Category Archives: Travel

Anything to do with travel, may also include things like reviews of restaurants, hotels, resorts, and entertainment while we are traveling.

How to Enjoy the Minnesota State Fair (or any fair) on a Budget

Enjoy the Minnesota State Fair on a budget.
Enjoy the Minnesota State Fair on a budget.

I have been going to the Minnesota State Fair since I was a kid. I love the state fair.  I look forward to going every year.  However if you look forward in partaking in the food, beverages, and entertainment  that is offered at the fair which is kind of the whole point of going to the fair it can add up to a very large expense in a hurry.

It is possible though to go to the fair and do it without breaking the bank. I will share some of the tricks I have learned over the years of how to enjoy the fair even if you don’t have the disposable income or just don’t want to spend that much of your savings in hope that it can helps others do the same.  Please keep in mind that the facts I have used to write this post are all from my experiences at the Minnesota State Fair, I am sure all state fairs are a bit different on costs but they are all probably very similar.

First things first.  Getting through the front gate.  There is admission to pay.  If you pay at the gate you will need to pay full price which is $13 per adult and $11 per child, so for my family just to get through the front gate would cost me $48.  That is a lot of dough.  Never pay the full price at the gate, there are so many different ways to avoid that.  Here are a few that I have discovered:

1. Buy your tickets in advance.

Tickets can be purchased over the Internet or at a local venue (many are set up to sell State Fair tickets in advance) I can purchase State Fair tickets right now for $8 to $10 each.  Which brings the cost for my family down to $36.

2. Go to the fair on a special deals day.

This year the deal days are:

  • Thrifty Thursday: (Aug. 25) Adults $11 Kids: $8
  • Seniors and Kids Day (Aug. 29 & Sept. 1) Adults: $13 Seniors: $8 Kids: $8
  • Military Appreciation Day (Aug. 30) Adults: $8* Seniors: $8* Kids: $8*
    * Discount applies to active military, spouses and kids; retired military and spouses; and military veterans and spouses when they purchase a ticket at the gate and present valid documentation of military service.
  • Read & Ride Day (Aug. 31) Adults: $11** Seniors: $8** Kids: $8**
    ** Discount applies to public library cardholders who purchase a ticket at the gate and present a valid library card (one discount per card).
  • Kids Day (Monday, Sept. 5) Adults: $13 Seniors: $11 Kids: $8

3. Volunteer.

If you volunteer at one of the many booths at the fair on any given day you get free admission to the fair for that day.  We volunteered last year at the Celiac Awareness booth in the health building for four hours in the evening and were able to spend the entire day at the fair for free.  When you volunteer you get to meet so many wonderful people and help out a good cause as well.  The four hours went by so fast that it did not feel like any time at all because we were so busy the whole time.  Plus another bonus is that a lot of the time when you volunteer for events like this you usually get a shirt to wear and then keep, snacks, drinks, and sometimes even a meal depending on the event.

5. Work at the Fair.

If you have the time and ambition or just love to work extra jobs the state fair hires tons of people each year to work the fair.  Not only does that come with free admission but it also comes with a paycheck.  I have not done this one yet, though is on my bucket list after I retire.  You can follow this link for more information about working at the Minnesota State Fair (This is not an affiliate link, I am not receiving any type of payment or kickback for providing this information, I am just providing it to help those who are interested in the information).

You can find just about anything on a stick at the State Fair.
You can find just about anything on a stick at the State Fair.

 

Eating and drinking at the Minnesota State Fair is probably the single biggest expense when attending the great Minnesota get together.  There is so much food, I can’t even begin to describe the immense selection of food options the fair has to offer.  If you ever wanted to have some food item on a stick you should be able to find it here, everything from corn dogs to ice-cream on a stick, yes ice-cream on a stick, I did not try that one yet so I am unsure how they pulled that off.

Even the most disciplined of person would have a hard time not being tempted by all the food there is at the fair, everywhere you look is food, everyone you pass has some type of treat they are trying, you can`t go anywhere at the fair that does not have something to offer in the form of food.

