept: We realized that last-minute reservations in hotels could get pretty expensive, and since we had to take our puppy instead of having someone watch her on short notice, we faced narrow accommodation options. We also really didn’t have time to carefully research and plan what we’d want to do in the area, so we had to take what we could get as far as food and entertainment went. These ideas, however, didn’t daunt us.

What a good time we had!

We riddled our drive up with plenty of roadside stops, photography and conversation (this part we were going to do anyway, remember). After the forty extra miles and $15 in gas from Craig, we cheerfully rolled into Steamboat and stopped at the Visitor’s Center.

We spent the dreaded $140 on the hotel and $10 on the pet deposit, got a king-sized bed and put the kids in sleeping bags on the floor. The evening was spent enjoying the cable, the hot tub and going through the magazines, directories and high-speed Internet for the aforementioned research, all of which came with the hotel.

Steamboat has an excellent little magazine and a slew of art and music festivities, all of which made interesting local reading. We chose a brewery for dinner, as we have always enjoyed microbrew and original local fare, and were pleasantly gifted with live music and shady outdoor seating. We spent a reasonable $30 (before tip) for the four of us, and didn’t have to take any home. That price also included an empty growler to add to our collection.

Later, we stopped at the hotel’s restaurant for $20 dessert, enjoying a couple of pieces of pie, some adult beverages and an abundance of crayon time. Our $25 eggs benedict brunch the next morning topped off our food for the outing.

We spent some time perusing the main street, but only popped into stores we thought we might get something. My daughter got her first yarn and crochet hook from the knitting nook for $10, my husband ended his years-long search for well-fitting soft-soled moccasins for $30 and I found a reprint edition book by my favorite author on a sale rack for $5. My son was still enthralled with his Happy-Meal bad-guy from the previous day’s lunch and no stores seemed to suit him anyway. The 40 miles back to Craig to hitch up the Jeep cost, again, the extra $15 in gas, and we bought $10 for more juice, sports drinks, water, and ice for the drive home.

What it cost: Without the hotel and with all our “souvenirs,” our two day vacation cost $160. Accommodations, on the pricey side, were $150, leaving our whole “extra cost” total at $310. However, if you considered the yarn, hook, shoes and book would have been bought at any location, once found, the actual cost of the trip: $265. I never count tips in the cost of trips because service therefore tip varies, and that can cause problems in the comparison.

Comparative Value: This was, on most scales, an expensive trip, but it was a success. I evaluate it here because had we decided to make a trip to Steamboat Springs from home, with no other profitable motive, the cost of gas would have been four times as much. We would have returned with $45 in things we could have gotten anywhere, at least, somewhere else, and we’d still have to buy and pay shipping on parts for the Jeep. We may have saved $30 by pre-planning a hotel, but might have spent that on pre-planning lots of activities throughout the two days. And finally, the nice, relaxing, psychological value of knowing you simply took a vacation one day — because you wanted to — reduces your stress in day to day life. I’ve heard people say vacations were stressful. This one was not.

Here are some tips on how you can have a great, spontaneous, vacation too!

  • Create a general list of places you’d like to visit and routes to them, if not on the computer, at least in mind. If you end up having to travel to a place somewhere close to one of the places you want to visit, you can consider adding it to the trip.
  • Packing for an impromptu vacation is, well, impromptu. To enable you leave on short notice, you must take the time to make some basic lifestyle preparations. Having the basic preparations in order will allow an impromptu vacation to be put together in the restricted amount of time without causing a panic.
  • Keep one bag in the bottom of your closet instead of packed away in the garage or the basement. This will allow you to pack quickly and not have to waste time searching for luggage.
  • Pack the items that everyone will use into a single bag. If possible, using a single bag for everyone is worthwhile. Since impromptu vacations are usually for a single night, this is often possible. Keeping everyone’s things together reduces losses or forgottens and the cost of convenient replacements.
  • Keep your large, family-sized products in the pantry, and refill smaller ones for your bathroom. Being able to grab-and-go eliminates the obstacle of filling travel containers after you’ve decided to leave, and also reduces the forgottens.
  • Have a cooler in an accessible but out-of-the-way place, like the trunk. Packing drinks and snacks you already have in your fridge or pantry keeps dollars in your wallet as you pass the convenience stores and fast-food stops.
  • Have a favorite hotel chain. Knowing who you want to contact first cuts down on the number of calls you make, and ensures a satisfactory stay despite the “I’ll take what I can get” price.
  • Check into your hotel before stopping anywhere, and use the phone book, local magazines, hotel flier walls and guest directories. Knowing where you’re going keeps you from eating/stopping at the first thing that looks good, which can whittle your wallet quickly.
  • Go do the things you would do even if you were in your own town, like eating at the brew pub instead of the fancy reservations-only hot spot, or visiting the book store instead of the tourist-trap souvenir shops. You’re less likely to spend money on an indulgence, you are sure you will enjoy yourself and you already have an idea of the prices you will encounter. Keeping the stress low also keeps the pressure off your pocket book and staying within familiar atmospheres combats that spontaneous-purchase fever.
  • Stay outside! If you don’t go into all the shops on the main drag, you aren’t tempted to purchase everything there. You will enjoy the scenery, the local flavor and the effort most towns put into their individual attractiveness. Marvel at the architecture of the city hall, read the plaques and note the landscaping.

