The Art Of The Cheap Thrill

Your Cheap Thrills

Get ideas for budget vacations, or share your tips with others.

Expensive vacations are simple. Plop your credit card down, worry about the cost later, and let the overpaid professionals take care of everything. But where's the challenge in that? Pulling off a cheap vacation is an art form, from careful research to intense haggling to the deal of a lifetime. This summer of recession is forcing people to be creative with their leisure time, and NPR reporters are here to help.

We challenged our most intrepid correspondents to tackle a holiday conundrum: How to get more with less. We gave each reporter a classic vacation idea and asked them to do it on the cheap. In the end, none of them laid out more than $50 for their fun. Of course, there were some trade-offs.

New York correspondent Robert Smith was assigned a night at the theater. So he packed his car, waved goodbye to Broadway, and headed to Newville, Pa., home of the Cumberland Drive-in. Rather than pay up to $121 per ticket to see the Little Mermaid, he got a double feature for just $7 a head ($3 for the kids). The playground, the stars and the fireflies were all free.

David Schaper, our man in Chicago, was assigned to climb the Matterhorn of vacations: Disneyland. He instead stayed close to home and went to a Boys and Girls Club carnival. Schaper says he can hand his teenagers $20, and they can ride for hours and still have some left over for a hamburger. And the Black Sabbath cover band in the beer tent may be loud, but it's less annoying than "It's a Small World (After All)."

Sports correspondent Tom Goldman had the cheapest plan of all. Instead of an Alaskan cruise, he hit the Clackamas River with nothing more than an inner tube for his backside. The tube was $12.50. They let him fill it up for free.

Sure, sometimes you get what you pay for. But Boston correspondent Tovia Smith says sometimes you get more. She gave up a trip to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox and headed down the road to Pawtucket, R.I. The Paw Sox tickets cost just $10 for a box seat, but Smith says the thrill of getting close to the action and seeing tomorrow's baseball stars today is priceless.

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