It seems like everyone is trying to pinch pennies these days. Money sure doesn’t travel as far as it used to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t travel simply because you’re low on funds. There are plenty of ways to stick to a tight budget when you’re traveling. Here’s a few ways you can grease the wheels before you hit the open road!
I have not only traveled for vacations and leisure, but also have moved cross country several times as an adult (I moved from Minnesota to New York, New York back to Minnesota and Minnesota to Oregon. All in the last 7 years. Yes, I may in fact be crazy). Each time I moved, I did so by car (or truck). I’ve logged thousands of road trip miles and tens of thousands of airplane miles over the years. I learned a few tips from my father (who, as a former aircraft mechanic also did a fair bit of traveling) and found many of my own strategies along the way. I consider myself a pretty seasoned traveler and I would love to share my secrets to saving money for all my budget-savvy traveling friends.
1. BYOFAD (Bring Your Own Food and Drinks)
These may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people figure they will just buy food on the road. While it may not seem like much, if you pick up snacks or drinks at every rest stop, you will rack up a heafty food bill in no time. Even if you’re not going out for steak dinners, it costs a lot of money to eat on the road! Not to mention convenience stores have super high mark-ups on their products. My husband is a fan of Rockstar Energy Drinks, and a can at a gas station can run you upwards of $3.00 per can. It may not seem like much, but it all adds up. Before our last road trip, I was able to snag a bunch on sale at the grocery store for less than half that price! Same goes for snacks and meals. Bring a small cooler and fill it with all your necessities. Not only will you save a bundle, but chances are you’ll make healthier food choices this way as well. Make sure you double and triple check that you didn’t forget any essentials either (deodorant, pet food, medicines, etc). Buying those on the road will likely cost you a premium, especially if you have to stop at a roadside shop to get them.
2. Don’t Speed
I don’t mean to sound like your mother here, but the benefit to obeying the speed limit (or close to it) is two-fold. There’s the obvious reason: less risk of getting a ticket…and this is a big one. Some states require you to pay more and/or pay on the spot when you get a ticket in a state which you don’t reside in. That means shelling out hundreds of dollars at the scene! There goes your vacation budget! The other reason to obey speed limits is that your car is designed to be most fuel efficient at highway speeds. Going unnecessarily fast wastes gas and often means extra braking (when you realize the people in front of you aren’t in the same rush you are). This creates extra wear and tear on the brakes, and you wind up accelerating more from those slow moments, which wastes more gas. Which brings me to my next tip…
3. Limit Your Stops
This ties in with tips 1 and 2. If you’re bringing your own food, you don’t have to stop for meals, you can eat in the car. If you’re having sandwiches, either have your co-pilot/navigator be in charge of putting them together for you, or better yet, make them before you leave. If you’re able to synchronize your bladder with your travel-mates, it makes for less stops also. If everyone “goes” whenever you stop, whether they “have to” or not, it will limit the accidental “uh…can we stop again?” hassles down the road. This also means using stops to your advantage. Try to coordinate bathroom breaks with gas stops if possible. Try to research places near you that have the cheapest gas, even if it means going a mile off the freeway.
4. Use Cash or Debit for Gas
In many areas, gas stations offer a discount for patrons who pay cash or use their debit card. Credit card companies charge a fee to the stores to utilize their services. Many stores pass this fee along to their customers in the form of higher prices. Some stores are kind enough to pass the savings along when you don’t pay with a credit card. Find out if the gas station you’ve stopped at offers this discount, but be cautious: sometimes the price on the big sign doesn’t match the price on the pump, and you have to read the fine print to find out that you only get that better price if you pay with cash. We recently took a trip and found differences of 10 cents a gallon or more simply by paying cash! *Bonus tip: if you’re going to take out cash for this reason, do so in advance, or stick with ATMs that belong to your bank to avoid unnecessary ATM fees!)
5. Dress for Success
If you’re traveling in the summer, wear light clothing. If you’re traveling in the fall or winter, dress in warm layers. Always bring a sweatshirt or blanket with you regardless of the temperature. This way, rather than blasting the AC, heat or opening windows (all of which cost extra for gas!) you can self-regulate your temperature as much as possible. It also helps if you’re traveling with a group to help keep everyone comfortable. I like to choose yoga pants, sweat pants, tank tops and other breathable, flexible clothing that isn’t constricting. This will help your body “breathe” naturally and avoid overheating.
