Saturday, April 9, 2011

3
How to Save Money on Road Trips

Summer is approaching and so are vacations!   This year our family is in Debt Snowball mode, which means all money in excess of essential spending goes to paying off our student loan rather than a vacation.  Still, I have a business trip for my online store and a cross-country trip to return the car my parents have generously loaned us for over a year.

Thus, I have gathered a collection of cost-cutting tips for road trip vacations on a budget.

Fuel
  • Make sure your tires are properly inflated.  
  • Check into buying a gas gift card online- sometimes you can find up to 20% savings.  
  • If you have a warehouse club membership, chart out some locations along your route to gas up at a discount.  These are often an inexpensive place to eat as well.

Food
  • Watch Groupon and other deal sites for the cities you'll be visiting.  Restaurant, entertainment,  and even lodging offers can be purchased as substantial savings.
  • Towards the end of each month, Restaurant.com discounts their certificates.  Stock up on couple for the cities you will be staying at.  On a Sister's Roadtrip, we stopped in San Antonio, TX.  My sister Emily had the foresight to purchase 3 restaurant certificates.  They were $2.00 each and we only needed one- but it was worth the extra expense to have our choice and to find the least expensive.
  • Pack your own snacks.  My family has certain treats we only eat on roadtrips- like corn nuts.  Getting them beforehand at a grocery or warehouse store saves tons over picking up snacks at each vending machine or gas station.  Other favorites: Kettle corn, red vines, teddy grahams, cut veggies and hummus, yogurt, cheese sticks, anything from Nutty Guys (watch for Groupons or sales).
  • Bring along lunches or pick up fixings at local grocery stores.  I used to hate doing this.  For me, vacations should have a little luxury and novelty involved.  To resist the temptation of "I'm on vacation so I deserve to eat at a restaurant", I buy nicer items than I would normally pack for an everyday lunch.  I get nice rolls, deli meats, cheeses and sides, Nutella, bottled soda or juice, etc.  Rotisserie chicken is great as well.  Then, I make these meals an event.  My other temptation for swinging by a fast food place rather than eating a packed lunch was- "I want to get out of this car!!".  Pick a well-tended rest stop or park, get out of the car, walk around, eat your lunch at table or picnic style, play a game.
  • Consider packing a crock pot.  This summer, my family is performing in the Nauvoo Pageant.  To offset the expensive lodging, we are planning to have some crock pot suppers.
 Lodging
  • Groupon, online travel deal sites, Craigslist.com vacation rentals.
  • Look for bundled amenities- a pool, included breakfast or internet.
  • Camp!   This can be a lot of fun, it is built in that you save by eating a fire-cooked meal, there are often lots of free activities, not to mention the possibilities of making family memories.  State Parks will likely have the lowest fees.  This requires some planning ahead- camp grounds do not always do the best road-side advertising.  If you don't have one already, build your camping stash through thrift store shopping and garage sales.  Check out www.freecampgrounds.com
  • Check out the brochures and booklets at rest stops- they oftentimes have great coupons for local lodging.
General
  • Can you get a tax write-off?  Planning your vacation around business purposes (an interview or training) or charity (volunteering at the Nauvoo pageant!?) can make a large chunk of your expenses deductible.
  • Free activities often don't put money into online advertising.  Talk to locals and ask what is fun and free or inexpensive to do in the region.  Ben and I have learned of awesome camp sites, fishing holes, and local, unmarked hot springs that way.
  • Pick up audiobooks and CDs at the library for free in-car entertainment.