Not Fit for Instagram (But Made Money to Sleep!)

Chicago Skyline from Lincoln Park Zoo

There were only two remarkable things about the four-day vacation we took in early September. The first was that we actually made money from it, almost $500. The second is that Liuan and I averaged about nine hours of sleep per night.

That’s quite remarkable considering we are both insomniacs and struggle to sleep more than seven hours even on the best of nights.

Other than that, our trip wasn’t much to write home about. Our itinerary included two nights at a campground twenty minutes southwest of downtown Chicago and two nights in a garden unit in Wicker Park on the North side. We never left Chicagoland, the corner of Earth we call home. There were no harrowing tales, no epic photographs, no content to feed our Instagram account. We didn’t even talk about it to our family or friends; it wasn’t worth their time.

But that isn’t to say it was boring to us. In fact, we had came home with more positive feelings about this borderline staycation than we did on our epic journey out West a month before.

So how did we pull off such a restful and profitable getaway?

A Vacation that Made Us Money

The circumstances around this “trip” were a bit unusual. It starts with the fact that we prepared our home to list on AirBnB two years ago in anticipation of the extensive travel we are planning next June. Renting out the house while we travel the world is key to being able to keep our home and pay for it while we’re away.

In the mean time, we’ve been road testing the concept by accepting bookings every time we leave town.

But here’s the twist. We also list our home for stretches of time that we aren’t planning to be away, for an outrageous price. We price it so high that we would gladly vacate our home on a moment’s notice and find somewhere else to go. It’s like casting a line in the pond and then walking away and doing something else not expecting to actually catch a fish. And sure enough nobody ever nibbled. Until a few weeks ago.

We had only two weeks to prepare and it was a mad dash. Converting our child-ravaged home into a clean, money-making machine took no small effort.

We also had to cobble together an itinerary in a matter of days. One that didn’t consume all our AirBnB income. But we managed to pull it off. We skimped on lodging, paid nothing for activities, and splurged on meals. Everybody loved it.

In case you’re curious about the details…

The Breakdown

When You Have Nowhere To Be

September 3, 2021. Here we are. The simple campground revolves around Bullfrog Lake. It’s nothing spectacular, but at least it’s in the woods, even if it is just a stone’s throw from the relentless highway noise and endless suburbs. There is an area for RVs and line of cabins, one of which we reserved for the weekend.

In front of the central bathroom complex we discover an odd scene. More than twenty large stumps stand in clusters, some close together, some farther apart. Some higher, some lower. Some of the gaps between stumps dare you to try and leap across. It invites you to play, even though it seems unlikely that they were put there for that reason.

Our family recently became addicted to the Netflix reality show, The Floor Is Lava. Now, at our newfound playground, everyone knows what to do and springs into action. We put our jumping and landing acumen to the test on tricky stump surfaces. We probe the edges of our reach and land some difficult leaps (and only crack a shin once or twice). We’re pretty sure we would win if we ever got on the show.

Afterwards, we cap off the night roasting brats and then marshmallows.

The next day we pass by a pavilion with some park staff sitting at a folding table. There will be a moth demonstration after dark. Why not, we say? We learn about how to identify moths versus butterflies (no, it’s not just that moths are ugly and butterflies are pretty). Then the staff issues the boys bug nets and they catch grasshoppers and large spiders in the prairie grass.

Playing Floor is Lava
Playing “Floor Is Lava” on this weird stump garden at Bullfrog Lake Camp.
Making sandcastle at North Ave Beach
The boys convinced me to put the book down and make a sand castle with them.

No Agenda, Just Rest and Good Eats

We recently took an epic road trip out West, stopping at Glacier National Park, then spending a week in Seattle, Olympic National Park and Whidbey Island off of Puget Sound. While any break from the daily routine is better than nothing, it wasn’t the most restful trip. We spent a majority of the two weeks strapped to a car seat, and one of the few times we left the car we were almost eaten by a bear.

For this getaway, we swung the pendulum in the opposite direction. We intentionally left our itinerary blank. Sleep and rest came first. We decided what to do as we went. Seeing impressive things, lining up for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and filling our cameras with epic photos were not on the radar.

Our cabin was sparse, and our basement apartment small and unimpressive, but Liuan and I slept like we were in our early twenties. Slow travel was on the menu, and it was a delicious treat.

Speaking of satisfying dishes, we decided to splurge on meals. I mean, we were making money on this trip, so why not? The boys loved the novelty of the table top grill at the Iron Age Korean Steakhouse. The next evening we had empanadas and a dish called Ropa Vieja (literally: old clothes), shredded beef in a complex marinade, at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe. Afterward, we took a long evening walk over to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream where we sampled unique flavors like lavender and brambleberry crisp.

Strangely Memorable

It may seem strange that a trip where we never left Chicago metroplex, ate a few decent meals, scrounged leftovers for the other meals, and saw nothing remarkable was such a big hit. And I’m talking about the kids’ perspective, not just the well-slept adults.

Our boys raved about the good times we had and wanted to do it again, soon.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Often we try hard and spend extra to wow the socks off our children, thinking that nothing less will satisfy them. But in reality, the simplest things—letting them play until they’re satisfied, eating unique tasty food, and just experiencing things as a family—are the most pleasurable.

And hey, making more money than you spend for once isn’t so bad either!

Have you had the experience of an unremarkable vacation being one of your best memories? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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2 Responses

  1. Lori Tupper says:

    I LOVE this!! Your description of playing on the stumps made me want to just play and have fun!! Your boys will fondly remember that trip for many years!

  2. Lori Tupper says:

    I LOVE this!! Your description of playing on the stumps made me want to just play and have fun!! Your boys will fondly remember that trip for many years!

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