COLUMBIA (WACH) - In an ongoing effort to balance our finances with the pursuit of happiness, it's time to get creative to secure your summer fun as well as your bottom line.
We're going to introduce a new concept ... a day-cation! These are basically trips you can take on a tank of gas and still feel like you got your va-ca on. My first venture was down to the Lowcountry, and my old stomping grounds, Hilton Head Island. The reason I chose to start with HHI is that so many people believe they can't afford to enjoy resort and I'm here to dispell that myth. I grew up on Hilton Head on a moderate income and learned how to "work the system" in order to navigate all the opportunities for greatness that the island has to offer.
As with most things in life, it's a good idea to know before you go. For this reason, I suggest adding Hilton Head to your Groupon and Groupon Getaways city list to get ahead of the game. It's a good idea to gather any local coupons as well. Another way to get a head start is to follow Ask-a-Local on twitter. The owner and founder, David Herndon grew up on the island and it's pretty hard to stump him when it comes to the inside scoop on steals, deals and island secrets.
Let me go ahead and lay down my travel philosophy for you. I'm all about value. That doesn't mean I'm sending you to the rock-bottom cheapest hotels and fast food restaurants. Although you'd save some scratch, you would also end up with a very mediocre vacation, and nobody wants that. So, I'll be presenting regional gems at reasonable prices, because it's equally important to have the "experience" if you want to call it a true day-cation. Let's get started!
When it comes to accommodations, we find economy hotels such as Days Inn and Red Roof Inn located mid-island. This is good for the budget traveler who isn't concerned about location. Don't get me wrong, they're both super clean and in a very safe area, but you will be spending some time fighting traffic, which kinda sucks the fun right out of a beach day. This leads us to our first bargain, The Beach House. This is from Holiday Inn Resort properties and let me just say... It. Is. Snazzy. A five million dollar renovation has turned the oldest hotel on the island into a swanky hipster pad. You would think with all the money they poured in that the prices would be sky high, but if you go on a weeknight in the shoulder seasons, you'll only pay about $139 per night for an oceanfront property in the heart of Hilton Head. If that's a tad too high, for a few extra steps you can stay at the Comfort Inn right across the street from the beach for about $100, plus you get a free hot breakfast bar and you can even bring your pets. In all honesty, this is where I stayed while reasearching this assignment. Keep in mind, jus a few feet up the beach you'll pay upwards of $450 to stay at the Marriott Grand Ocean, which is extremely nice, if not for the price.
Next, we have to figure out a way to get you on the greens without spending much green. Hilton Head is known for the links and it would be a travesty for any golfer to miss a chance to get out there on that beautiful Bermuda grass. The world famous Harbour Town Golf Links in Sea Pines Plantation is a pro course originally designed by Jack Nicklaus and a treat for anyone who can afford the $250 rounds. If that's pushing your pennies, take a short drive to Crescent Point Golf Club , an Arnold Palmer signature course, or it's sister course at Eagles Point Golf Club , this one designed by Davis Love III. Both courses have about $100 morning tee times, but all summer long after 12 p.m., you can play for only $35! If you can't decide on which course is for you, take advantage of the Hilton Head Signature Series for $109 with morning starts. Not too shabby, eh? Of course if that's just a bit out of reach, don't be shy about taking on our mini golf or put put courses. Trust me, it's surprisingly challenging and at $10 or less per person, it's easy to swing fun for the whole family.
Perhaps this is all about the beach for you (it is for me) so here's my little secret. Shhhhhh don't go telling everyone, but if you like Tiki Hut on Facebook, sometimes you can find out when they're having drink specials. Also, bartenders Derek and Jim are always ready to whip up a mango daquerie or strawberry colada just for you. Those frozen drinks will knock you back about $7.50 and if thats not going to work for your long game, try heading across the street to the Frosty Frog for the same drinks at half the price. However, Derek and Jim are good friends to have if you know what I mean, so if you can swing it, camp out at the Tiki Bar where they have live music, volleyball and beautiful beach bodies as far as the eye can see.
Are you hungry? I'm hungry! When you're ready to get your feed on, there's no better place to be than the Lowcountry. Fresh seafood, authentic Gullah dishes and traditional southern comforts come together to create a regional cuisine that'll make your mama cry. You can never go wrong with island favorites like The Old Oyster Factory, Hudson's, and The Old Fort Pub, all located on the north end of the island. The food is top notch so it can get a little spendy. Most every restaurant offers great food for happy hour and that's a great way to try a restaurant you might not otherwise be able to afford. One of the most popular spots for happy hour grazing is the Salty Dog Cafe. I'm pretty sure they wont let you off the island without a t-shirt so make sure to save a few sheckles for some merch. So you know how when you go back to your hometown you already know exactly which restaurants you want to hit, and exactly what you're going to order? I do, too. Each trip to Hilton Head finds me at Coligny Plaza enjoying my favorites like the Market Street Cafe and The Ice Cream Cone, in that order. There's also a ton of places to eat and shop there. Plus it's just cool. You'll like it, I promise.
If you have your heart set on Southern food, and I'm pretty sure you do, I cannot oversell Lowcountry Backyard restaurant for quality and value. This comfortable eatery built it's concept on down home eating. They take Lowcountry cooking to a whole new level, serving sweet tea in a bell jar and your bill is attached to a clothes pin. However, it gets really country when we start talkin' moonshine. Yep. I said it ... moonshine! You can take your chances with "White Lightning" or try the berry flavors, or you can get a flight and try all four varieties. I highly suggest cultivating your moonshine palate like any self respecting redneck, and the only place in town you can do that is Lowcountry Backyard. While you're there, tell owner Dave Peck that Alexis sent ya...!
Finally, I need to tell you the island can get a bit boozy in the afternoon. It's worth the trip to Harbour Town to see the sunset. The pricey and popular Quarterdeck is always packed at sundown and drinks average $7 to $12. A more affordable treat might be to grab an ice cream cone and head to the top of the lighthouse for the best view in town.
Okay, you're all set! Gas up the car, grab the swimsuit and hit the road. Here are driving directions and obey the speed limits because Beaufort County doesn't play when it comes to traffic tickets, and I would hate for that to cut into your drinking (ahem, I mean travel) budget.
Bon voyage, y'all!