Traveling on a budget requires some sacrifice and some more work on the part of the planner, but it can be done! We all know the old joke that when you travel, lay out all your clothes and money on the bed before you go-then double the money and halve the clothes. But inexpensive travel is quite simple. Here are a few ways to make it easier on your budget.
1. Eat Cheap:
Bring bread and peanut butter, crackers, bottled water, sliced apples, cookies, gummies-whatever your family likes to eat-and make it on the way. If you are going for several days, eat sandwiches as long as possible, then start looking for cheap eats. Cheap food can be obtained at Taco Bell in the form of the 'Grande Combo' that lets you mix and match 10 hard and soft tacos and bean burritos for under $10. Also, look for local pizza places, where you can often get a large pizza for around $7, Little Caesars is running an on-going $5 large pizza, just drive up and they are hot and ready to go.
Replenish your food stock at discount grocery
stores and buy some fresh fruit at farmer's markets and roadside stands.
Eat a big breakfast and picnic for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day. Load up on all-you-can eat pancakes and eggs for $3.99 at 10 a.m. and you are good until late in the day, when you can eat a sandwich from your cooler and have a snack before bed.
To cook on the road, find a plug-in pot that can
boil water. Hot water can be added to a zillion packets for instant food. Ramen,
macaroni, freeze-dried soup, drink mixes...pull into a picnic area, plug your
pot into your car converter ($20) and enjoy steamy hot food in 10 minutes. We
have cooked hot dogs, made fresh tea and hydrated potato soup all using the
same little pot at one meal, it heats up very quickly.
2. Sleep Smart:
Stay in a motel that serves a free breakfast and has a microwave in the room. Even if it is a few dollars more, you can hit a grocery store and buy microwave meals for a couple bucks a person and save big on dinner prices. Lots of breakfast buffets have packaged muffins, whole fruit or boxed cereal-grab an extra for a free mid-morning snack.
If you have more than 4 in your family, buy a camping cot for each extra kid instead of getting a second room or paying extra for a cot each night. If the kids are still short enough, arrange them across the width of the bed instead of up and down the length and they will have more room.
ALWAYS bring your swimsuits with you in case you
stay in a place with a pool or hot tub, even if you are not planning to do so.
Even cheap suits add up-if you can even find them in some areas and seasons.
ALWAYS have a few towels packed. These will get used, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is right-don't leave home without your towel.
Check several on-line reservation sites for the best prices, then just call the motel yourself to book a room. On-line reservations cost up to an extra $9 right off the bat. A long-distance call is much cheaper than the service fee and if you call the motel direct (not using the 1-800 number) they will often match the discount price. Just tell the person that answers that you need their best rate, often they will come down $10-15 on a room that was moderately priced to begin with.
Check local campgrounds for cabin and lodge rates, just be aware if you are required to have your own bedding.
Look into getting a condo or renting a house if you will be in an area for an extended time.
Camping is always a good choice for cheap sleep.
3. Pack Well:
Before you leave, make sure each person has a full change of clothes per day plus extra socks, underwear and shoes. Check here for clothing and packing details.
4. Make the Time Count:
Check out books about the area you will be going to from the library to read on the way. Pick up books on tape or cd to listen to. Check on-line for local folklore and ghost stories or legends to print out and read on the way or when you arrive. Use your own ideas or any found in the Homeschool section here, particularly Language and Science on the Go for ideas to keep minds busy and active.
5. Fond Remembrances:
You really don't need a magnet filled with glitter or a t-shirt to remember the fantastic trip you are on. You need pictures! Digital is the cheapest way to go by far, but not if you are not a photo-buff and won't use it other than on a trip. Instead of lugging along that 10-year-old 35mm point and shoot that takes grainy shots more than 10 feet away and blurs closer than 6 feet, pick up a good disposable camera to take a few shots of your family mugging away in front of some monument of particularly good view and just buy postcards of everything else you see.
If you go digital you can upload your pics to get prints and share on-line albums with friends and family. There are literally dozens of choices out there. Joining dogster.com gets you free stuff from Snapfish all year long. I have gotten a calendar, photo book and 75 prints for nothing but the upload time and shipping fee. They don't have to be of your pet, either.
Other excellent souvenirs are local books, guide books for flora and fauna and we always pick up a patch everywhere we go. Look around before you leave and see if there are any places to do a Junior Ranger Program and earn a patch with your kids free or low-cost while learning more about the area together. National Parks offer these programs and more and more, local historic and natural areas are offering their version as well.
6. Drive Prepared:
Go to a map site, such as Mapquest, and print out the directions to where you are going, or get a GPS. Getting lost eats time, gas, money and patience. Mark off how far you want to get in a day and plan to stop by no later than 6 p.m. and drive no more than 6 hours in a day (8 if you have someone to swap out with). If you have to drive more than that, do the bulk of the drive before lunch and then stop for a few hours.
Get your car checked before you leave on a big trip. Local repairs will be easier and cost less than something breaking on the road. Get your oil changed and tires rotated and check your fluids. Be sure to bring along your mechanic's business card with you, it will save time and hassle if you end up needing to be towed home or need advice about a mechanic where you are or a price estimate to go by. You can not be too nice to your home mechanic. He or she is your ally, if you don't love your mechanic, keep looking. You want to be able to call them up, say you are heading out on a trip and them know you and your car well enough to give it a good once-over for safety.
Be sure you know how to change a flat and where all your stuff is to do so. Have a small kit with jumper cables and a few tools and a strong flashlight. If you have an old Bessy car, have a gallon of water, extra oil-whatever she leaks the most of.
7. Be Safe
Carry a list of numbers, separate from locked inside your phone, for your family and friends, doctors and list all medication anyone is currently taking.
Don't carry much cash-$50 in small bills is perfect, use your bank card instead. Keep a stack of receipts and keep up with what you spend-it adds up.
Check the weather for the area you are going and get an extended forecast and pack accordingly.
Check for road construction along your route.
8. Check In
Let someone at home know where you are going, your basic plan and check in along the way a couple of times, especially if you change interary.
If you have pets at home and can not bring them, your best bet will be a kennel. However, these can be pricey and if you have more than one animal, the cost can be prohibitive. If you don't already have a plan such as a friend or neighbor popping in to feed and water your pets, then check with friends and family who already have pets and see if you can work out an exchange. You keep their pets while they are on vacation and they keep yours. This can work out really well or go horribly bad, your wonderful dog may just eat their pet rabbits...trust me on this one.
10. Travel Off Season
Avoid the Smokies during summer and fall, stay away from the beaches during spring and summer breaks. Don't head to Colorado during the ski season. Head to Disney World in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas or in January and February. Check where you are planning to go for the best times to visit.