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We hadn’t planned on going home to Colorado for Christmas. A typical rocky mountain winter means snow, icy roads and sub zero temps which can freeze up your RV pipes and result in a costly repair. We’d intended to stay in sunny California then make our way back to Colorado in the Spring. Of course, the best laid plans can change in a heartbeat. A couple of days after we lost Coda, Marc announced “we’re flying back home to Colorado for Christmas”. Losing a loved one like that just makes you want to be with your family and surround yourself with as many people who love you as possible. Weather conditions aside, driving the coach that far would have meant a 2,100 mile round trip and close to 40 hours of driving time. Add on the cost of gas and campgrounds and you’ll start to understand why taking the coach was never a viable option for our Christmas visit!
There was quite a bit of planning involved and a lot of people we wanted to try and connect with, so I jumped right into organizer-mode!
Persistence and flexibility add up to great deals
One of my “jobs” on the road is to find great deals, anywhere and everywhere, to stretch our dollars as far as we can while maximizing our experience. This trip to Denver was neither on our calendar nor in our budget, and being just 5 weeks before Christmas, our choices were limited. I immediately jumped onto Expedia to see what I could find. Initially, I was seeing round trips for $280 each (from LA, Las Vegas) and a compact rental car for almost $700. Yikes! That would be almost $1,300! But, being a persistent little bugger, I widened my search and found a couple of cheap flights with Frontier Airlines departing Palm Springs at 4pm on Christmas Day for just $144 each. Awesome!
Next was the rental car. We knew we wouldn’t even use the car for the first couple of days as we’d just be relaxing and catching up with family. So instead of renting the car from the airport, we arranged for family to pick us up upon arrival and two days later we rented a car from a local Avis for just $179 – a deal I found via Costco Travel. Avis also allowed both of us to drive the car at no extra fee (unlike some car rental companies) then drop it off at the airport on the day of departure. We saved a cool $500 on our rental car just by being flexible with our pickup day and location – and insurance was already covered under our policy on the MINI. Sweet!
What do we do with our Coach and MINI?
Next, we needed to find a place to safely leave the coach and the MINI. As members of Thousand Trails, we can utilize their RV storage areas. We stayed at the Palm Springs campground for most of December and booked a storage space for the dates we’d be out of town. The cost? Just $3 per night! And that’s with electricity to keep our refrigerator running while we were gone! Next, I explored our options for the MINI – these included leaving it at the campground (free) and catching a taxi or Uber ride to/from the airport (15 minutes away) or driving to the airport and leaving it in the long term parking for $10 per day. Taking into consideration tips for a taxi or Uber driver both ways and the convenience of having our own car, the overall cost was about the same, so we decided to drive the MINI and leave it at the airport.
Total Travel Costs?
All up, with two airfares $288, a standard rental car $179, coach storage $30 and MINI airport parking of $100, the cost was about $597. That’s less than half of what we had initially anticipated. We also spent about $33 on fuel for the rental car and a couple of hundred on groceries and eating out in Colorado, but we didn’t count this as travel expenses, as we would have spent money on gas for the MINI, groceries and eating out for that week no matter where we were.
Ho! Ho! Ho! It’s Christmas Day
In keeping with our philosophy that life is more about connection and experiences than material things and the fact that we live our life as a series of daily celebrations, we don’t tend to spend much at Christmas time. So we exchanged a heartfelt card and kept our gifts for one another simple and personal, before enjoying a nice breakfast. We spent the rest of our Christmas morning packing, cleaning and preparing the coach for storage – all in the midst of one of Palm Springs’ famous dust storms! After three weeks of gorgeous weather, we had definitely picked a good day to leave!
It was extremely convenient driving our coach just a few hundred feet to the “storage area” and plug in the electrical cord to keep our fridge/freezer humming along nicely while we were away. With the coach all locked up, we headed to Palm Springs International Airport (below) – an oasis in the desert, with outdoor eating areas, grass, sun sails and of course, more palm trees. There was barely a soul to be seen, which made check-in a breeze!
Hello cold and snowy Colorado!
After a couple of hours in the air, we landed in Denver, Colorado, where a huge snow storm had already brought in a foot of snow! We were excited! If we were leaving sunshine and palm trees to go back to Colorado, we may as well go back to snow and a white Christmas and New Year! We left behind 70 degree (21C) California days for an average daytime temperature of ZERO Fahrenheit (-17C)! Wow, that was a cold week as it got down as low as minus 8 degrees F in the evening (-22C). It was a bit of a shock to the system – we’ve been acclimatizing to California weather now for months!
Safely chauffeured to their home by Marc’s brother and his wife in their large, comfy SUV, we were reminded just how much our little MINI feels like a go-kart! It was really great to see the family, their kiddos and Marc’s mom, having been away for over 6 months! After big welcoming hugs, we picked right up where we left off and seemed like we’d never left at all. Our nephews were excited to see they were almost taller than me now (I’m 4’8″) but not quite! I’ve still got just a fraction of an inch on them and holding! I’ve always found it amusing how excited kids get about being taller than an adult, it must make them feel like they are almost grown up. Which I find ironic, when so many of us adults try to find ways to feel like a kid again!
