The Island Hopper On A Budget

This morning I went out the door and walked a half mile to Main Beach in order to board the Island Hopper (a shuttle to popular destinations around Amelia Island). I arrived at 11:10, which was perfect because the shuttle was boarding at 11:15. I waited, and waited, and waited… and finally called the Nassau County transportation services.

“Yeah, I was supposed to be picked up here at Main Beach about ten minutes ago and I was just wondering if I had the wrong time?” I asked.

“Where are you located at on Main Beach?”

At this point I was hot. I was frustrated. I was tired. “I’m at the Main Beach sign where it also says Main Beach Island Hopper Bus Stop. I just assumed this is where I’m supposed to be, right?” Wrong.

The phone operator told me the guy driving the bus had stopped there on time, but had stopped about 50 feet down the road and wouldn’t be back for about an hour. “Okay, thanks. I’ll just walk,” I said. And so I began my two mile walk in my Old Navy flip flops into town in a heat index of 103°.

And as frustrated as I was, I realized that’s how most of this trip had been for me so far. I had hit a few forks in the road and decided if a wanted to go right or left and then just hoped that everything worked itself out from there. Even travelling to Fernandina Beach from Fort Walton was an impulse decision I didn’t make until the night before. My mom says I’m a procrastinator, but I prefer to say I’m spontaneous.

Even though I didn’t get to hitch a ride from the Island Hopper today, I guess you could say I’ve done my fair share of island hopping lately. One day Susan and I woke up and decided to drive to a few barrier islands along the East Coast. The best part is that during this adventure — aside from food — I spent less than $15!

When you’re travelling on a budget, you choose what you splurge on… or if you splurge on anything at all. I have had just as much fun (if not more) staying with Susan, visiting historical sites, laying out on the beach, and learning to cook dinner as I would have if I were eating at a seafood restaurant every night and staying at the Ritz Carlton. I feel like I have enjoyed the true experience of living like a local, and believe me, even going to the grocery store is fun if you’re going to a grocery store at the beach.

But anyways, I wanted to elaborate more on inexpensive things to do in the area! So, to all you island hoppers, here are a few islands you can visit without breaking the bank.

St. Simons Island

St. Simons, GA is home of Fort Frederica, a historical site that was founded by Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe to defend British Colony Georgia from Spanish attack. Now, I can’t lie and say I am a total history buff. I have too bad of a memory for that. But, I can say that history buff or not, this is one of the coolest places I have ever visited! Ruins from the town remained and among some were items they had found on display. And, yes, one of the items was a wig curler! How cool is that?!

A butterfly was flying by as I snapped this shot!

The Fort stood tall at the edge of the beautiful marshland, along with an original cannon retrieved from the water. Sometimes you caught yourself wondering what the trees rooted into the history of the grounds would say if they could talk. We walked along, carrying a map of what the town was believed to have looked like, and along the way we saw a few deer!

After leaving St. Simons, we drove across the bridge into Brunswick to see the Lover’s Oak, a tree that has been estimated to be 900 years old. This tree is in the middle of the road in the middle of nowhere, but totally worth the photo opp!

The total cost of visting Fort Frederica and Lover’s Oak was a nice $0.

Jekyll Island

To enter Jekyll Island, there is a $6 fee. Once you are on the island, there are plenty of inexpensive things to explore, however! Our first stop was Driftwood Beach. Driftwood Beach isn’t marked, but the amount of cars parked along its entrance is a good indicator of where it’s at.

After that, we drove to the Horton House ruins and cemetery grounds. It’s former resident, Major William Horton, was a military aide to General Oglethorpe from Fort Frederica. This building, as well as many others from this era, was constructed from tabby.

After the Horton House, we visited the Georgia Sea Turtle Center for $9. At the Center, rescued sea turtles are able to be viewed while they go through rehabilitation before release. There are also fun learning activities about precautions you can take to prevent endangering marine life! For more info on how to save the turtles, click here.

Finally, we drove by the island’s country club and it was everything you’d imagine it to be… complete with folks dressed in all white playing croquet on the lawn. The building was like a castle out of a dream. It even had a “Princess Tower” (as I like to call it) overlooking the marsh!

The total cost of Jeckyll Island was $15.

Amelia Island

Amelia Island has been my home for the past few weeks, and will be for a few more days, too. I feel like I’ve learned a thing or two about budgeting myself while I’m here.

For free, you can spend time on the beach, download an app that will lead you on a historical homes tour in downtown Fernandina Beach, ride a bike along the coast, take a picture in front of the Pippi Longstocking house, hike Egans Creek, walk downtown as the sun sets on the river, or participate in a free local event (Art Walk and Sounds on Centre are my favorites)!

For less than $12, you can explore the historical grounds of Ft. Clinch, enjoy some candy at Fantastic Fudge, and snack on some of the island’s best fried shrimp at Timoti’s.

Honorable Mention: Cumberland Island

The first time I visited Amelia Island, we rode a boat out to Cumberland Island and I fell in love. I am dying to go back! We swam along the secluded shores as wild horses roamed behind us.

Also, fun fact: Cumberland Island is also home to the chapel where JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy were wed!

(Copyright Dennis Reggie 1996)

Have you visited any of these islands before? If so, what am I leaving out? Leave a comment below about your favorite inexpensive thing to do on vacation!