We just returned from yet another trip. Yes, another. I have lost track of how many times I’ve traveled in the last few months. Los Angeles for the Inside Out Event, Dallas for the Dr Pepper Summit, Omaha for fun, New York for Blogger Bash, and Indianapolis for Gen Con. I feel like I’m missing one in there somewhere because it has all become a blur. It’s been a whirlwind, but I’ve completely enjoyed it! When things calm down, I’ll get to reflect on all the trips and the amazing experiences that each one has brought.
While there is a bit of chaos involved with traveling, it’s something I’m definitely enjoying. Seeing beautiful scenery, iconic places, interesting museums, regional foods and of course, unique shopping. When the kids were little, we did trips whenever possible and tried to introduce them to a variety of things. Unfortunately, it was quite an ordeal so our travel was somewhat limited – typically only to see their grandma in Alabama. Now that they are older, we are incorporating more trips into the schedule. Most of what we have planned have been less than a week in length, but jam-packed with as much as possible in that small time frame.
With the exception of my family trips, virtually every time I have traveled for media events my stay has been coordinated by someone else. While my accommodations are usually nice, I’m almost always at a different hotel chain. As someone who is frugal minded, it can be a bit frustrating. There are definitely perks to showing your loyalty to a particular chain. Many people consider this when they fly because they know it translates to free flights, better seats or at least an option for a free upgrade. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize that hotels offer similar benefits. Actually, they offer more consistent and more easily attainable benefits.
It got me thinking that maybe there are other travel strategies that people don’t think about. I’m fixing that by creating a list of my favorites.
7 Tips to Save Money During Travel
Travel during off-peak times
Yes, traveling to Wisconsin Dells in the winter (brrrrr) is tons cheaper than in summer months but there’s more to “off peak” than simply the seasons. Rates at restaurants, hotels and attractions can all fluctuate by the day in addition to the time. Think of your local movie theater. A matinee is cheaper than going at night. Keep that concept in mind when you’re working on your travel plans. If you are flexible with your days, mid-week travel will likely be cheaper than a weekend.
Research Gas Prices
Apps like Gas Buddy and Waze can be your friend during travel, but a little research before you are on the road is even more helpful. Not all states are equal when it comes to gas prices. In fact, some are positively horrible for your budget. We live on the border of Iowa and Illinois and traverse the Mississippi River regularly. Let me tell you that the prices are substantially different. When we know we will be driving through Illinois, we top off our tank before entering the state. Our trip to Gen Con further confirmed our dislike of Illinois gasoline prices so we made sure to fill up in Indiana on the return trip.
Service Your Vehicle Prior to Traveling
The last thing you want to do is find yourself needing to call a tow truck because you are stuck on the side of the road. That can not only shoot your budget but also your schedule. A well-maintained vehicle is also important to attaining better gas mileage. Something as simple as the air pressure being off can impact your vehicle’s efficiency on the road.
Pack a Cooler
If you’re traveling by car and have room for a cooler, consider packing one. Fill it with bottled water, soda pop, drink boxes, fresh fruit (grapes are my favorite), cheese sticks and even sandwiches. Have a bag of other random snacks such as chips, crackers, cookies, beef jerky and other easy treats. It’s nice to stretch your legs at the rest area and the cooler will also help you stretch your budget. No room in the car for a cooler? At least make room for the bag of snacks then grab a $1 drink or a glass of water at the McDonald’s drive through.
Get Sly with Souvenirs
It’s nice to have a remembrance of the trip. Keep in mind it doesn’t have to be an expensive one! My favorite travel keepsake costs me a whopping 51¢. Penny squisher machines are available at most tourist destinations, are inexpensive and don’t take up a lot of space. Depending on what you’ll be doing or where you are traveling, souvies for kids can be picked up ahead of time and stashed. As an example, if you will be headed to Disney, pick up some Disney apparel at Kohl’s that you hide from the kids and unveil at the destination.
Find Deals on Events and Attractions
If you know you want to visit a particular museum, check out a specific local attraction, eat at certain restaurants or do certain tourist activities, then do some homework. AAA and Groupon are great resources for finding discounts. Groupon generally offers 2-for-1 deals on everything from food to activities to parking. We scored an awesome B1G1 Balloon Ride at Downtown Disney during our last visit. One of my favorite tips is to purchase a membership to your local museum, zoo or aquarium to take advantage of reciprocal discounts at other locations. You may discover that the membership quickly pays itself off by the money you’ll save on admission elsewhere. As a bonus, you’re supporting your local community and you have a year to continue to reap the benefits of the program. As an example, we purchased an annual family pass to Putnam Museum and received movie and special exhibit passes as part of the membership. One trip to Chicago to the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry and our Putnam membership was more than paid off.
Utilize Frequent Flyer and Loyalty Programs
Take advantage of frequent flyer programs. As I mentioned previously, even hotel chains offer frequent ‘flyer’ programs. They often offer more perks than you realize and quite often incorporate more than one hotel chain under their umbrella. As an example, Club Carlson is the loyalty program used by Radisson, Radissun Blu, Park Plaza, Quarvus Collection, Park Inn by Radisson and Country Inns & Suites. Staying at any of those properties, even though they are different, adds rewards to the same account. You can earn points while saving money when booking one of their hotel deals. In addition to earning free nights, you can also exchange your points for airline miles or get on-site credits for room upgrades, movies or laundry. The one option that I think is especially cool is the option to redeem points for gift cards. There are a multitude of ways to take advantage of the program but the main thing to remember is that factoring in loyalty to the same hotel each time has benefits you many travelers don’t consider.
What is your favorite travel-saving tip?