Road Trip

Do you need to get away? Hit the road towards the horizon with the pedal to the medal and a breeze in your hair?

You may not think you can afford to take a vacation this year, but think again. Traveling is a matter of priorities, and if you want to see the world bad enough, you can, with only a few minor sacrifices along the way.

Perhaps Timbuktu is out of the question right now, but a long weekend getaway six months from now is a feasible goal for anyone. Using the following tips, you can hit the road without busting your budget:

  • Plan ahead. The number one way to save money when traveling is to do your research before you go so that you know which hotels are expensive, which are not, and where there are free attractions along the way. Just showing up with an empty head makes you a tourist instead of a traveler, and tourists always pay too much for food, lodging and transportation. Do your road trip research and you will be ahead of the game.
  • Tune up your car. Before you set off towards the sunset, make sure your tires are properly inflated, your filters are clean and your oil has been changed sometime in the last year. Just inflating your tires can increase your gas mileage by 2%!
  • Go with friends. Travel is always cheaper in a group, and gas money split four ways drops your transportation cost by 75%. Plus, it’s much more fun – find some willing friends and start a plan – but never drag anyone on a road trip that they don’t want to take, or you will regret it dearly around mile 657.
  • Camp out. Camping is usually much, much cheaper than staying in hotels, and is even sometimes free! If you are a self-proclaimed “non-outdoorsy” type, (get over yourself!), give it a go and you may just find that in fact nature inspires you like no hotel room ever could. If you don’t have gear, borrow it from a friend, and make your road trip a true adventure.
  • Consider location. If you do opt for hotels, realize that a hotel located in the downtown area of a city is going to cost a whole lot more than one on the outskirts. See the city during the day, and then head out of the city to sleep in a hotel up the road. You will save oodles of money on hotel parking as well.
  • Consider the season. Hotels cost more during ‘high season,’ which as a good rule of thumb is any time the schools are out: summer vacation, Christmas holidays, Spring Break. If you can, plan your road trip on an off-week when there are no holidays going on, in summer or fall. You will find lower prices and happier hoteliers who are not burned out by the crowds.
  • Redeem miles. Check to see if those frequent flyer miles that you’ve been accumulating for years can be traded in towards a hotel room where you are headed – many programs allow for this sort of trade-off!
  • Couch surf. While inviting yourself (much less with three friends) to crash at a friend’s place is iffy in terms of consideration, if you do have a good friend, family member or other relative who has been bugging you for years to come visit them in ______, then maybe it is time to make good on that invitation and score a free place to sleep for the night.
  • Picnic. One of the top travel expenses is food; if you are eating out three times a day, you will blow through your budget like wildfire. Carry a cooler in the truck and stash it full of sandwich meats, chips, sodas, snacks and desserts, and resolve to picnic once a day. For breakfast, a granola bar and apple will do, and then you can have one meal at a neat place along the route every day.

image: photopaige