Friday, January 21, 2011

The Frugal Road Trip-Where You Lay Your Head

I enjoy traveling the open road. Road tripping is, by its nature, all about the spontaneity. At the moment, I am heading to visit my family in Denver. Even though this is in many ways a routine trip to a specific destination, I have the flexibility to alter my route and visit different places and sights each time I make the trip. I also enjoy longer trips, including one planned via a southern route to the Florida coast, up to Charleston and returning to Dallas, planned for late spring.

Because I love traveling, I am always looking for ways to afford these trips on my limited income. For me at least, the biggest costs of road trip travel are gasoline, and the overnight stays (with food coming in third), so over the years I’ve explored different ways to save, depending on circumstances at the time. Some of these methods are tried and true, and used by experienced travelers, and some are new methods I’ve recently discovered to save money.

I’m primarily a road tripper, traveling place to place, rather than a destination traveler. For this reason, home exchanges and shares rarely work for me. Also out of the equation is the RV/Camper option. I admire those of you who enjoy travel this way, but truth be told, I spent seven years driving on the German Autobahn, and right lane driving is just not my thing. Still, there are plenty of other ways to control expenses when traveling overnight.

• First and foremost, spend some time thinking about your “lowest acceptable comfort level”. Obviously this will depend on people and circumstance. This level will be different at different times in our life. In younger years, my favorite methods of travel were camping and youth hostels. I would have been a charter member of the couch surfing club had it existed at that point in my life. These days, no matter how much money I save, hostels and camp groups are not doable or comfortable. If you are miserable, uncomfortable or feel unsafe, no trip will be enjoyable. I have been known to sacrifice or even sleep in the car on a rushed overnight to visit a friend or family member, but a vacation is an enjoyment, an escape if you will.

• You may, like me, have different levels of comfort dependent on location and other needs. When I am on the road, I need basic comfort, safety, Wi-Fi and breakfast. When I am at a destination or in a town, my needs generally increase. This is because I prefer to be in the center of a destination and be able to go out my hotel and walk the neighborhoods and check out atmosphere. Others may prefer to stay further out, and spend money on parking or subway transport.

• Once you know where you’ll stay, join rewards programs for those hotels that meet your requirement. When you earn those rewards, put them aside exclusively for overnights. The programs may encourage you to buy gift cards or other gifts, but your goal here is to save money on your traveling. Unlike retailers these days, hotel chains, for the most part, stay in business so you don’t have to worry about rewards being invalid.

• For those hotels that offer gift cards or certificates, keep your eyes out for specials. Last year Best Western had a deal where if you bought a hundred dollar gift card, you got one free. This will make my overnight on the way to Denver free.

• Make use of those cards in your wallet, be they rewards cars, AARP memberships, military ID cards or AAA or USAA memberships.

• As always, keep your eyes out for one time deals by subscribing to a deal website. Two days ago, Travelocity had a $100 voucher for hotels booked through their website for $50.00 (but do your homework, its often cheaper to book directly through the hotel website depending on discounts)

• Remember to change your reservation if you change your plans. I say this from unfortunate experience. As I said before, road tripping is by its very nature spontaneous, and on occasion distracting. It’s an enjoyable, relaxing way to travel for the most part, but we need to make timely adjustments or it ends up costing more in the long run.

• Although this tip has little to do with saving money, consider staying repeatedly at a place you like, if you make regular trips along a certain route. Bed and breakfast and small inn owners are independent people who need the money (and often also retirees). Chain hotels are often franchises, some individually held. Overall, I have a less than great experience with the Best Western chain. The place I stay at in Clayton, New Mexico is a unique experience and ninety percent of the time I make sure that this is where I stay on this fairly routine journey.

Do you like road tripping? If so, how do you cut travel costs in this area?

Coming soon………………………saving money on “the sights”!


  1. On most of the trips my Hunny and I have taken over the years we have either camped in a tent or a camper. We did hotels for a short time. The way we saved was to get one of those magazines outside of Denny's or IHOP with the coupons for hotel stays. They have some pretty good deals in them usually.

  2. Hey, how about doing quick entries if you see another one of those deals on travel. I just don't have time right now to surf the web!

    We are big on getting those travel coupons at the rest stops. While we are stopped we call ahead to the coupon place. They usually have a limited number of rooms at that price. After years of doing this- we only were turned away once. We also found some GREAT mom and pop hotels along the way.

    If I am traveling alone I will not stay in a hotel that has entry from the street (parking lot) or next to the stairs. Those are the two things I was taught as a traveling representative from a company. I also roll a magazine and put it in my hand before getting out of a car- an effective weapon. It is better to make two trips to the car than one trip to the hospital.

    Be aware- look before getting out of the car. Don't stop at empty rest stops. Yes, I road trip often (to Phoenix or Maryland once every six months- from Kansas). I do it as safely as I can:>) Maybe we can couch surf each other's couches while traveling by each other's cities!

  3. My wife and I enjoy road trips of any kind: day trips, long weekends, 3 weeks, a doesn't matter. To have the freedom to just go is priceless.

    In terms of money we take two different types of trips. A see-the-sights trip tends to be more expensive. Admission charges and associated costs add up.

    The other type of road trip we actually prefer is a drive-and-relax trip. We set a reasonable daily distance, find a nice town or small city, and stay for a few days. This allows us to relax and enjoy the area by getting into its rhythm. The costs are lower because we are more likely to walk, picnic, and visit free things in that area.

    We have a trip like this planned for this fall, including Texas. Maybe we'll drop by and say Hi.

  4. Janette, thaks for the tips. Im afraid I am just the opposite, I preer hotels that open out to the street because I can put my car right in front of the door-it works well for me, and its easier on my knees. Also I pack a single small bag with my personal items and the clothing for the next day, and leave everything else but my laptop in the car.

  5. Bob, that sounds like a good mix-in my case on the spring trip I admit ill be stopping at a lot of decent sized towns and only staying a couple days in each=I figure two days each in Jacksonville, savannah, beaufort andcharleston, but obviously my plans may change


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