As summer begins to draw to a close (shame on me for broaching such a sensitive topic!), now is a good time to assess whether you’ve been having enough fun. If the answer is no, there’s still time to remedy that problem: road trip! Hitting the highway always sounds enticing, to be sure — but often enough, we find ourselves running low on funds. Summer shenanigans can take a big bite out of our finances, and no one wants to face a mountain of debt come September. To help get you on the road without putting you in the red, here are four tips on how to get away on a budget.
1. Thrifty Transportation
Be sure to service your vehicle before you start the trip: breaking down half-way to your destination could cost you a lot more than an oil change. If you don’t have a car, rent one. Pack as light as possible — think “freedom,” here. Travelling light also means that renters can opt for a teeny-tiny economy car, which costs a lot less than that SUV you were understandably coveting. To find great car rental deals, I recommend Expedia, Travelocity and RedTag. Check with your credit card company to see if it covers car rental insurance (which is often the case). If you’re really strapped for cash and have been sitting on some Air Miles, consider using them to book your rental car. For as little as 100 Air Miles, you can sometimes score a free car, paying only for the gas you use.
2. Cheap Digs
Some of my friends favour heading to the crappiest motel they can find on the fly; me, I prefer pre-planning. A tonne of websites offer deals on accommodations but my favourite is Hotwire, which allows you to book fabulous hotels at half-price or so. (I once got the Sofitel in Manhattan for $200 a night, regular $450!) There’s a catch, though: you need to be, shall we say, the adventurous type — because you don’t find out the name of your hotel before you book. If that pesky, mysterious detail bothers you, visit Betterbidding, which can help you decode which hotel you’re going to get (you can often figure it out by the amenities and location). If you want to save even more money and you’re not squeamish about having other people in your abode, you can try a housing swap through Craigslist. They may even take care of your pets. If you’ve got the gear, camping can also be super-cheap.
3. Frugal Food
Most of us end up stopping at fast food joints on the road, which leaves us both lighter in the wallet and slightly nauseous. Harness your inner housewife and pack a cooler full of snacks for you and your besties. Sandwiches, fruit, chopped veggies, cold drinks — you’re going to save a bundle and feel healthier, to boot. And just because your ice starts to melt after a few hours doesn’t mean you have to abandon your plan: upon arriving at your destination, hit the local grocery store, load up with good food (and a new bag of ice) and keep your cooler party happening in the hotel room. Save the mini-fridge for more sparkling refreshments.
4. Penny-Pinching Entertainment
When you’re budgeting for your road trip, be reasonable. If you’ve decided to head to New York City, know that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to keep your finances in check (though you could visit Brokeassstuart for tips on saving funds in The Big Apple). Consider targeting a destination city where you can crash with friends, and let them show you around. Before you depart, check RedFlagDeals to see what discounts your city of choice has to offer. Make the focal point a gorgeous (free!) beach or a stunning (free!) national park. And whatever your destination, don’t forget to Google “Cheap Things to Do In [Insert City Here]” to find frugal fun.
Shelley White is a Canadian freelance writer, editor and TV producer who contributes regularly to The Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, The Grid and Spinner.com. Shelley is also a mother of two who aspires to never again carry a credit card balance.