6. Plan Your Lodging in Advance
My father has often driven from New York to Minnesota alone. Each time he would drive until he would start getting tired, then he would call my mom and tell her a city 20 minutes ahead of him, and have her book him a motel room there. While this has its perks (you don’t risk driving past your limits, or stopping before you’re ready) there’s also its pitfalls. You’re stuck with whatever priced hotel you can find in that city. You’re better off planning a reasonable day of driving, and choosing accommodations based on a price you’re comfortable with. This way, you have a guaranteed room at a decent rate. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of the hotel owner. Which brings me to my next tip…
7. Look Before You Book
When selecting lodging, don’t just look online and assume you’re getting the best deal. Check several sites like Priceline, Hotels.com, Orbitz, etc. But don’t stop there. I recently took a road trip with my husband to visit family in Washington. I scoured the big hotel deal sites for hours, not finding a deal I was happy with. After talking to my sister in law, she recommended a small, local, family owned inn that didn’t advertise on any of those sites. I went to book it online because they had a “web-only” special deal, but I had to call the inn to ask about their pet policy. Come to find out that if you book with them over the phone, you get an even better deal than their supposed “web-only” special price! Before you commit and make a reservation, do your research and check all avenues. We saved an extra $10 a night simply by booking over the phone, on top of the $20 a night we were already saving by staying at the small inn vs the chain hotels!
8. Consider a Motel or Cheap Hotel
Let’s face it: unless this is a romantic getaway or a honeymoon, chances are you’re not going to be spending a lot of time in your room. Most likely, you’re going to use it as a crash pad. You’re gonna roll into town, drop your luggage, and conk out for the night, and then get up in the morning, shower and be on your way to whatever brought you into town. If that sounds like your situation, there’s no point in getting an overpriced room at the Hilton. I’m not saying stay at a roach motel with bedbugs, or a place where you might come out in the morning to find your car up on blocks, but definitely consider the ‘no-frills’ motel or inn. Check travel review sites to find out the conditions before you commit. Not all cheap motels are sketchy, some are just very basic. The local inn we stayed at recently was far cheaper than the chain hotels, but impeccably clean. The reason it was cheap? it was VERY basic. No couch, a small tv, and dated decor. We didn’t care, we came to see family, not be blown away by interior decor and so we were able to pocket the difference!
9. Use Smartphone Apps to Save Big
There’s tons of great apps for saving money on trips. Look for ones that tell you gas prices in a given area, or hotel prices. You can also use apps to find cheap places to eat (if you can’t or won’t follow my advice in tip #1. It’s ok, I won’t be mad!) Sometimes you can find coupons and discounts using these apps for area attractions like museums, theme parks, restaurants, etc. Don’t forget to look for apps for transportation too. Some areas have car services like Uber or Lyft that are cheaper than cabs, but you need the apps in order to use them.
10. Check Out ALL Your Options
Most of these tips are for traveling by car, but if you’re traveling by plane, here’s something to consider: check neighboring airports. This tip is great for a couple reasons. First of all, you may find that the area you’re flying into has another airport close by and it may actually be cheaper to fly into the other airport. You may also find that public transportation will work better for you at one airport vs another. For example: last summer I flew to New York with my husband to visit a friend. When looking at tickets, we discovered that if we flew into LaGuardia airport, we would have to rent a car to get to my friend out east on the island. Renting a car at the airport would run us $200 a day. But if we flew into JFK airport for the same price (and about the same distance apart) we could take the train all the way out to my friend’s home, and rent a car out by her for $50 a day! It may take a little more time and planning, but the savings can be huge. Check into connecting hubs too. For instance, on another trip to New York, we found out that there are hourly charter flights from Washington DC to New York. Meaning, if you can find a hot deal on a flight to a city that isn’t your final destination, you might be able to catch a shuttle flight and save a little cash due to the extra stop. You may also want to consider flying into one airport and home from another depending on your travel plans. It may make more sense depending on flight costs, and what you’ll be doing once you reach your destination. Don’t be afraid to explore your options and you could save a ton.
So that’s it. These are my very best travel secrets. I’ve traveled a ton in my life, both by car and by plane. These tips have saved me thousands of dollars over the years! Hopefully you can put them to good use and save some cash also.
What other tips do you have for travel on a budget?
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