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Budget Travel - Road Trip Planner

Updated on April 16, 2013
Road Trips!!
Road Trips!! | Source

Budget Travel

Do you come up with a road trip planner before heading off for a vacation in your car? Wondering about the possibility of budget travel? Consider using specific money-saving ideas for your road trips! My family and I do a lot of traveling by automobile, and we’ve saved a lot of money over the years by planning ahead carefully. Start by formulating a well thought out road trip planner. Do this as far in advance as you can. Cheap travel is entirely possible, as long as you’re willing to do some research before heading out. You can find cheap hotel deals and ideas for cheap meals, along with other ways to save on travel expenses. You’ll also need to use the information you find to formulate a plan that incorporates all the best travel deals you’ve found. Once you have a careful plan, organize it and put it in writing, and stick to it! You’ll be amazed at just how much money you can save. For some ideas to get you started, check out these tips for budget travel, along with an outline for a road trip planner.

One of our cheap travel destinations.
One of our cheap travel destinations. | Source

Road Trips

We take lots of road trips. Sometimes it’s just me and the old man, sometimes it’s with friends, and sometimes we take family road trips. Our trips vary in length – both in miles traveled and in the number of days spent on a trip. We might drive 150 miles or so to a Georgia or North Florida beach, or we might travel several hundred miles to a Smoky Mountain destination or to South Florida. Sometimes we drive straight through to our destination, but for longer trips, we might spend a night or two along the way.

I definitely prefer road trips to air travel. I hate flying – for several reasons. For one thing, I don’t like being on someone else’s schedule, especially when that schedule is likely to change without much notice. I don’t like wasting time around airport terminals, either, nor do I like being confined on a plane for hours. After all, it’s not like you can pull over when you want. Also, I want to be able to carry as much luggage as I have room for, and not to have my bottles of shampoo confiscated.

With road trips, you’re in control. You can choose to travel non-stop, or you can take your time and enjoy a leisurely trip. If you see something interesting along the way, you’re free to stop and investigate. You also get to travel in the privacy of your own vehicle with fellow travelers of your choosing, instead of being “cooped up” on a plane with total strangers.

I always feel a certain kind of freedom with road trips. You know: it’s just you and the open road, or you and your family or friends and the open road. The highways and byways of America are just waiting there for us to explore in our own automobiles, and when I hear that siren call of wanderlust, I’m ready to pack up and go!

Imagine family road trips with this bunch of munchkins!
Imagine family road trips with this bunch of munchkins! | Source

Travel Expense

Travel expense can be hefty, especially if you’re not committed to cutting corners with budget travel. Of course, you’ll need to figure in gas, lodging, food, and activities in your road trip planner. Don’t forget to include money for tips. You’ll also need to allow extra money for emergencies. You never know when you could have a flat tire, a dead battery, or other travel expenses you didn’t plan for. For such unforeseen spending, you should have extra cash or a credit card.

Think carefully about all the travel expense that might incur. Don’t forget the little things like toll roads, as these can really add up. On our recent trip to Disney World, we had to go through several toll booths. Since I knew about the tolls beforehand, I was prepared with the right amount of change for each one, so we didn’t have to wait in a long line for the attendant to make change for us.

Take care of as much travel expense as possible before you leave home. This is the great advantage of planning far ahead. Before we leave on road trips, I’ve already paid in advance for all our lodgings. If we’re going to attractions, I purchase our tickets in advance, too. Sometimes I even purchase gift certificates to restaurants where I know we’ll be eating, along with cards for gasoline. We love to travel, but we’re not wealthy. Paying for travel expenses in advance gives me a way to pay a little at a time instead of paying for all my travel expense at once. We’d rather go on several cheap trips a year instead of going on one really expensive vacation.

We rented a large van for this family snow adventure. We actually saved money on our travel expense by doing so.
We rented a large van for this family snow adventure. We actually saved money on our travel expense by doing so. | Source

Travel Expenses – Cheap Gas

Gas or fuel, of course, will be a big part of your travel expenses for a road trip. To figure this travel expense accurately, you’ll need to have a good idea of your fuel consumption and how far you can travel on a tank of gas. This will help you decide where and when you need to stop along the way for refueling.

Keep in mind that gas prices vary from place to place. It might be a few cents different to as much as a dollar a gallon difference in prices. To locate cheap gas along your route, consult a website like GasBuddy. If you research gas prices in the towns you’ll be traveling through, you can plan and budget accordingly.

