Monday, December 26, 2011

Hitting The Open Road On A Dime-Or Two

As part of my holiday celebrations, I'm getting ready to head to the cold, cold north.  I'll drive to Denver and we'll have a delayed Christmas exchange, spend time together and enjoy the new year-before driving back.  This is not a vacation road trip exactly.  On the way up, the purpose is to get where I'm going, no side trips and few stops.  When it comes to the return trip, depending on the weather I may take a different route each time. (Some of you may remember that I drove straight through, during last year's February blizzard, without stopping-life is an adventure).

Be it for enjoyment or to get to a destination, my goal is to get there as cheaply as possible without sacrificing comfort.  This trip, for the first time ever, we are traveling with a pet.  Our newly rescued dog was abandoned, them moved to a foster home and then abandoned to us. I'm not sure he's ready for boarding yet, although we my try a day or so of play care in Denver.

While it's never to late to learn new savings tricks, I've done this and many other road trips so often I believe I have it down fairly pat.  I've used everything I know to cut down on gas, food, and sleeping quarters as I can.

When it comes to where I lay my head, I don't need a great deal for this kind of trip.  I avoid Motel 6 and its competitors like the plague.  Since I'm only spending one night though, I'm willing to go with the Best Westerns and Hampton Inns of the world. Actually, the nicest hotel on my route is a Best Western because it has a nice firm bed and they give you six pillows or more on each bed!  I save money by getting gift cards in advance-right now if you buy a $100 Best Western Card, you get a $10 gift card to either Best Western or your choice of retail store.  After I take that step, then I use either my AAA card or AARP discount, whichever ends up being greater. While my credit card no longer offers rewards, I am a hotel rewards customer, which nets me other bennies.

As far as fuel, I'm at the mercy of service stations as a rule.  I do have one of those "gas buddy" apps on my phone that allows me to check prices.  Rest centers like Pilot do have reward programs, but I don't travel enough to really use them, they're targeted to truckers. I never eat in rest stops, so that doesn't help that issue much.

My children gave me a gift a few Christmases ago. This gift has helped me save piles of money (and enjoy my road trips more, especially in the warmer weather).  They gifted me with an insulated picnic basket similar to this one. it includes plastic wine glasses, and dishes, napkins and silver. It also included a small cheese knife and board, and a wine opener.  This means that I rarely stop and pay for restaurant or fast food. I fill it to the brim with sandwich items and fruits and snacks. I also carry my own drinks (sometimes in another cooler).  When I need gas, I stop and gas up. For everything else, I hit the local rest stop picnic area. I get out and walk, eat, relax and hit the road.  Even if I need to refill my food stash, groceries are cheaper than fast food (even if I get small sizes).  Since most hotels have some kind of tiny fridge, my food often lasts two days.  This has been a huge blessing.

While it may not have much to do with frugality, keeping my self alert and amused is also an issue on this trip.  While parts of this trip are beautiful, other parts have literally no value in terms of what is to see.  West Texas tends to be barren, flat and arid.  Once you've seen a few hundred ranches, and cows penned up in cattle cars on the railway, you've pretty much seen it all. To that end, I'll either be purchasing (with my Christmas gift card) or borrowing a book on CD. This trip includes large sections with no radio reception. It took me some time to find books on tape, but now that I have, I'm hooked!  To you doubters, I'm  darned good driver (driving on the autobahn for seven years will do that to you) and yes, I still pay attention.  I'm still in control. I can do both.

To those of you who want to know why I drive to Denver, I'll try and keep it brief.  First, I flew too many fourteen hour trips in sardine cans between Germany and middle America. Secondly, it's become cumbersome to fly, on many levels. Frankly, I lived in a country with unmatched airport security for years, and there was nothing like what we experience now (here is where if we were discussing politics I'd ask if our roads and trains and boats receive the same protection).Finally, I'm still traveling in the "holiday season" and even if I wanted to fly, costs are exorbitant.

In the morning I'm off-we'll do some errands, pack up the pooch and hit the road. We'll stop where the mood hits, take pictures along the way and get to Denver in comfortable fashion.

Oh, and before I leave, I've put together four packets, three  to be expressed mailed with receipt. One to the agency involved, one to my congressman, one to the collection agency and one to keep with me. These letters dispute the issue, include documentation and so on and so forth.  We can only hope this brings some improvement to my plight. Thanks everyone for your responses.


  1. have a safe and fun trip! my dogs like traveling with me - I put the back seat down and put one of their comfy dog beds on it and they climb in and snuggle up and snooze most of the time.

    I like that picnic basket/container - need to get myself an insulated one to use though I dont' travel much - but when Im out running errands and trying to be healthy I'd like something to help out during the summer months!

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Have a safe trip! We tend to travel just like you do and it is really rewarding, both financially and in unique experiences!

  3. Love the picnic basket. I will get one with some Christmas money I got.
    Gas near central Kansas has been running $2.93! If you decide to head straight across instead of down- we'd be happy to have you. I'm off I 70 near Junction City. We have two extra beds and are dog friendly :).
    Happy travels!

  4. My wife and I have used the grocery-store-picnic basket approach for years. Frankly, it was the only way we could afford 18 days in Hawaii a few months ago. Lunches were picnics of cheeses, fruit, cold cuts, and breads bu the ocean or in a beautiful park.

    It is amazing to me that airline traffic continues to increase as "service" and civility declines. Airlines are almost going out of their way to discourage the use of their product, yet more and more folks put themselves through the gauntlet.


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