Tempe? Who takes a vacation to Tempe? When it cost us less than $200, we do!
Tim and I are not “winter people”. Yes, we live outside of Denver (and we love it). Denver has AMAZING summers but our winters are long. There’s snow in October AND in May. Thankfully, it’s not snowy for eight straight months. We’ll often soak up mild, sunny days when any snow melts so quickly, I wonder if it was all a dream. Still, a warm, quick getaway is nice.
In December, we attended an event in Denver at a new Marriott-branded property, the Moxy. There are only a few of them in the U.S., but they’re adding properties quickly. I loved their vibe – it’s like an Instagram moment at every turn. The reception desk has been replaced by a bar, the lobby is huge and inviting, and the rooms are funky.
The next day, I got an email from Frontier Airlines. Our frequent flier miles were expiring (they only give you 6 months!). Frontier offers frequent fare sales and we snagged two one-way tickets to Phoenix for only $39.96. Score! Our return airfare was on Southwest and it only cost us a few Rapid Reward points and $11.20 in taxes. I found a 3-day hole in our January schedule and an excellent points redemption for the Moxy Phoenix Tempe. With our flight and hotel booked, I started planning how we’d fill our days.
We Embraced our Inner College Student in Tempe
The hotel is across the street from Arizona State University. I figured there might be fun activities and tasty, cheap food to support the students. Searching the school’s websites, I found their music school. A frugal heads up…university music programs can offer lots of free entertainment.
A few years ago, Tim and I were blown away when we toured a local university’s cafeteria with our kids. When I was in college, the dorm food was pretty bad. My main course? Mostly cereal, 3 meals a day. Foodies weren’t a popular thing back then. I’m guessing schools need to compete for a new generation who have been raised with international, creative food. Checking out ASU’s dining online, I was blown away by the menus and decided we’d experiment with some meals on campus.
In our experience, college towns have pretty good food around the school and it trends towards cheap. I turned to Yelp for assistance. We found a gem or two but learned that huge portions can influence a higher rating. That doesn’t mean the food is any good. Lesson learned.
The area around ASU is flat and conducive to walking when the weather is nice. We decided to skip a rental car to save money and walked (or biked) everywhere. The Moxy showed a complimentary airport shuttle online. Since our flight arrived after midnight, I called to make sure it ran into the wee hours. Even better (and something I’ve never seen before), they pay for an Uber ride to AND from the airport. SWEET!
Lots of fun activities in Tempe
- Our first day was BUSY. We met new blogging friends for lunch, checked out 2 student music recitals (free), watched a movie up for a Best Picture Oscar, ate in a college cafeteria, attended a free panel discussion at the Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA), and enjoyed Open Mic Night at the TCA (21 acts!)…all on foot. Nearly 10 miles of walking with all of that activity made for quite a day. With 80-degree perfect weather, it was a pleasure to be outdoors so much.
- The hotel provided free bikes. We borrowed them for a short ride to the grocery store to grab yogurt and granola…our breakfast each day. Another school cafeteria was on our radar for lunch. This one was known for its better food…sushi and a gelato bar??? Hello! One more Oscar movie that afternoon helped us cross off film number 4 on our Best Picture Nominee watchlist (we love lists!). Side note…AMC Theaters around the United States offer the best pricing we’ve seen on matinee movies. In the Tempe location, regular movies are roughly 5 bucks before 4 PM. More meetups made for a social night. First up, beer and conversation with our new pal at Done by Forty. Before our trip, I joined the ChooseFI Phoenix Facebook group and offered our hotel lobby as a casual get-together spot. Nine people joined us and we talked for hours about our favorite things…travel, food, money and early retirement. Meeting like-minded people around the world is one of our passions.
- Day three started with a scheduling snafu. We rode the hotel bikes 11 miles round-trip for a free lunchtime concert, only to find that I had the wrong date. The ride was fun and let us soak up the sun before heading home that night. Delicious smells of grilled meat enticed us into a Middle Eastern restaurant that happened to be on my radar, thanks to Yelp. Our third, and final, movie of the trip helped us tick off one more award contender.
Eating in Tempe
I’d call our college food experiment a bust. With our focus on health, all-you-can-eat meals are rough for both of us. There were stations for Asian, Italian, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisines, along with a soup-and-salad bar, but none of it was delicious. And, it wasn’t cheap. Tim and I feel as though we need to get our money’s worth at that sort of thing so we overate and would have been happier eating at a quick casual place with healthier, yummier food. It wasn’t a total failure because it reinforced this idea.
A note about our “advanced age” among all the students. There were a handful of other 40+-year-olds everywhere we visited on campus. No one pointed at us and laughed.
Back to the food…there were all types of restaurants near the school, covering many cuisines and open late. It would have been easy to spend less money on more delicious food. We’re always fine-tuning.
New Friends in Tempe
One of our goals behind this blog is that it gives us an opportunity to meet others in “our tribe”. It’s pretty amazing to connect with people who find frugal living as scintillating as we do.
There are lots of resources to find members of the FIRE community (Financial Independence, Retire Early). For this trip, I reached out to early retirement bloggers on Rockstar Finance. We met up with 2 of them (Ms. Liz Money Matters and Done by Forty). The huge ChooseFI community has local chapters all over the U.S. and the world. I joined the Phoenix group and posted a casual BYOB event in our hotel’s lobby. Nine members showed up for a fun and frugal night.
What We Spent on our Tempe Vacation
|One way to Phoenix for 2 people – $39.96 was “erased” with our Capital One points.
|One way to Denver for 2 people – used 1,928 Southwest points. I flew free thanks to our Southwest Companion Pass. Paid cash for taxes and fees on 2 tickets.
|Moxy Phoenix Tempe
|Redeemed 45,000 Marriott points for 3 nights at this AMAZING Category 3 property. $4 is for housekeeping 2 nights…they skipped us one day.
|Denver Airport Parking + shuttle tips
|We use Top Airport Parking to get the best rates. $15.97 was “erased” with our Capital One points. $4 for shuttle driver tips.
|Food for the 2 of us for 72 hours – 7 meals plus grocery-store snacks
|Uber tip for free airport ride
|We each saw 3 Best Picture-nominated Oscar movies. The Centerpointe AMC offered matinee prices until 4 PM. 2 of the movies were at the reduced rate and 4 tickets were covered by a discount certificate Tim purchased last year.
|This may be the cheapest vacation we’ve ever taken.
Here’s how much we enjoyed the trip…we already booked 3 nights at the Moxy for January 2019. Join us?
Have you found any walking cities that combine affordable accommodations and food with nice weather and lots of activities? If so, we want to visit them. Please let us know in the comments!