There are a million of these lists and I encourage you to read all of them. Everyone has their own tricks and places they’re willing to bend on the budget. Here are mine:
1. Whenever possible, travel in the off-season
I almost exclusively travel in the off-seasons. If I happen to forget there’s a holiday coming up, or if I chose to join friends who make travel plans in the summer, sticker shock inevitably follows.
Everything is cheaper. Everything is quieter and less crowded. Gas, lodging, attractions, you name it, it costs less.
My favorite part: if you’re venturing out into wilderness and nature, animal sightings are more frequent and moments of silence are more common the less people that are around.
2. Car Maintenance is important
If you’ve been researching this for more than five minutes you’ve probably heard this one already, but it’s true! Check your tire pressure, watch your oil, top your fluids, and make sure your air filter is nice and clean. Before setting out, have an oil change done. Most places will do a points inspection and fluid top for free along with the change, some even throw in a tire rotation!
3. Use Gas & Mapping apps to make sure you’re always getting the best deal around.
Gas Buddy and Waze are my favorites.
Also, never stop at the first or last place in town unless you absolutely have to. They are almost always the most expensive.
4. Earn Gift Cards to help offset the cost
Trying to find interesting ways to save up for your trip? Downloading Apps like Swagbucks, Ibotta, the Walmart Saving’s Catcher and more can help earn you gas cards, hotel.com cards, and more! Fill out surveys, watch videos, and earn points towards your next get away!
My codename for Swagbucks is Christen228 if you want to try it out!
Visit Crystal Paine’s MoneySavingMom blog to sign up for a FREE 5-Day course on how to make the most money from your smart phone apps. http://moneysavingmom.com/2016/06/free-5-day-course-save-money-smartphone.html
5. Loyalty Pays Off!
Pick your favorite gas chain, and stick with them. My favorites are Shell and Pilot for their rewards programs.
FuelRewards gives you 3cents off every time you fill up and 10cents off sporadically based on earnings and promotions. It adds up!
6. Hotels also reward loyalty
Most hotel/motel chains will offer you deals and discounts for booking regularly with them. But did you know that a lot of travel sites are now doing the same. I use Hotels.com whenever I stay (this is one of the giftcards you can get from Swagbucks!) They’ll send you discounts and free nights just for booking a certain number of times!
7. Stock your Food
Again, this is one you probably hear all the time. Stock up on your favorite road treats at the grocery and discount stores. Bring a cooler and reusable water bottles, that way you can get the large gallon jugs for cheaper prices and just keep refilling.
Another option is research ahead and look for Farmers Markets in the areas you’ll be traveling. Usually fairly cheap, and definitely a great place to find healthy options.
8. Use Parking Apps in unfamiliar places
Apps like SpotHero, ParkWhiz, and ParkingPanda are designed to save you time, gas, and money by optimizing your parking experience.
Especially in unfamiliar territory, we can waste hours trying to figure out where the best place to park is. Don’t waste the gas, download the apps.
9. Look for Free Local Events
Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had on the road were the ones that didn’t cost me a thing. Look for parades, festivals, music-in-the-parks events that are usually free, and almost always a great time.
Check out the Community or Chamber of Commerce webpages for the areas you’ll be visiting.
Also, don’t be afraid to get back to nature! Check out the local parks and preserves; for either free, or usually no more than a $10 entrance fee, an entire day of fun can be had!
10. Interstate vs. Backroads
Deciding what kind of trip you want to take can make a major difference in how the money gets spent. If you take the interstates your gas prices and mileage will undoubtedly be cheaper. Using cruise control, maintaining the optimal MPG speed for your car, less starting and stopping, and the benefit of truck stop gas prices can bring down the price of your gas budget immensely.
However, there is nothing quite like getting off the beaten path and cruising down a back road.
11. Souvenirs should have a purpose
My daughter loves her magnet board. So we collect magnets throughout our travels and she actually gets a lot of joy and use out of playing with them. But in the last couple years I’ve developed a habit that luckily a lot of marketing companies have caught on to. When looking at a souvenir I ask myself, will I use it? Will I wear it? Do I have room for it? Is it practical?
I’ve started collecting interesting coffee cups, bottle openers, etc. and I use them everyday! My brother and sister-in-law collect Christmas tree ornaments from all of their travels, and every holiday season they get to rehash all their awesome adventures, just like I do when I serve coffee in my Yosemite cups.
12. Pay attention to national restaurant promotions
I don’t think it was until I started following MoneySavingMom’s daily Facebook live show, that I realized just how many restaurant chains have amazing deals throughout the year. Anything from 89cent short stack pancake days at iHop to $1.50 hot dog nights at Sonic. Keep an eye out for promotions like these along the way, especially if you’re traveling in the summer. They can really help you save your food budget for the local must-try treats!
13. Invest in a AAA membership
Just do it. One tow, one flat tire, one dead battery in the middle of nowhere late a night when you’re already stressed and exhausted…it pays for itself. Especially if you’re setting out on your own, it at the very least offers piece of mind. At the very most it offers huge discounts at hotels and many restaurants. They also offer free maps and TourBooks that can be invaluable planning tools and entertainment for the kids. Some of the services they offer include: Towing, battery jumps, vehicle locksmith service, extrication service, and 911 fuel delivery, and rental car assistance.
14.A Plus One Budget
My rule of thumb when I budget a trip is always add one extra. If you’ve calculated all of your mileage & mpg’s and figured out your gas budget, add one tank to that. If you plan on eating out 5x, add one more meal to that. Add another night’s hotel as well. This can be in a separate emergency fund, or just be used as a cushion, either way, give yourself a little wiggle room if you can. It might take a little extra planning and scraping, but it’s worth it, especially when you’re venturing in those “once in a lifetime” areas, and you don’t want to miss a thing.
15. Finally, last but not least, my favorite: Camp
If you’ve read my book, Driving in Cars Without Boys, then you know that I am a huge fan or unconventional sleeping situations when on the road. Did you know it costs only $10 to drive your car onto Pismo Beach and camp for the night? Or that most RV parks will rent you a “tent” spot at a discounted rate? When I travel alone, rest stops and night driving also cut out a lot of the cost. Add a tent and a campstove to your packing list and you’re good to go.
For more tips and encouragement for getting out on the road, follow me on Instagram, Pintrest, or Facebook. Look out for my new series of ebooks on Amazon: Driving in Cars Without Boys: A girls guide to the road.