If you are anything like me you will have the urge to try everything at least once.  Of course you would fail if you tried, even if you were to spend a week at the fair you could never try everything there is though no matter how many times I visit the fair I always want to give it shot.  So how do you avoid spending next months grocery money on food and drink at the fair? Here are a few tips to help you enjoy enough food to feed an army without spending your life savings doing so:

1. The Blue Ribbon Bargain Book (state fairs other than Minnesota’s may have similar offerings)

This is probably the best way to save money on food, short of not buying any fair food at all.  The blue book is a coupon book with somewhere around 150 coupons in it for various vendors at the fair.  Not all vendors participate but enough do that you can eat nothing but things that are offered at a discount out of the Blue Book.  I know this because I have been doing it every year since I discovered the Blue Book.

It is a bit of a game for me.  I try to eat nothing but what I have coupons for, I did it two years ago without wavering but last year I was overcome by temptation when I came across a booth selling bacon wrapped and double fried corn dogs, it was a marvelous defeat as that was the best corn dog I have ever ate in my life.

I have loosely kept tract of how much money I would have spent on food at the fair had I not used the Blue Book.  Last year I would have spent close to $200 without the Blue Book, using the Blue Book though I spent $75 on food and drinks.  So the $5 price for the book more than pays for itself.  The Blue Books can be purchased online ahead of time or right at the fair at specially marked booths.

2. Bring your own food and drinks.

Treats and drinks of all kinds.
Treats and drinks of all kinds.

There are no rules I know of against bringing your own food and drink with you to the fair.  To help offset some of the costs of food and drink I pack snacks in my backpack to bring along.  Trail mix, fruit, fruit snacks you name it.  Things similar to what you would pack in your lunch and that you don’t have to worry about spoiling if they are not refrigerated.  I would caution against packing anything that could melt as well, like candy bars or chocolate because you can be out in the sun at the fair a lot and some days that sun can be very hot, a candy bar would be a mess quickly.

Healthy snacks are also available at the State Fair if you look for them.
Healthy snacks are also available at the State Fair if you look for them.

I stated earlier that the fair can get hot and that leads to sweat, which leads to needing a lot of water.  You don’t want to spend all your money on bottled water so bring a bottle with.  There are several water stations around the fair where you can refill with nice clean ice-cold water for free.  Last year we upgraded our backpacks to the Camelbak type packs that have water packs built right into them, I highly recommended them.

3. Attend Programs.

There are dozens of events and programs going on every day at the fair.  If you are an organized person, like to set a schedule, and enjoy knowing what events you are going to see at what time it would take very little effort for you to schedule in a few presentations during your day at the fair.  If you pick the right ones, usually the ones that have to do with cooking and food crafts you can almost count on free food during or at the end of the presentation.

I am not a good planner, I like to do things on a whim as I go along but I have been lucky to stumble upon a few of these presentations during my travels around the fair.  My favorites are the cooking demonstrations, these vary from a company demonstrating how well their cookware works to a presentation on all the different ways to use a certain type of food.

Whatever the presentation might be there is always food to try during the presentation and after.  The presentations range from in length from like 10 minutes to up to an hour. I have found the longer the presentation the bigger the meal or sample at the end.

4. Camping at the State Fair

Camping at the Fair is a blog post all its own that I plan on writing in the future but as it applies to enjoying the fair on a budget.  Camping at the fair can make a very big difference in your budget.  I am not sure about other state fairs but the Minnesota State Fair offers camping right on the fair grounds.

It takes some planning on the part of the participant as you have to reserve a spot early in the year but if you are lucky enough to score a camping spot the cost is low, like $25 per night and you are free to come and go as you want.

How does this help your budget?  You can eat all your meals at your camper or camping spot.  I have been camping at the fair for years and love it, I have a nice relaxed breakfast in the morning at my camper then enjoy the fair all day and return in time to make a quick dinner at night.

 

Attractions, events, and entertainment at the fair is as abundant as the food.  There is a selection of things to entertain and amaze crowds of all ages.  There is music, talent shows, big time stage productions, demonstrations of all forms, animal shows, live births, carved busts out of butter, ice sculptures, log-rolling, fireworks, and the list goes on.  The best part is that everything I listed are all free shows all you have to do is show up and find a seat.  Here is a small list of my favorites:

1. Births and babies.

The Miracle of Birth Barn is a bustling building full of cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and other critters all pregnant or with babies.  Keep in mind some shows like the live births are unpredictable so you either need to be lucky when you visit the miracle of birth barn or you have to be patient.  I usually visit the barn a few times a day, if you take a walk through at various times you will generally get lucky and see something being born.  If not you can just enjoy all the cute babies.

