A couple of weeks ago I returned home from a 5,500 mile cross country road trip. Living in Colorado, with the rest of my family living in Massachusetts and Florida, it always takes a big trip in order to see everyone. And since I gave up flying 3 years ago, I now only travel by car or by train – and this summer’s trip was via my Mini Cooper. I drove from CO down to Florida via all back roads (no major highways) so I could see some great parts of the country rarely seen, then I drove up to Boston for a visit and to attend a wedding, and then I drove all the way back to Colorado. I was gone for just about a month, and I had a fantastic time both visiting people and just spending some of the summer on a road trip.
However, taking a long road trip like this can cost a pretty penny if you are not careful. Between the food, drinks, gasoline, tolls, and hotel stays, a trip can empty your wallet in no time flat. One of the biggest expenses I have found on these trips is the 6 some-odd hours I pay to sleep in a hotel… I drive really long days, pull into a hotel at night, and wake up early the next morning and get back on the road. “You want $109 for a 6-hour stay in your hotel?” Yikes! Well, after making these treks for a few years now, I have come up with a few ways to save on hotel stays while on the road, and figured that maybe some of you could benefit from them as well – so here we go!
Stay at hotels in the middle of nowhere. Rural hotels far away from city centers or big suburbs are cheaper than those approaching and/or leaving a major city. I usually wait at least an hour, if not longer, after leaving a city to find a place to sleep for the night. Unless you are planning on playing tourist the next morning, avoid renting a room near a city.
Using your smartphone (if you have one), look up the numbers and call all the hotels at an off-ramp. I do this all the time, in order to find the cheapest one. It saves me from having to go into each lobby and ask the clerks individually.
Pull in to the hotel late at night. The later you get there, the more apt the person behind the counter will be to give you a discount. If the hotel isn’t full yet, and it’s already 11pm, you can probably get a much better price than the rack rate. That being said…
Always ask for a discount. The clerk will ask if you have AAA card or something else like it in order to process a discount, but that doesn’t mean you need a card to get one – be nice and ask if there is anything they can do about the price. Some will, and some won’t, but it never hurts to ask.
Find hotels with free breakfasts and free wi-fi. Granted, the breakfast they give you may only be coffee and a donut, but that’s $10 less dollars you have to spend in the morning.
Sleep in your car. On my return trip to Colorado from Massachusetts, I slept in my car in a rest area in Missouri. I slept for almost 5 hours, got up, and got right back on the road. Was it the most comfortable place I have ever slept? Nope – but I have done it many times and am getting used to the idiosyncrasies of sleeping in one’s car. I find a safe, patrolled, rest area, full of other “sleepers” and trucks, vent the sunroof, lean the seat back, and voila – a free bed for the night. This is my new preferred sleeping method on long drives, as nothing beats not spending a dime on a hotel bed that you only need for a few hours.
Do you take long road trips? What tips would you offer up for saving money on hotels and/or traveling by car? I usually bring my own cooler full of drinks and snacks to save me even more money. What would you add to a list of money-saving road trip tips?
Photo by Bruce Berrien
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