If time is important on your trip, locate the cheap gas stations, then find nearby restaurants or picnic sites. This will allow you to kill two birds with one stone and not waste any more time than you have to. You’ll save gas, too, because you won’t be doing a lot of unnecessary driving.

Before leaving home, have your car tuned up to improve fuel efficiency. You’ll also need to check your tire pressure, oil, and windshield washer fluid level. You don’t want to take road trips in vehicles that aren’t safe and dependable. Breaking down on the road, far from home, is no picnic. If it occurs on a weekend, you might not find a repair shop open, and in that case, you’ll have to spend extra money on lodging at a nearby hotel. This can really wreck your travel budget and perhaps ruin your entire vacation.

Check out prices for car rentals. We sometimes rent a large van or small bus for family road trips.
Check out prices for car rentals. We sometimes rent a large van or small bus for family road trips. | Source

Car Rentals

Here's another cheap travel idea: car rentals. What kind of mileage does your automobile get? If you have a big gas guzzler, it might be cheaper in the long run to rent a fuel-efficient car. In most cases, such vehicles will be small, so you’ll need to weigh the price of gas with the amount of room and the comfort a larger vehicle would provide.

For family road trips, you might want to consider renting a large van. We've done this a couple of times, and believe it or not, we saved money by doing so. We were able to split the cost of gas among four families, which reduced our travel expense. Plus, it was fun for everyone to ride together. The kids had a blast being with their cousins, and the adults enjoyed all the camaraderie, too. When someone got tired of driving, we switched out.

When you’re thinking about car rentals, think outside the box sometimes. Local car rental agencies in our area didn’t have any large vans for rent, but we didn’t give up our search easily. We finally found a Ford dealership in the next town that had a suitable vehicle that they allowed us to rent. Before this trip, I didn’t even know car dealers rented vehicles! Call around and find out what’s available in your area, and be sure to compare prices.

Find some cheap hotels. Even better, find some cheap hotel deals at better hotels.
Find some cheap hotels. Even better, find some cheap hotel deals at better hotels. | Source

Cheap Motels - Discount Hotels

You can find cheap motels all over the US. Of course, there are some cheap hotels where you probably don’t want to consider. On the other hand, you can find some cheap hotel deals on some decent hotel rooms, too. Check out sites like Travelocity, Kayak, Priceline, Hotwire, Expedia, and Orbitz. Read some reviews left by travelers for the discount hotels you’re considering, and that will help you narrow your search.

There are other ways to find cheap hotel deals, too. Many hotels offer reduced rates in the off season, and this season varies from region to region. Hotel rooms are sometimes cheaper on weeknights, too. In large cities that get a lot of business travel, room rates are sometimes cheaper on the weekends. Also, some hotels offer free nights, as in “book three nights and get the fourth night free” hotel deals. Don’t overlook package deals, either. These might include activities and/or meals with your lodging. Be careful here, though. Don’t pay extra for something you probably won’t use.

Another way to find discount hotels is to look for lodgings away from major attractions. Being a block or two farther away from the beach or from a theme park could save you significantly. When you’re looking for hotels along your travel route, it won’t really matter if the hotel is near attractions or whether the hotel is fancy or not. At that point, you pretty much just want a clean, comfy place to lay your head.

One of the awesome pools at the cheap Florida condos we found recently.
One of the awesome pools at the cheap Florida condos we found recently. | Source


Don’t discount condos as an option for budget travel, either. Sometimes you can find some really cheap condos, especially on sites like VRBO. We’ve found condos in Florida for as little as $100 per night that slept six or more people, and these were nice accommodations. If three couples are traveling together and split the cost, that’s just $33 a night for each couple. You’d be extremely hard pressed to find a hotel for that price – even discount hotels.

Your search for suitable condos might take some time, since you’ll probably want the lodgings for just a night or two. Some condo rentals have a minimum stay, like three nights. In the high season, you might have to rent the condo for seven nights. Don’t give up on your search, though. If you look hard enough, you can usually find some that rent by the night. Here’s a travel tip for you: Go to VRBO and look for condos in your desired area. Check the calendar for reservations. If you see an “empty” night or two between bookings, contact the owner and find out if you can rent the condo on that night or those nights. You might even get a discount rate!