2. Art, Crafts, and more Art

The 4-H building, the art building, and the crafts building are all on the same street as you walk around the fair and I love visiting them all.  You can spend hours in any one of them just looking at art by artists around Minnesota or checking out the many different projects in the 4-H building.

If you visit at the right times you might get to see a talent show or a fashion show as well in the 4-H building, there seems to always be some kind of competition or show going on throughout the day.  Outside these buildings you will find vendors and a few stages, one of the stages has line dancing shows, tap dancing, or swing dancing shows pretty much all day long as well.  If you pay attention and explore enough you will even find a meditation tent around this area.

3. Animals Galore

State Fair Animals
You can enjoy animals galore at the Minnesota State Fair.

If you like animals you are going to love the fair.  There is a horse barn, a dairy barn, a pig barn, a poultry barn, and even a llama barn.  These buildings are huge and full of horses, cows, pigs, sheep, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and even llamas.

I have watched cattle auctions and enjoyed horse shows at the Coliseum. I have seen sheep being sheered and have watched a live operation on a horse.  You could plan out your entire day at the farm just around the animal barns and never run out of things to do and it is all free.  If you explore enough you will even find a hidden convenience store in the animal area that sells just about anything you might need.

4. Music and Entertainment

If you like music, concerts, and talent shows you will have no problem at all finding things to keep you busy at the Minnesota State Fair.  There are over 10 different stages at the fair and they all have

A variety of musical performances can be found all day and night at the State Fair.
A variety of musical performances can be found all day and night at the State Fair.

different bands and shows playing all day long.  Some of the shows are very laid back and others are standing room only due to the crowds they draw.  The best part is they are all free except the main headliners in the Grandstand each night which can range anywhere from $20 to $65 per ticket depending on the show.

5. Parades and Fireworks

Every day during the fair there is a parade that goes down the main streets of the fair that is a big draw and fun to watch.  Every evening before closing there is a fireworks show to celebrate that day of the fair.

Those are my 5 top free or inexpensive things that you can do at the Minnesota State Fair.  There are many other things as well that require money to do.  Everything from butterfly experiences to the Mighty Midway.

The Mighty Midway at the State Fair.
The Mighty Midway at the State Fair.

There is so much to do at the fair each year you can easily spend several days walking around and exploring and still never do everything there is to do.  I have talked to many people who go to the fair everyday for a week and still say they never get to do everything there is to do.

I hope you have found this post informative and it helps you enjoy the fair even if you are on a tight budget.  Take my word from it if you really want to do it and you have the willpower to resist all those yummy treats on a stick you certainly can make it happen.

Please feel free to contact me with any question you may have.

Thank you,

The Broke Dad

Escape Pod Log 13 – Worst Blogger Ever – Adventure 2015

Alright so I am really bad at keeping up with my blog. I always have the greatest intentions of blogging or updating everyday, but then my trip starts and I get involved in 1000 different things and the next thing you know the trip is over and I am back to work doing my thing and the next adventure rolls  around and I open my blog up realize I never finished blogging the last trip I was on. So yeah. I am the worst blogger ever.

This year I am going to make an honest effort to keep up with things. I have a new keyboard for my tablet, I have been very focused on keeping up with my writing, I am much more organized this year then ever before, and it will be just me and my new wife on our honeymoon, no kids, no dog, nobody but the two of us so that leaves a little more time for the blog. Of course being on a honeymoon and all maybe there will not be much time for a blog but one never knows.

Last years adventure ended up being very fun but also ended up being about 75% driving. We have decided that in future trips we do not want to drive across Montana nor Wyoming as those two states are HUGE, and no offense to those who love those two states, they offer very little to do for the road tripper between main destinations such as Glacier NP and Yellowstone. Of course we only have one route to form our opinion from as it was the first time we had ever been there so maybe other routes across those states are better. One thing we did like about both states though was the camping selections, all very nice, all very affordable, and all very clean and wonderful.

