With gas prices slated to remain at the current level or even dip a little, loading the family into the car and taking them on the interstate to explore and relax on a road trip makes perfect sense.
You won’t pay extra no matter how many passengers you have, there are no luggage fees and even Fido rides for free. You can stop whenever and wherever you want. It’s the ideal way to take a vacation.
To make this road trip more economical, follow these savings tips:
Designate a road trip budget
One good way to suffer post-spring-break financial stress is to throw money at whatever you want and not consider the consequences. You don’t want to come home to an empty bank account. Instead decide on how much you can spend, how far that will take you, what kind of lodging works for your budget, how often you can dine in restaurants and the attractions that fit into your plan.
Budget Travel created a road trip app for this very purpose.
The US Department of Energy offers suggestions on how to get the best gas mileage on your upcoming road trip. Always top off the tank before leaving your home. Even though gas seems fairly cheap already, you can knock off even more dollars from your fuel expenditures by searching for stations that charge the least. GasBuddy locates the cheapest gas prices while you are on your journey.
Book your overnights
You may be perfectly comfortable staying in some stranger’s home throughAirBnB or Couchsurfing, but I read too many thrillers and would constantly be wondering about the strangers in the next room. Because I’m also not that fond of a rain-soaked tent, I’m limiting this discussion to hotels and the like.
For a comprehensive list of lodging options, I usually start with Expedia orKayak, to see the ratings, amenities and a starting price per night. Hotels.com also gives you several options depending on the size of the city you’ll be visiting. Hotels offering free breakfasts and complimentary Wi-Fi move up to the top of my list immediately. Then I look closer and make sure the first meal of the day isn’t “continental.” I prefer “cooked-to-order breakfasts” and I want the free Internet in my room, not in the lobby. If this is a trip for you and your family to “unplug,” then the Wi-Fi won’t matter. You may prefer a pool or workout room.
I’m also a fan of making reservations ahead of time because I’ve done it the other way and had my freewheeling attitude backfire on me. The whole town had no vacancies when I got there.
If you like the odds of naming your own price, Betterbidding helps with both Priceline and Hotwire hotel deals. Also check out the Entertainment Coupon Book for your destination and see if it has hotel offers there. It’s been my experience that using the coupon book once or twice covers its cost. New Entertainment Coupon Books come out in November and as the year progresses, their price decreases.
Check for LivingSocial or Groupon deals for lodging, too.
Once you’ve decided on your lodging and think you can get an even cheaper deal, call the hotel directly (not the 800 number for the chain) and ask if they’ll match or better the online price you found.
If you worry and stress about the possibility of bed bugs, visit the Bedbug Registry to see how your chosen hotel fares, then choose accordingly.
Meals on the cheap
Before leaving home, load up a cooler with sandwich makings, fruit, raw vegetables, cheese, yogurt, drinks and whatever else your family likes. Then plan to refill it along the way with ice and grocery store items. This should take care of one meal a day and snacks.
Page through your Entertainment Coupon Book to find restaurants and fast food places along the way. Also look for coupons on the social media sites of restaurants on your route.
Make your dine-out meal at mid-day. A restaurant lunch is almost always cheaper than dinner.
If you opted for a hotel with complimentary breakfast, you can splurge a little on your one meal out a day.
Get out and explore
Again refer to the Entertainment Coupon Book for 2-for-1 coupons for attractions like water parks, museums and zoos. Try treasure hunts like geocaching orletterboxing to get outside and really get to know a particular area of the country for virtually no cost.
If you plan to stay in a large city, visit Goldstar for discount tickets to live music and theatre productions or TravelZoo for other types of activities.TripAdvisor.com also has recommendations from fellow travelers on inexpensive entertainment.
Hikes, bike rides and beachcombing don’t cost anything so spend some of your vacation time in those endeavors.
Other savings suggestions
Ask a friend, neighbor or family member to take in your mail and newspapers and turn different lights off and on in your home every two days or so. Then offer to do the same for them when they travel.
Tell your cell phone carrier where you’re going and ask the cheapest way to maintain service. Never go out of the country without doing this or you’ll have a gigantic bill when you get home.
And call your bank if you’re planning to use a credit card on your journey so they don’t think it has been stolen. You might want to cash in some of those reward points for the trip, too.