On Friday, the day after Christmas, the snow continued to fall so we took the kids sledding – their local school has a terrific hill just a few minutes away. With 5 sleds, 3 kids and 4 adults, we spent the next couple of hours sledding down the hill and running back up those steps. I’m not sure who had the most fun – the kids or us! Of course, while Marc and I had taken our warm winter gear with us, we didn’t have any snow gear, like snow boots or pants. Still it’s amazing how little you end up feeling the cold when you’re having so much fun! Because it was snowing “champagne powder” it was fairly dry, so as long as we brushed the snow off ourselves quickly, it didn’t have time to melt and get into our clothes or boots. You can see (and hear!) our sledding fun in this short video.
Food, fun, family and friends
Over the weekend, we all got together for a family belated Christmas celebration with a feast of beef brisket, yummy sides, Moscow mules and good wines, including the red we had bought during our visit to Bennetts Lane Winery in Calistoga, CA, and dessert. Dessert is always yummy and plentiful at a Bennett family gathering! And in true family tradition, we brought out the classic game of Tripoley and played it for hours. Sometimes there’s just nothing better than staying in on a cold day/night, with good food, wine, chocolate and playing cards and board games. In this case, Tripoley is both – being a combination of Michigan Rummy, Hearts and Poker. If you like any of these games and haven’t tried Tripoley, DO! It’s a family favorite that we can play for hours on end. Marc and I sometimes even play it in the coach, just the two of us, or with other couples we meet along the road. It’s easy, great fun and highly addictive! Just like that caramel popcorn you see in the pic mmmmm.
After a couple of nights with the family, we picked up our rental car and headed north to catch up with friends from our old neighborhood, Bradburn Village, followed by dinner with friends up in Boulder – it was fantastic to see everyone! We also had a second place to stay, generously offered by some good friends who were out of town visiting family. It worked out brilliantly for everyone – giving us some quiet time alone for a few nights, while also giving Marc’s brother’s family a break too – and meant we didn’t overstay our welcome anywhere! This is always a good thing, especially if you want to be invited back 🙂
Marc visits the office
While Marc took a few days off work between Christmas and New Year, he elected to go into the office and work for 3 of the 5 days. That gave him the opportunity to reconnect in person with many of his colleagues, meet a few new ones and keep up with his workload and email, and also gave him two long 4/5 day weekends. While it was beneficial for Marc to go to the office and see people face to face, he also found there were also a lot more distractions compared with working solo from the coach. As an introvert, Marc doesn’t need “water cooler” conversation in his workday – he much prefers to just get on with his projects and tasks uninterrupted. So his visit to the office, while nice on a social level, was also solid confirmation that he’s way more focused and productive working from his own “RV office“.
Beautiful Boulder and girl-time
After dropping Marc at the office, I took a drive up to Boulder where I managed to capture a few photos, like the one below of the beautiful Boulder Flatirons, but it was so darn cold that my Nikon D3200 camera wouldn’t even work outside! Luckily, I managed to capture this shot with my iPhone 5 – Boulder is always spectacularly beautiful, but especially so when it snows.
I got to spend quality time with a number of dear girlfriends, one on one. As an extrovert, this is one of the things I was most nervous about starting our travels – that my Colorado friendships would suffer. If anything, I would say some of those friendships are stronger than ever, and while we maintain regular contact while we are on the road, it sure was great to see them in person. Being a whirlwind trip, I didn’t get to visit all of them, but we’ll be back again in May for a longer stay – this time with the coach – so will catch up with them all then. My cup running over with girlfriend time, I felt recharged and grateful for the many wonderful friendships I had made since moving solo from Sydney, Australia to Boulder, Colorado in November 2008.
A Quiet but Happy New Year!
Amidst more snow and sub zero temps, New Year’s Eve was a very quiet night in with family, dinner, and more wine, chocolate and Tripoley! While everyone was in bed before midnight, I will admit I was still awake and on my iPhone, texting new year messages and typing Facebook posts from under the covers until the clock ticked over into 2015! Just can’t help myself.
Our last night in Colorado was spent with our dear friends Tami and Rob who had generously let us stay in their home while they were out of town. Good food, good wine, good friends and good conversation about things that matter – for us, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Home Sweet Home!
Exhausted after a lovely (though hectic) visit with everyone, we were more than ready to jump on a jet and head back to Palm Springs. As we arrived back at our motorhome, we both shared how good it felt to be back home. In that moment, we looked at each other in surprise as we both realized that this is home for us now. It’s not just an RV. This is our HOME. This isn’t just a long vacation. This is our LIFE. It may not be forever. But for now, this home is where our heart is.
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