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My Almost Free Summer Vacation

Night time on Pike Street in Seattle

Pike Street Market

One of my goals for this year was to take a two week trip. While our recent vacation wasn’t quite that long, we did get 10 days, so I’m counting that as a pass. My main goal for this vacation was to get it for free by using a combination of airline vouchers , credit card rewards points, frequent flier miles, gift card bonuses, and by selling our stuff. My smaller goal was to avoid paying for valet parking or cab fares. I hate both!  I’m happy to say that we pulled it off, and it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. We took planes, trains, and automobiles, and here’s my experiences with all of them.

Getting to Seattle

We flew in to Seattle and took the sweet Link Light Rail into downtown for something like $7. I love easy and cheap public transportation!  After some brief disorientation (think country mice go to the city), we found our hotel, which by a miracle my excellent planning was within a mile of everything we wanted to see. We walked around the waterfront, ate some great fish and chips, went to the aquarium, rode the ferry, and our Seattle highlight was a really cheesy thing called Ride the Ducks. The Duck is actually a  DukW WWII amphibious vehicle. It drives around the city, then the thing dives right into Lake Union! We got to see all the houseboat homes like the Sleepless in Seattle house. It was super cool!


The Duck on Lake Union in Seattle

Ride the Duck!

After three nights there we took the light rail to the train station to catch the

Like the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat

Lake Union Houseboats

Amtrak to Portland. I’ve never ridden on an Amtrak, but it was really comfy. If I had some time, I would certainly consider taking the train across country.

We spent two nights in Portland, saw some really strange people in super hero costumes, and learned that you are not allowed to pump your own gas in Oregon! Odd, but they have no sales tax, so I guess that makes up for it.

We rented a car next to drive to the coast. If you want to save money on a rental car, rent one in town instead of the airport. The taxes are much cheaper. I also signed up for the points program with the rental company, and got a sweet discount for doing that, plus a one car class upgrade.

Staying With Points and VRBO

In Seattle we stayed at a Homewood Suites, which is a Hilton property. Homewoods are great for families because you always get free breakfast and free dinner on Mondays-Thursdays. We realized we over did it one day on restaurant expenses, so we ate dinner at the hotel for free the next night. It’s buffet, and consists of a salad, entree, lemonade, beer, or wine, and cookies for dessert. The night we were there was chicken fajitas. If you are picky, it might not work,  but it was perfect for us.


Beach near Haystack Rock

Amazing Beach, Cold Water!

We chose Embassy Suites in Portland, mainly because it was what was offered for free with my points. They have a great free hot breakfast, and I can’t complain about free rooms!

On the coast we rented a vacation cottage from VRBO. It was spectacular and ¼ of a mile from the beach. We actually ate breakfast there and packed picnic lunches every day. We also cooked dinner there for two of the three nights, which really saved again on food costs. It was nice to do laundry because the other thing I refuse to do is pay to check bags That certainly limits the amount of clothes you can bring.


For food, we allotted $500,  $350 in Amex gift cards I received from work, and $150 from selling things, like our old TV. We did really well and ended up bringing $150 home. I know $350 for a week of groceries is crazy, but we ate out many of our meals, so I was pretty happy with this. It averages out to $35 per day for the three of us on vacation. I think my favorite place we ate was the Astoria Brewing Company, mainly for the awesome view of the Columbia River from the dining room. I also reallly enjoyed lunch at the Multnomah Falls Lodge, which views the second highest year round waterfall in the country. The home made mac and cheese wasn’t too shabby either!

Columbia River in Astoria

Columbia River in Astoria


One of the highest waterfalls in North America

Multnomah Falls










Really the only out of pocket money we spent was on fun. We decided to visit the aquarium and Ride the Ducks, which were spendy. We visited 4 state parks, Mount St. Helens National Monument,  and the Lewis and Clark Fort Clatsop National Park. Some were free, and the most expensive one was $10. We did several miles of hiking or walking around town every day we weren’t in the airports. I can’t describe how amazing the scenery was. If you haven’t visited this area, you should put it on your list. You can see most of the sites without hiking, but we are not very good passive vacationers and have to earn our views.

We also took the tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory. There we saw people making huge blocks of cheese into individual size packages. sampled some of their more popular cheeses, and got some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had (low carb went on vaction too). I have the best marketing idea for them; a t-shirt that says “I cut the cheese in Tillamook, OR.’” Woundn’t everyone want one?


Public beaches in Oregon

Ecola State Park

I got to read a book, play some Scrabble, and sleep in a couple of times. I also have to commend our daughter. She took $55 dollars from her stash and only spent $20 on a stuffed sea lion from the aquarium and a doll from the clearance bin at the Disney Store. She was all ready to buy the $19.95 doll when we spotted the half price section. Her eyes lit up when she knew she could get a bigger doll for less money. My little PF genius in the making!

