I was planning to post a humorous account of past frugal vacations, but that might be a book all by itself. ;) Since we just went on a short little road trip vacation I thought I would share my favorite frugal tips. I must admit we are NOT being our usual frugal selves on this trip. There are times when we do a lot of picnics (or eating sandwiches as we ride). This time we are making the eating out portion of the trip one of "activities". So, here are my tips for when we are being frugal:
- Look for a hotel based on cleanliness above all things. With that being the first priority all other things can be overlooked. Generally, we are not too picky, but if you are you might be surprised to find that you can find a great room at a bargain price. Search our newly built or newly renovated hotels. A few years ago we took a group family (3 families total)trip to Silverton, Colorado. Two of the families stayed in a little cabins for about $70 a night (and they were well worth it), but we opted to stay in the newly built little motel across the street for $50!!! In the cabins they had kitchenettes, but we had a microwave ane I rationalized that we could just eat cereal for breakfast, sandwiches and midrowaveable meals for lunch, and spend our $20 savings on eating out (at that time there were only four of us).
- Stay at places that offer a FREE breakfast... and I am NOT talking about a danish or donut. Many motels and hotels offer a free breakfast with a good variety of healthy filling choices with your stay. You might pay a little more for the room, but you save in SEVERAL ways. You save money from not having to eat out breakfast for a family. You save time, energy, and grocery expense bringing and preparing your own breakfast. Many five star hotels are fabulous and frilly, but I have to say I would trade them anyday for a more family friendly environment. For instance, during the homeschool conference we attended in August we opted to stay at a cheaper motel a mile from the conference hotel. Yes, it would have been convenient to stay on-site for access to the conference, but where we stayed our breakfast was provided with a nice dining area to enjoy it in outside our room. We also had a microwave in our room for easy meals or snacks (popcorn, ramen noodles, can soup, or warming meals) and a mini-fridge for food (of course, we always bring a cooler, too). Usually, rooms can be booked for $50-80 depending upon location. Places like Quality Inn, Comfort Inn, etc. are the ones to look for.
- Use Priceline, Orbitz, etc. to search for a hotel/motel and read the RATINGS and COMMENTS. Sometimes you can get a great bargain from booking through these sites, but always cross search the hotels actual site. Sometimes it is just as cheap or you can join special rewards programs for free to save money or get a free night.
- If you are going to a conference you must compare the "conference rate" to the hotels regular rate. Often the "conference rate is MORE. If that is the case simply book your room without mentioning the conference. If you are asked if you are attending a special event just state that you are vacationing or something of that sort.
- Know your bargain options for eating!!! That is the biggest thing. Know the specials and dollar deals for the chain restaurants. Examples are: Jack-In-The-Box has Chicken sandwiches and burgers for $1, as well as, other options. Wendy's has a great $1 menu including bacon cheesburgers and chicken nuggets. Burger King has Whopper Jr. for $1, etc... Subway's $5 foot longs are a great option. Little Ceasar's always has Hot-N-Ready pizzas for $5 each. McDonald's has a little known secret... 10 piece chicken nuggets are a little over $5 a pack, but for about 50 CENTS more you can order a 20 piece (TWENTY!!) For a "classier" restaraunt my BEST and FAV tip is Johnny Carino's on MONDAY nights. The have a special that you can order the Grandissimo portion for the price of a regular entree. We go there and order Chicken Parmesan Grandissimo plus 3 salads (99 cents each) with water to drink and it comes with all their fabulous bread you want. It feeds us all and we sometimes take how leftovers and all for under $20, plus we leave a tip. Also, most restaurants run their best specials on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Tuesday the slowest day of the week for them, so you see a lot of "kids eat free" specials on Tuesdays.
- Skip the "meal deals" and drink drinks from your cooler or order water which is much healthier. Totally skip the kid's meals (unless you find a special price).
- Check the hotel phone book for a "coupon section" and use those! That IS what the coupons were meant for... to be used.
- Pack snacks and a cooler with drinks and EASY foods. I always pack drinks, milk, lunch meats, weiners, jelly, mustard, mayo, favorite snack crackers and chips, animal cookies, and bread. I sometimes pack gogurts, pudding packs, fruit cups, cereal bars, cereal, fruit. Remember the little things like a knife, can opener, plastic ware, disposable bowls and plates, sippy cups, napkins. Along the trip I save my extra napkins an ketchup, etc. more because of the convenience size during travel. Don't forget the fun extras like hot cocoa and marsmallows (big & little).
- Choose the less popular destinations. If you want to simply go play in the snow, but do not want to ski... then avoid ski resort areas or choose a nearby town... or a smaller ski resort area. If you are a beginner skier try out something like Wolf Creek Ski Area as opposed to Aspen. Avoid the most popular destination locations unless you are wanting that experience... like DisneyWorld... in that case the only way you are going to get DisneyWorld is at DisneyWorld. ;)
- Be willing to drive a little. You might have to pay $100 a night to be right at your destination, but if you are five minutes away you might pay $75.
- Stay in National Forests for FREE... if you are willing to rough it!
- Choose "Primitive Camping" in a State Park or RV Park... again, only if you are willing to rough it!
- Choose non-chain locations to save money. Typically, KOA campgrounds (etc.) or much higher than individually owned non-franchise campgrounds.