Exploring North Carolina’s backyard

Stay-cationing on a shoestring

By Allison Goldberg

Exploring North Carolina’s backyard

Let’s face it. Not everyone can afford wine tasting in Europe or a cruise to Greek islands. In fact, not everyone can afford a trip to other states. Luckily, opportunities exist for singles, couples or family to travel on less luxurious budgets in their own home state.

Day trips

Many people don’t know much about their neighboring towns and cities. Are there North Carolina museums, restaurants, shops and nature areas you’ve always wanted to explore? Do it! You can stay for free in your own home and support a local economy.

You are more apt to make it a real vacation if you specifically set aside a date for your special day and research beforehand. Figure out how much driving you can comfortably do in a day in choosing an area. For some, it’s about four hours total round trip, others it’s less or more.

Consult the area’s visitors bureau or Chamber of Commerce and the local paper’s events guide. Or search for restaurant deals and activities at places like Groupon.com. And museums often offer a free day for visitors or discounts on select days.

Consider taking the train

Climb aboard instead of driving and you’ll have a unique experience enjoying scenery you haven’t seen before. Amtrak offers two routes through N.C. The Piedmont travels between Charlotte and Raleigh, stopping in Cary, Durham, Burlington, Greensboro, High Point, Salisbury and Kannapolis. The Carolinian covers the same route, with service extending up the East Coast to New York City. Its stops include Wilson and Rocky Mount before heading north. Most stations are close to attractions and eateries.

You can take your bike, too, if you reserve it. This check-in service is available free of charge on some trains between Charlotte and Raleigh. A bicycle fee of $20 applies if you’re traveling to and from select stations between Raleigh and New York. Call 800-872-7245 or visit amtrak.com to learn more.

Tent camping

It’s fun to stay in your own backyard, literally, as a family. You can toast marshmallows and curl up in cozy sleeping bags but you won’t have to pack so much and can still enjoy comforts like using your own bathroom. Or perhaps you want to stay overnight at a destination? Either way, camping is a great way to control costs and you can rent or borrow gear.

See Carolina Country's 2016 travel guide about North Carolina’s State Parks and National Parks in North Carolina for location ideas. There’s also a website, campingcarolinas.com, with a directory of RV Parks and camping sites in North Carolina and South Carolina, categorized by the mountains, piedmont, and coast. For campers who desire more amenities, it also lists camping cabins and luxury cabins.

Camper rentals

Tent camping just not your thing? Consider renting a camper to take to the beach, a lake or elsewhere. Life by the Horns in Apex is among businesses that rent lightweight campers that can be towed by mini-vans and small SUVs. You’ll have the comforts of a fridge, stove, air conditioning and heat. Visit lifehornscamping.com to learn more.

Spend cash

Set a budget for necessities like food and a separate budget for extras like souvenirs. Once on your trip, try to spend only cash. It will help you realize how much you spend — without causing you to spend the next year paying off your credit card. 

About the Author

Allison Goldberg writes for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Carolina County contributing editor Karen Olson House also provided information for this story.

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