We flew back out of Portland, and while we were sad to leave, it’s always nice to get home. I admit I am a little depressed because this trip took about a year to gather the right points and plan, and now it’s over. I guess I’ll have to get to work on the next one soon!

Did you take a summer vacation? Can you name the other state in the US, besides Oregon, where you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas?

About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I believe New Jersey also only allows gas attendants to pump gas. Don’t know if there’s anywhere else.

    Glad you guys had a great vacation, and that you were able to do so without breaking the bank!

    • NJ and Oregon are it. I looked it up and the reasons made me laugh, mainly it was a safety issue. I’ve never heard of anyone getting hurt pumping gas without an attendant, but I’m sure it’s happened.

  2. That sounds like an awesome vacation! You and my wife would get along great in that she loves to plan for vacations a year out. She also grew up in the other state where you can’t pump your own gas – NJ. Have a great weekend!

    • Ha, I knew someone would know without googling it. Did she feel stunted that she never learned to pump gas as a teen?

  3. That sounds amazing. I don’t know any other states that doesn’t all you to pump your own gas. We went to Mammoth Cave national park last month. The caves were fun to look at but the rest was a big tourist trap.

    • I grew up about 45 minutes from Mammoth Cave and have been several times. I never get tired of that big chamber when they sit you down and turn off the lights! And Yes, Cave City is a big tourist trap, but we used to always have family reunions at the Cracker Barrel there if no one wanted to have 25 people at their house, so it kind of holds a soft spot for me too.

  4. Awesome vacation, Kim! I did not take a Summer vacation and I don’t have one planned :/ I did go on a cruise in February so I can’t complain. One of my goals for the near future is to look into “credit card churning” to hopefully get some rewards. It seems to be something a lot of people are doing these days.

    • I would love to take vacations during an off season, but with a kid in school and husband who is works for the school district, summer is it for now.

  5. Impressive, not only the costs, but also the pictures of Ecola, those ones are even better than the first one you posted. The pumping gas was strange, we were on a bike that is tricky to fill so the pump guy couldn’t do it and had to watch us pump the gas. It does keep a few more jobs in the state I guess.

    • I read online that motorcycle drives can fill their own tanks, but the attendant has to hand you the gas pump! Most of those pics posted today were with our new camera. It was certainly worth the money. The others were from my phone, which actually is pretty good for a phone, I thought.

  6. Sounds wonderful! I’m about to leave for a bachelorette party in Chicago for the weekend. WOOHOO! 🙂

  7. Sounds like a great trip! Seattle is on the short list of places I want to visit. One of my best friends moved there a few years ago and loves it, and my brother’s long-time girlfriend is from there as well. It sounds like such a great place. And we’ve got the duck boats here in Boston too. Didn’t know they did that elsewhere. They’re a lot of fun! Though definitely a little cheesy for sure.

  8. Haha there are some places in Canada where they pump the gas for you. You can do it yourself but it’s sort of looked down upon and just makes it weird for everyone.

  9. I just returned from a long weekend at a HIlton property at the beach. I used vouchers for my hotel stay and it included the free breakfast. The weekend cost us about $100 plus gas ($8). Almost free!

  10. I love the pictures, Kim. It looks so beautiful and peaceful. I’ve been to Seattle and Portland for work, but never for fun. Now I definitely want to go back and explore. It’s awesome that you were able to go on vacation for almost no cost! That’s amazing. 🙂 I love how money savvy your little girl is. Her Mama is teaching her right!

  11. Sounds like a wonderful time, Kim, and superb planning on your part! Very cool about your daughter too, and her budgeting wins – way to go!

  12. Wow Kim, some great deals there but most of all sounds like you had a great time. When I used to travel I would also cook instead of going out to save money.

  13. Sounds like a great trip and shows just how much fun you can have on a budget.

  14. Wow that pic of Ecola state park is beautiful!! I loved watching people on the ride the duck boat/bus thing when I lived in Seattle. They had those whistle things they used and were always singing. Cracked me up! I’m headed to Portland/Seattle in Sept and actually taking the train from portland to seattle. Glad to hear it’s nice!

  15. What a fun trip. Bf and I traveled to Seattle a few years ago and it was gorgeous. We had a really good time. We’re headed up to Maine in a couple of weeks to visit my folks (and swim, hike and relax), we’re really excited.

  16. Way to go! David over at young adult money is trying to pay for a full vacation with giveaway winnings. It sounds like a pretty solid idea to me.
    I am impressed with how well you did! Gotta love when things work out unexpectedly well, like your hotel location!

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