The Art Of The Cheap Thrill 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.
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The Art Of The Cheap Thrill

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The Art Of The Cheap Thrill

The Art Of The Cheap Thrill

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A trip to the Caribbean is a dream vacation for a lot of people, but in a summer of recession, many of us are settling for an economic reality vacation, and NPR is here to help. This week, NPR starts a series we're calling Cheap Thrills. We've challenged our reporters to pick a typical holiday getaway, like a trip to Disneyland or a cruise, and design a frugal version.

NPR's Robert Smith is one of the reporters taking part in the series, and he joins us from our New York studios. And, Robert, how'd you come up with the idea for this series, which NPR is calling Cheap Thrills, but I think should be called NPR reporter boondoggle?

ROBERT SMITH: Hey, you have to work hard to take your family out on $30 these days. I was sweating. We came up with the idea for the series because, you know, we've heard about the staycation and how the recession hit vacation industries. But I have a different index, which I call my couch index.

I live in Brooklyn, and the number of people who have bummed a night or two off of me this summer has shown a sharp uptick. So it's not that people aren't taking vacations, they're just being more creative and taking advantage of my hospitality. So, we came up with this idea of cheap thrills - sending reporters out to find the best cheapest things to do on vacation.

HANSEN: So, when I come to New York, can I stay on your couch?

SMITH: Oh, absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Well, you wanted to take your family, actually, to see "The Little Mermaid" on Broadway. And living in New York, that wouldn't be as expensive for someone who, say, lived in California. But you didn't go. Where did you end up?

SMITH: We ended up at the Cumberland Drive-In in Newville, Pennsylvania. And no slam to "The Little Mermaid," but tickets are $121.48 for a child, three-year-old, $121.48. The Cumberland Drive-In, $3 a kid. And I tried to do it even cheaper, though. I wanted to begin this piece with a classic drive-in maneuver, sneaking one of my family members in in the trunk.

Any volunteers?

Unidentified Child #1: No.

Unidentified Child #2: No.

Ms. ROBBYN SMITH: No thanks.

SMITH: I guess it's me. Oh.

Ms. SMITH: Watch your head.

Unidentified Child #1: Are there (unintelligible)?

(Soundbite of grunting)

(Soundbite of trunk slamming)

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: So I don't want to spoil the end of the piece, but I lasted all of two minutes in that hot, humid trunk.

(Soundbite of knocking)

SMITH: Okay. Okay. That's it.

(Soundbite of banging)

Unidentified Child #2: That's it.

(Soundbite of trunk opening)

SMITH: It's horrible. It's horrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: So, who pulled off the cheapest vacation?

SMITH: Well, that award goes to our sports reporter Tom Goldman. And we challenged him to design a cheap version of an Alaskan cruise. He did it for $12.50 with an inflatable tube and a slow moving river in Oregon. Here he is with some helpful advice for the rapids.

(Soundbite of river)

TOM GOLDMAN: Lift your butt, so you don't scrape the bottom. Ride the wild river. Yee-haw. Avoid rocks at all cost.

HANSEN: All right. So there's the old line, you get what you pay for. Did anybody feel like that? I mean, that they pulled off a coup and got more than they paid for?

SMITH: You know, our Boston correspondent, Tovia Smith, was raving about her cheap vacation. And at first she was really skeptical. We told her, you need to go replicate Major League Baseball's All-Star Game and go all out. And so she ended up going to this Yankees/Red Sox game, but not the real thing, the AAA equivalent, the Yankees farm team based in Scranton and the Pawtucket PawSox. She got box seats, $10. And the fans were just as crazy as at Fenway.

Here's Cathy Gorman(ph).

Ms. CATHY GORMAN: This is better than Fenway.

TOVIA SMITH: Exciting?

Ms. GORMAN: Yes, it's exciting. We got a 3-3 game right now.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Ms. GORMAN: Oh, no. It's in the air - he missed it. Right through the hand. You get to see these kids develop every day, day after day after day, they get better and better and better.

SMITH: And Tovia found out the same thing I did, which is the cheaper the vacation, the less pressure there is for everyone to have fun all the time. If your kids get sick, or if they lose interest, or in my case, my two children fell asleep before the first movie began at the drive-in. And I wasn't resentful. It was only $3. Let them sleep. I enjoyed the movie.

HANSEN: NPR's Robert Smith is one of the reporters on our Cheap Thrill series, which starts this week on MORNING EDITION. Robert joins us from our New York studio. Thanks a lot.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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