Condos have several advantages over hotels and motels. I’ve already mentioned the potential cost advantage, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. You’ll also have a kitchen, so you can prepare your own meals, which is another way to save money. On long road trips, staying in a condo for a night or two will give everyone a welcome break from riding in the car, so you’ll get a chance to really relax and “regroup.”

Picnics are great for cheap meals!
Picnics are great for cheap meals! | Source

Cheap Meals

Cheap meals while traveling are an important part of keeping your travel expense to a manageable level. Dining out can be expensive, so plan wisely. Many hotels, even cheap hotels, provide a free breakfast to their guests. Take full advantage of this. If you eat a big breakfast, a light lunch will do you. Breakfast is almost always the cheapest meal restaurants offer, so even if your hotel doesn’t provide a free breakfast, it’s still the cheapest meal when dining out. If you find a breakfast buffet, you can “pig out” on meats, eggs, milk, fruit, and grains. That way, even if you skimp on lunch and dinner, you’ll still get some healthy nutrition.

For cheap travel, take along a big cooler that’s packed with drinks and food. Save room in the cooler for essentials like raw veggies and dip, cheeses, sandwich meats, milk, boiled eggs, and sandwich spreads. Fresh fruits, dried fruits, nuts, jerky, bread, chips, and cookies don’t need refrigeration. You can make a pretty hearty lunch or dinner from meat and cheese sandwiches, fruit, raw veggies, and milk. You might also want to include some individual serving-size boxes of cereal. If your hotel room has a microwave, a nice cup of soup can be a great addition to a cold sandwich.

Before you leave on your trip, check out some picnic grounds and parks where you can enjoy your cheap meals in the form of a picnic. Pack a Frisbee, a ball, or some other outdoor toys, too. Not only can picnics save on travel expense, they can also be a good way to give kids a break from riding in the car.

As you should do with gas and hotels, you need to find the best restaurant deals, too. Remember that some restaurants let kids eat free with an adult, so look for these. Many other restaurants provide kids’ meals at greatly reduced prices. For example, we found a seafood restaurant in South Florida where kids are charged one cent for each inch of their height. In other words, a kid who’s four feet tall eats for 48 cents.

Another way to get cheap meals is to take advantage of discount coupons. Look in newspapers, flyers, and online. Lots of chain restaurants also have “clubs” you can join. When you join, you get free printable coupons for their food. These might include discounts, free appetizers, free desserts, or buy-one-get-one deals.

In your road trip planner, include some outdoor playtime for the kids.
In your road trip planner, include some outdoor playtime for the kids. | Source

Road Trip Planner

Long before your trip, create a road trip planner. Careful road trip or vacation planning will help you manage your time and your money wisely. Besides, planning a trip is fun! It sort of gives you a “taste” of your vacation before the holiday actually begins. Long before a trip or vacation, I like to go online and check out the place we’ll be visiting. I also search for interesting side trips we might have access to along our route. As I find pertinent information, I write it down in a notebook. Later, I organize it all so that it’s easy to follow. Allow the whole family or group to have some input in the planning process. That way, everyone gets a little of what he or she wants. Be sure your road trip planner includes the following:

1. Maps and precise directions.

2. Distance and travel time between stops.

3. Locations and reservations at cheap hotels.

4. Locations of cheap gas.

5. Locations of picnic sites/parks.

6. Locations for restaurants with cheap food. Remember your coupons!

7. Snacks, drinks, and picnic foods.

8. Outdoor toys.

9. A first aid kit that includes drugs for motion sickness and prescriptions.

10. Blankets and pillows for napping in the car.

11. Car toys and games.

12. Sunscreen and bug spray.

13. Wet wipes.

14. Phone numbers to hotels/condos.

15. Cell phones and chargers.

16. A flashlight and extra batteries.

17. Exact change for toll roads.

18. A spare tire and jack.

19. Sunglasses for driving.

20. Extra water and a can of oil for the car.

Most importantly, make sure you have the money to cover your traveling expenses in your road trip planner, plus some extra for emergencies. Always expect the unexpected and have enough money to cover potential problems. If you have kids in tow, you might want to give each one a travel expense allowance that they can use for souvenirs, activities, or special treats. Make sure everyone in your party understands that the trip is going to be done with budget travel in mind, and begin working on your plans as far in advance as possible. It requires some work on your part, but in the long run, budget travel is worth all the effort you put into it, and you’ll be able to afford more outings. An adequate road trip planner is paramount, as it can keep your vacation on track.

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