In the end, an impromptu vacation doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and if you are able to add it onto a trip that you are already going to be taking, it can be a wonderful way to see the places you want at a reasonable price.

Sunset at Steamboat Springs


Off to Resorts, and Carrying Their Careers


STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Time was you could tell the urban refugees in places like this: corporate achievers who quit the rat race to open a bed and breakfast or a candle shoppe.

Jim Moylan represents a new tribe in this bucolic mountain town, named for its loud sulfur spring. Mr. Moylan, 59, is a lawyer who specializes in securities and commodities work. When he moved from Chicago in 2003, he did not downscale his career for the small town, keeping his secretary and associates in Chicago and his clients around the country. He conducts his practice by fax and e-mail, just as he did in Chicago.

In Steamboat Springs, Mr. Moylan dug into local affairs, joining three city committees, the Rotary Club, his church finance council and the editorial board of the daily newspaper. “I just wanted to get involved in the community,“ Mr. Moylan said, sitting in a bookstore/wine bar off the town’s main street.

As technology enables people to live and work wherever they want, increasingly they are clustering in resort playgrounds like Steamboat Springs (pop. 9,315) that have natural amenities, good weather — and, now, lots of people like themselves.

In places like Nantucket, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Teton County, Idaho, the migrants are creating hybrid communities, implanting urban incomes, tastes, careers, ambitions, restaurants, cultural activities and networking opportunities into small towns that until recently could support none of these, and for which there has been little planning and still no consensus.

“You are seeing a transformation of rural communities,” said Jonathan Schechter, executive director of the Charture Institute in Jackson, Wyo., a nonprofit organization that studies small recreational towns.

Into quiet resort spots the migrants have come, laptops on their knees: fund managers from New York, software developers from California, consultants, proofreaders, engineers, inventors. “The same processes that led to the suburbanization of the United States after World War II,” Mr. Schechter said, “are now producing a virtual suburbanization in places like Jackson or Steamboat Springs.”

From 2000 to 2006, population in the 297 counties rated highest in natural amenities by the United States Department of Agriculture grew by 7.1 percent, 10 times the rate for the 1,090 rural counties with below-average amenities, the department reported.

In towns that once emptied after the ski season or the beach season, these “location-neutral” migrants are complicating the traditional dynamic between tourists and locals. Here as elsewhere, average homes have become unaffordable for teachers, firefighters and others — the people who created the good schools and community closeness that newcomers said drew them. The rate of change “is causing a whiplash,” Mr. Schechter said, “because the towns don’t have the political and economic systems in place to deal with them.”

Routt County, which includes Steamboat Springs, is one of the first places to identify these new émigrés as a source of economic growth and, paradoxically, community stability. A 2005 survey found that as many as 1 in 10 year-round households was involved in a location-neutral business. Unlike retirees and second-home buyers, who are also roosting in vacation towns, they send children to the local schools. “Without kids, you don’t have a community,” said Scott Ford, a counselor at the Small Business Resource Center at Colorado Mountain College.

Cloistered in home offices, isolated from the local economy, location-neutrals are often invisible even to one another, except when they appear on local committees.

Many work as hard as their urban counterparts, often juggling commitments in several time zones, but can step from their offices to a hiking trail or mountain stream.

In Steamboat Springs, a pawn shop and loan store amid the expensive restaurants on the main drag illustrates the growing inequality in a region that produces few middle-income jobs. Each day 1,500 workers commute to Routt County from neighboring Moffat County, an hour away. Meanwhile, the airport, once filled with tourists, caters to people in business suits.

“You’ve seen changes in politics,” said Carl Steidtmann, the chief economist for Deloitte Research, who moved from Brooklyn two years ago. “The county tipped Democratic in the last election. You see the tension in the City Council. It went from being pro-business-and-development to more conservationist.” He added, “Twelve years ago, not everyone you met had a Ph.D. or was from New York. There are still a lot of locals here, but that aspect is changing.”

Peter Parsons, 45, who runs a microchip design company in Boulder, Colo., a city of 92,000 about three hours away, moved here five years ago to raise his three children in a small-town environment, keeping the company in Boulder. “It’s a real town,” Mr. Parsons said of the appeal of Steamboat Springs. “If your kids are running around, adults will see them and call you.”

