by Lisa

You’ve decided to do it.  You’re going to take the Road Trip.  You’re going to hit the highways, not a care in the world except seeing more of it.  You’ve mustered up the courage to go solo, or you’ve found a tolerable travel companion.  You’ve blocked out the time.  You’ve plotted your (tentative) course.  There’s just one concern: How do you afford it?

Most of us can’t manage to flit from city to city, staying in the Ritz and dining at five-star restaurants for weeks at a time.  Even scaling back your sleeping expectations, and limiting yourself to lower-priced fare, however, days on the road can add up fast.  Here are five ways to pinch, stretch, and twist your dollars while not sacrificing experience and fun.

1. Don’t eat out all the time.  This sounds a little fishy; after all, you’re on vacation.  Chances are, you’re moving from place to place quickly, not staying long enough in any one place to actually have a means to cook meals.  Food, however, is one of the fastest ways to rack up cost while traveling, and one of the fastest ways to cut costs, as well.  Shop in grocery stores and local markets, and buy easy-to-prepare, no-cook food that will last without constant refrigeration.  Breakfasts are the easiest meal to have in this way: pop-tarts, granola bars, and fruit are cheap and easy to pack into the car.  Bring a cooler, and you can buy a bag of ice every couple of days to keep things cold.  Peanut butter and jelly make for a quick and cheap lunch or dinner.  Be creative, too…if you see some of those packets of mayonnaise at a sandwich shop, keeping one of those can come in handy with a can of tuna fish.  When you do want to eat out (and, let’s face it, part of the fun of being on the road is experiencing local cuisine) choose lunch over dinner — it’s usually half the price.

2. Skip the fancy hotels.  This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how easily we are lulled, in our disposable-income-filled adult life, to expect higher quality in accomodations.  Remember when you were young, and slept on couches with no qualms?  You can do it again.  Borrow a tent and camp instead of staying in hotels.  Find cheap, standard places that provide the shower and the bed without the fancy amenities.  Call your friends, see if you can crash with them, and bring them gifts you’ve picked up during your trip.

3. Find free and cheap entertainment.  There are festivals, fairs, concerts, and parks everywhere.  Pick up a local newspaper, or ask your friendly neighborhood bartender about local happenings.  See if there are discounts being offered at area attractions and pick your entertainment from those.  Walk around the city/town, absorbing the atmosphere.  Ask about local museums that offer lower prices in the evening or free days.  It’s easy to forget that there’s a lot to do out there that doesn’t involve spending your hard-earned cash.

4. Plan in advance for compound discounts and savings.  This is where doing some research ahead of time comes in handy.  If you’re going to be in a city for a couple of days, check out whether there are “passes” or discount programs that offer admission to an assortment of attractions for a set lower price.  Sometimes public transportation authorities offer daily or weekly passes that come with discounts to area attractions.  The key here is looking into this in advance, so you know if you’ll really be saving money and where to find the passes once you arrive.

5. Mooch off your family and friends.  Okay, this sounds sketchy, but in reality, it’ll work out this way.  If you have friends in an area, ask to stay with them…in exchange for a gift or a dinner out, you’ll have super cheap and comfortable lodging, and companionship as well.  I know when I was on the road, the friends I stayed with also opened up their refrigerators and their laundry rooms to me, and handed out passes and coupons that had been sitting around that they weren’t going to use.  Most of them also wanted to show me around town.  While at first I protested, in the end I relaxed and let them be hosts.  And thanked them profusely!!!

With a little planning, and willingness to forgo some everday comforts, you can drastically slash the cost of your road trip…and if that means you can stay on the road longer, all the better!