It’s almost summer travel season, when many of us are looking for options to get out of town. After 4 years of staycationing here in the ICT, I think I’m ready to go on a road trip. Of course, if we do that it’s going to have to be one of my patented “on the cheap” trips!
So, they’re not really patented, but I’ve been known to whittle a lot of vacation out of a few dollars. Over the years, I’ve picked up quite a few tips for vacationing on the cheap. And after almost 3 years of blogging here as Wichita on the Cheap, I’ve picked up a few more. Some tips are for spending less and enjoying more once you’ve reached your destination, and other tips will help you save money on getting there.
Getting There – Road Trips
Cheap travel used to be all about the road trip. When I was younger, would pack up our family car and drive for hours and hours, spending less than $50 bucks on gas round trip. (Yes, that’s how old I am. My father once complained about gas being 65¢ per gallon.)
I still love road trips, but they’ve gotten quite a bit more expensive.
If you’ll be traveling by car, check out GasBuddy.com. Users all across the country enter price information at fuel centers near them, so you can get an idea of how much it will take to fill your tank wherever you are. And if you have fuel points on your Dillons card, use them to fill up before you leave. (Tip: Kroger owns Dillons, so you can use your card at Kroger stores too.)
If you need to rent a car for travel, here’s my biggest tip: Don’t just click the first link you find to a car rental company. Amazingly, different links take you to different deals on car rentals. And once you find a price you like with a car rental company you like, call the local office and ask if they have an even better deal. Sometimes they do! If you prefer one company over another, be sure to sign up for its email newsletter. There may be discounts for subscribers that aren’t available to the general public.
Next, research your options for roadside assistance and insurance. If you carry full coverage on any of your automobiles, call your insurance agent and see if your rental car is covered. If you have a business Visa debit card, you may also have some (limited) rental car insurance. But not having any coverage, or not having enough coverage, could cost you your life savings, so weigh your options here. Skipping insurance has the potential to be very expensive, so don’t do it. We’re all about the cheap here.
One more huge tip for saving money on a car rental: Fill up before you return it. You’ll pay a premium if the rental company refills it for you.
Plan for Fun Along the Way
When you plan your route, find cities and towns along the way where you’ll be likely to stop. I think a good rule of thumb if you’re traveling with kids is to plan stops for every two hours, unless all of you are road-trip ninjas whose mental and physical endurance has been developed by rigorous conditioning. But even ninjas like potty breaks and mini sight-seeing detours. It is, after all, a vacation.
Sites like TravelGuidesFree.com offer quick access to free travel guides and brochures that you can either download or request by mail. (These are great for exploring your home state too.) Traditionally, these guides are used to lure travelers to their state, but who’s to say you can’t use them to find a nice detour on the way to another destination?
The first rest stop in a state often doubles as a Visitors Center, and will have brochures, maps, and sometimes free souvenirs. This can be a really fun stop for you. I’ve also seen coupon books at these centers with the cheapest rates for hotels anywhere. The drawback is that you don’t know whether the hotel is a dive, whether it’s booked up, or whether it’s far off your driving route. Still, they are worth a look.
Go RVing has a good list of road trip games that will keep the kids occupied. My family likes to play a variation of the license-plate game, where we use the letters in a license plate to make up a phrase. A plate with the letters DAG, for example, might be “Dads are Great.”
Once we’ve done our best to save on fuel and rental fees, we try to save on fuel for the humans in the car — namely, road trip food. Packing a cooler with sandwiches and snacks is an obvious way to save on meals, but chain restaurants abound along highways and interstates. Before you leave for your trip, find and print coupons for your favorite chain and/or fast food restaurants. Using an online map program, you can get exact locations for restaurants along your route, and if you’re *really* a planner, you can even call that location to make sure they will accept the coupon. Where do you find the coupons? Sign up for the restaurant’s email newsletter, check the restaurant’s Facebook page, and keep an eye on “cheap” websites like this one.