This year we head off west once again. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and then back home.   Getting very excited to be on the road again. The Escape Pod is already loaded up and ready to go out in the drive.

Escape Pod Log 12 – Glacier National Park

We arrived at Glacier National Park to find it very rainy and very cold out. We came into site of Glacier heading west on Hwy 2 from Malta, MT and followed it down the east side of the park to a National Park campground by the name of Two Medicine Campground.

The campground was fairly busy but not full and we were able to secure a wooded site next to a river. We could not see the river from our camper due to all of the trees but we were able to hear it and walk to it on a short path. The boys were immediately out of their shoes and wading in the river before I even had time to start setting up the camper for the night. They lasted about 15 minutes in the frigid waters before they were back to the camper talking about how they could not feel their feet anymore.

Once the camper was set up and we walked to the registration station and paid for the camping we returned to the camper to start dinner. I have a camp stove much like the Coleman brand that I found at a yard sale for $2 that I have been using for several years now and it has worked like a dream. I set it up outside of the camper usually on a small fold up table that we bring with us and hook a small portable propane tank to it. I bring 3 or 4 of these small tanks with me and they last a surprisingly long time before they are empty.

I carry two cast iron pans with me, 2 regular size sauce pans, and 1 small sauce pan, plus a tea kettle and a percolator for when I need to make a large amount of coffee at once. Everything I have in the camper with the exception of 1 of the regular sized sauce pans I have picked up over time at yard sales. I love finding cast iron pans at yard sales that are rusty and people are selling them for a few bucks. I can have a rusty pan looking like new in about an hour or less, which I find rather gratifying.

Two of my cast iron pans I have rescued from a life of rust and disuse.
Two of my cast iron pans I have rescued from a life of rust and disuse.

Anyway back to Glacier…we decided to have noodles with spaghetti sauce that evening and had purchased  a pound of mild Italian sausage at a grocery store along our route.  I browned the sausage in my cast  iron then added a jar of spaghetti sauce, I prefer garden vegetable versions but am not picky about brand.  I let the sauce get warm and when the water in the sauce pan is boiling I add a package of noodles.  We use an gluten free version of elbow mac type noodles that we like, gluten free because my wife is allergic to wheat so almost all of the cooking I do when she is with is gluten free.  Once the noodles are done it is time to eat.

We ate our meal in the camper that evening because it was pouring rain, I forgot to mention that I had to cook dinner while holding an umbrella. I do not have an awning on my little camper, if I am camping in the same spot for several days in a row.  I do have a free standing canopy I can put up that sits right next to the camper and works like a charm but if I am only camping for the night I don’t usually take the time to set it up.  Once dinner was done and we had everything cleaned up we pretty much just went to bed as it was already fairly late and we wanted to get an early start the next day.
The next morning we awoke to more rain, the camper was damp due to not being able to have the windows open very much and the condensation building up which I have found to be fairly common with my camper especially when the temperature drops to 50 or less.  That morning the temperature was sitting at a balmy 38 degrees inside the camper so things were feeling very damp.  I managed to get myself out of my warm (and dry) sleeping bag, get dressed, and get everyone else moving.  We were on the road in less then an hour and on our way to the south entrance of the park.
Going to the Sun Road ended up being closed off at the 16 mile mark so we only got to see a very small portion of it due to there still being to much snow blocking the road, so we saw what we could in the cold and the rain and then had a family meeting and decided our time would be better spent on the road heading to better weather. So after some photo ops, a few small hikes, and a stop at the visitors center to get the boys sworn in as Junior Rangers and to get their badges we were on our way south.

Escape Pod Log 11 – Malta, MT

Woke up this morning and headed out of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and headed North to see Fort Union Trading Post just outside of Wilston, ND. Fort Union is part of the US Park Service and is staffed by US Park Rangers wearing outfits of the period, it was a very fun visit.

We had the entire fort virtually to ourselves and because of that had the chance to sit with the ‘Trader’ in the trading post for quite some time and he had some very interesting facts and stories to share. He even shared a cup of old fashioned coffee with me that he had brewing over the open fire/cooking pit inside the trading post, I enjoyed that immensely and it very much made my visit to the fort something I will always remember.