He has kept a Boulder telephone number and does little to remind clients he is not in the city. “I wouldn’t have been able to come here with my family if it meant opening a coffee shop,” he said.

To combat isolation, he volunteered at the school and at church, and briefly moved from his home office into a town-run business incubator “in order to meet people,” he said. Now his office overlooks the ski slopes and is a short walk from a fly-fishing spot; computers vie for desk space with hand-tied flies. He still has to persuade associates that he has not slowed down or retired.

“We have big discussions about what it means to be a local,” Mr. Parsons said of his fellow location-neutrals. “Some people snub anybody who hasn’t been here a long time. And some people think they know everything when they haven’t been here long.”

The Routt County Economic Development Cooperative has embraced the new tribe as an asset, especially to an area with no strong industry other than tourism. Location-neutrals tend to volunteer heavily in civic organizations and local government. County interviews with 61 location-neutral businesses found they held 120 volunteer positions.

But their enthusiasm has not always rubbed long-timers the right way, Mr. Ford said. “If they haven’t bonded with the community,” he said, “they begin with the ‘You people’ speeches: ‘What you people don’t understand is...’ When they start that, it’s almost impossible.” Sometimes disputes spill out in the local newspaper or its blogs, where old-timers and newcomers point fingers.

Thomas Miller-Freutel, a partner in a directory-assistance startup, knows this chasm firsthand. Though he has lived here since 1990, first as owner of the Steamboat Inn, he sometimes struggles to balance his fast-paced work life with the small-town community.

“I have to switch gears from what I was doing in other parts of the world to sit down and be productive as a community member,” he said. “You have to be careful not to say, ‘Look, I deal with people all over the world and this is how it’s done.’ You have to change gears in a small town.”

For Bill and Stephanie Faunce, who run a marketing company for cable operators, small-town life often means starting work at 7 a.m. and quitting at 11 p.m., but with breaks to hike, ski or be with their two young children. Their goal in coming here was not to slow down but to eliminate urban distractions and pressures.

“There are no stressors here,” said Mr. Faunce, 43. “In L.A., it took 90 minutes to get to the office, so we had a Mercedes and a Land Rover. Now we drive a Suburban. In three years we’ve put 15,000 miles on it.”

Steamboat Ski Equipment Rentals

Heading for Ski Town USA? Then you'll need to know about Steamboat ski equipment rentals. Here's some info you may find helpful before strapping an outfit on to the bottom of your feet.

For you novices like I once was, there's a lot more that goes in to deciding what's right for you than you think. First of all, common sense stuff here: accurate information about your skier type, height, weight, age and ski boot sole length will be gathered by the rental shop to determine the release and retention settings of your ski bindings to maximize your fun, and to avoid any risk of injury.

The friendly outfitters at the Steamboat ski equipment rentals shop will use three category types to determine a package that's right for you: Type I, II, and III. Type I skiers tend to be cautious and travel at slower speeds on easy to moderate slopes, and will prefer a lighter release or retention setting. That's o.k., that's where a bum like me got started.

Type II skiers are moderate skiers, taking to a variety of speeds and terrain, and will require an average release/retention setting. You know, the common variety.

Type III folks are the rowdy ones who just crave the rush of slamming the steeper, challenging slopes and will prefer a better-than-average release and retention setting. Hey, there's something for everyone at Steamboat. Bar none.

And you'll be glad to know that Steamboat ski equipment rentals utilize the finest products available. Such as high performance Rossignol Bandit and Axiom Super Twin skis for all-mountain skiing. The Sport Super Side-Cut is a wider ski for easy navigation and features the Rossignol Freeride and Rock X skis. For the Junior in your party there's Rossignol Comp J skis with Salomon and Technica ski boots.

Helmets are available for children and adults.

For the superpipe going snowboarder in the family, packages feature Rossignol boards with freestyle bindings for juniors and adults.

And by the way, at Steamboat Kids 12 and under rent FREE for every five days a parent rents. Some restrictions apply.

For Teens 13-18, ask about the 25% discount on all rentals, except for helmets.
2004-2005 Steamboat ski equipment rentals

Daily Rates:

High Performance: $38
Super Side-Cut: $33
Junior: $20
Snowboard adults: $33
Snowboard 12 and under: $22

High Tech ski package (K2, Rossignol, Salomon,Volkl, Volant and Marker):
$29 half day, $48 full day.

Helmets: Kids $6/day, adults $8/day

Interested in purchasing ski equipment at the shop? Wondering about a discount rental? Contact Steamboat Ski Rentals® at 800-859-9959 or 970-871-5346 for info and details.