Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Penny Saved is a...Great Souvenir

Some of us take to the road because we don't like to fly.  Some of us take to the road out of a true sense of adventure in order to not miss all those sights on the way to a destination.  Some of us take to the road and that is the destination.  It satisfies some deep internal wanderlust.  In reality though, while there may be a little of all of these reasons within your decision to travel by automobile, the foremost reason families probably consider a road trip now is economics.  

Gasoline is expensive.  Here in Chicago we are experiencing the highest gas prices in the contiguous United States.  However high the price of oil goes the fact is it is less expensive to drive a family of five to a destination than to fly when you take into consideration airfare and all the extra fees plus the cost of a rental car while you're there.  If you're headed out on the open road to make a vacation possible for your family, chances are you will also be doing other things during your trip to save a few bucks here and there like packing sandwiches and snacks to eat along the way.  This might make more sightseeing stops possible to include in your budget.  The more stops, the more fun.  The more stops, the bigger the dilemma of how do you avoid blowing every penny you've saved when every sightseeing adventure will inevitably include a gift shop full of junk your kids will beg for wherever you go.

Squish them.  That's right.  Squish your pennies.  No, I don't have some magic way to multiply pennies by exerting pressure.  I'm talking about elongated coins or what I like to call "squished pennies."  Chances are you or your kids have done this at least once in your life.  You put the penny in the machine with 2 quarters, push a button or turn a crank and it comes out squished or elongated with an imprint on it.  A few years ago my dear friend Deb mentioned that these are great things for the kids to collect.  She's right.  They are excellent little souvenirs of places you have visited.  So, me being me I've taken this to a whole different level.  I found the little books that hold the pennies and got one for each of my children.  Honestly, this is not necessary.  A rainy-day or even en route craft to keep the kids busy could be to decorate a special box to hold their soon-to-be collection.  But I'm not sorry I bought the books because stamped on the back was a website.  There's a website dedicated to collecting squished pennies!  It includes tips, trading, a store and an interactive list of locations by state of penny machines.  Collectors can see pictures of the coins and notes posted by other collectors regarding the actual location of the machine and the working order.  

Now maybe the fact that I have bookmarked this website on my phone screams NERD to you.  Maybe you're sitting there thinking 'now why would I put a perfectly good penny worth one cent into a machine and render it useless as currency and pay another 50 cents to do so?'  Would it help if I told you that my kids literally walk past hundreds of far more expensive, made in China, junky souvenirs that within hours they will either break, lose or forget about just to get these prized pennies?  I'm not kidding.  They love these things.  You would not believe how happy this simple little thing makes them.  It's a win-win situation.  They receive a cool little souvenir that they get to watch being made right in front of them and you've spent only 51 cents, or occasionally $1.01, to make them happy.  Plus if you give them a special box or book for their collection and keep it in a safe place between trips, they will have a great collection of memories to keep forever.  

Sure kids are kids and this won't entirely keep them from begging for other souvenirs.  If you're lucky though, it might really help cut down on the junk. And it's fun.  Finding the machines and getting pennies along your trips becomes like a built-in scavenger hunt.  I actually carry a baggie of pennies and quarters for the machines in my glove compartment or bag with my National Parks Passport. You never know when you will come across a machine.  There's a smart phone app for $1.99, but bookmarking the site on my phone has been more than enough.  Plus the unexpected benefit of having the list of machine locations handy is that it really is an additional little travel idea source.  You not only have a list of where to get a penny souvenir but also a list of fun places you may want to visit.  Don't overlook the opportunities to collect outside of road trips and vacations either.  You can find machines at many of the local museums, zoos and attractions that you visit regularly.

I hope your kids end up finding these penny souvenirs as fun as mine do.  Maybe they will end up occasionally bringing them out to line up and admire between trips like my kids as well.  And if you find a machine that's not listed on the website, please add it so we can get one during one of our future trips!

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Trails!

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