The boys enjoyed the fort and became Junior Traders and earned their badges while we were there by going around and completing an activity book with questions all about fur trading, the fort, and local history. They had a lot of fun learning all about the different aspects of the fort and life back in the 1800’s.
After leaving the Fort the rest of our day was pretty much spent driving towards Glacier National Park, we are now in Malta, MT spending the night in the city park which offers camping for $3.00 a night.

We were going to stay in a campground by the name of the Edgewater, but the lady at the desk recommended that we come to the park since we did not need electricity or water hook ups. I am glad she sent us here  because this park is very nice and very quiet except for the cows that were mooing like crazy right before dark but they have since calmed down, it must have been feeding time at the farm across the river.
Tomorrow morning we will get up and drive the rest of the way to Glacier National Park.

Escape Pod Log – Log 9 – Schnell Recreation Area, ND

I had logged earlier that we were going to be taking our summer trip to Maine this year, well things have changed and we are currently on the road. Today was the first day of our journey and we have decided to head West, we hope to visit several of our beautiful National Parks in the next three weeks starting with Theodore Roosevelt National Park which we should arrive at tomorrow. We will then head off to points west in hopes of seeing Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton, and then turning back towards home and spending a few days in the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and the Badlands.

Today we left home and drove approximately 9 hours, going northwest from Duluth, MN and Superior, WI and heading towards Fargo, ND. We are currently camped out at the Schnell Recreation Area which is a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campground about an hour east of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I was here before back in 2012 when I took a three week trip with my kids and we were here with only one other camper. I liked the solitude so much I decided I wanted to do it again and we arrived here about 6:30PM this evening and we are the only people here. We have very much enjoyed the freedom of having the entire recreation area to ourselves. The boys have been loving running around all over the hills, the woods, and around pond which is not far from our camp spot. Belle our Australian Shepard has been going crazy running as fast as she can from the boys, to me, to the camper, to my wife, and back to the boys again, she has loved the wide open spaces and the freedom to run as fast and as far as she wants. We are now all tucked away in our Escape Pod, the boys are watching a movie, my wife is next to me reading on her Nook, I am typing out this blog, and Belle is passed out on the floor next to me.lonelyfield.jpg

Tomorrow morning we will wake up, have a breakfast of hash and eggs, clean up, and head towards Theodore Roosevelt in hopes of finding a great camping spot to spend the weekend at.  The boys are excited to see the buffalo, my wife is excited to see the prairie dogs, and I am excited to see the beauty of the park.  Even after seeing the likes of the Grand Canyon now with my own eyes I have to say Theodore Roosevelt is still at the top of my list of must see National Parks.

Hash and eggs in the escape pod.
Cooking breakfast The Broke Dad Way, in a cast iron pan. Hash, eggs, and potatoes.

Escape Pod Log 10 – Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND

Have been having a great time at Theodore Roosevelt National Park the last couple of days. Camping at the Cottonwood Campground right in the park, drove around the park several times, each time seeing new and amazing things. Saw bison, turkey, deer, wild horses, prairie dogs, and lots of different types of small birds. We spent time geocaching in Medora, did a little shopping in the little shops around town, and even had dinner at one of the local eateries.
Tomorrow we pack up and head out north and then west towards Glacier National Park.

Escape Pod Log – Log 8

This blogging thing has been a bit of a challenge for me.  I attempt to keep a dynamic and interesting blog but every time I have tried I seem to run into distractions and then I forget to come back and blog on a regular basis. One of the biggest reasons this happens is that I always want to blog my roadtrip and vacation experiences but when I am actually on vacation I get so busy I never sit and take time to write in my blog and then when the vacation is over I have a hard time going back and documenting after the trip is over.

So here I am again going to try and make another attempt at this blogging thing.  Spring is coming and it is almost time to start working on the Escape Pod in preparation for our big trip out east to visit Maine and all points in between here and there.  The kids are excited to see the ocean and I’m excited to buy some lobster off a fishing boat and eat it right on the beach. So yes I am getting a bit excited and I’m thinking about blogging again.  Just got a new Galaxy 3 tablet and I’m hoping that with this I will be much better at keeping up with my blog.