February 22, 2021 – Budget Travel Tips

When I was a child, whenever my mom brought me along on a trip, we always stayed in the cheapest hotel or motel available. More often than not, that meant a Motel 6. If you want bare bones accommodations and possibly bed bugs, feel free to make a reservation at one of their 1400+ locations across the United States, they’ll be glad ‘to leave the light on for you’. Me? At this stage in my life, I prefer staying elsewhere, somewhere with fewer sketchy characters and also one that might include a hot cooked-to-order breakfast (or at least a DIY waffle maker). I’ve stayed in enough places where keeping a can of mace on hand wasn’t always such a bad idea. But I don’t want to do that any more. I got a taste of ‘luxury’ and I don’t want to go back to bare bones and bed bugs. You must be thinking to yourself that I’m blowing a big wad of cash for ‘a room with a view’. However, I’m not. I’m paying nearly the same amount as I would at a Motel 6, but for far better accommodations with multiple amenities.

How is that possible? Well, if you want to save money, it requires ‘doing your homework’. By ‘homework’, I mean that you will need to devote an hour or two (depending on where you’re going and the length of your stay) to spending some time online and researching costs. For short term stays, my favorite website is Priceline. For long term stays, my favorite website is VRBO (vacation rentals by owner). There is also kayak.com, hotels.com, airbnb.com, travelocity.com, and booking.com, in case you’d like to peruse some additional sites. Why pick Priceline? With Priceline, I have yet to find anyone that can beat their prices. In order to get their absolute, bargain-basement, lowest prices, there is a catch. The purchase must be paid in advance and there is no refund if you have to cancel. If I am reserving a room that I intend to use two nights from now, it’s hard to go wrong selecting that option. If I am reserving a room that I don’t intend to use for a month or two, paying a little more and choosing the ‘free’ cancellation option is the best way to go.

For airline deals, I usually rely on kayak.com. Having said that, I first try to determine if my airline miles will cover the trip. If they won’t, then I check kayak.com. How do you earn airline miles? I know of no other way than to get a credit card to achieve this. Because of where I live and where the airline flies, I have a credit card with Alaska Airlines. In the United States, it’ll take me as far north as Alaska, as far west as Hawaii and as far south as Florida. If you have decent credit and qualify for a credit card, right now they have a deal that you’ll be awarded 50,000 miles once you’ve made at least $2,000 in purchases within the first 90 days. Yes, there is an annual fee of $75 and the annual percentage rate on the card is fairly high; however, if you pay off the card each month, it should be a non-issue. If you currently owe the IRS for taxes, a great way to take the ‘sting’ out of it is to use your brand new credit card to pay your debt to Uncle Sam.

Once you pay the balance on your card and it gets processed, as a nice bonus, 50,000 miles will eventually post to your account. That’s, of course, if you choose to use the card to pay the IRS. You could always just use it to pay for your utilities, groceries, gas, and any other bills you may have. It isn’t hard to run up $2,000 in expenses on a credit card in 90 days. I should also mention that another perk with having the Alaska Airlines card is that you are also awarded a $99 companion fare ($121 with taxes), in case you want to fly with someone else to the same destination at the same time. Using that feature has saved me a ton of money on tickets. It really worked out well when we flew our entire family to Hawaii one year. I used airline miles to cover one of the kids and then (because my husband and I each had a card under separate accounts), we only had to pay for two fares at full price and then the other two for just over $100 each. Not a bad deal, if I do say so myself!

There is one other airline that I’d like to recommend that offers low prices along with a fair amount of miles (should you sign up for their credit card). Because kayak.com does not include them as a vendor in their airline options, I think it’s important to mention them. Which airline am I referring to? Southwest. Yes, there are some things about them that I’m not particularly fond of, primarily the fact that you cannot reserve an assigned seat; however, if that doesn’t bother you, you might want to see what they have to offer. I believe they are the only airline at this time that allows for 2 (free) checked bags per person and they also are the most ‘forgiving’ when it comes to rescheduling flights or refunding money. I have not found that to be the case with their competitors. As far as airlines that I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? Sad to say, because I used to love them, but I will never fly Frontier again. I’d also have to include Spirit, JetBlue and Allegiant in that category.

What’s next? Well, unless you like to rely on taxis or buses or your feet (which I don’t), once you fly somewhere, a rental car is something that must be considered. I have rented a car in every location I’ve traveled with the exception of Ireland. There’s no way I’d risk trying to figure out how to drive on the left side of the road with no prior experience. That is the one time I stuck to using taxis, buses and my feet. As beautiful as Ireland is, I’d rather it not be the place where I ‘take my last breath’. When I went nearly 9 years ago, the last thing I wanted was to have a priest show up and recite the last rites as I lay dying on the side of the road after colliding with another vehicle in a head-on accident. For rental cars, I don’t have one particular site that I frequent, although, I’ve had the best ‘luck’ with hotwire.com. What I generally do with rental cars is pull up several and see who can offer the best rate. A few options are Priceline, hotwire.com, rentalcars.com, and kayak.com. Another site that I would recommend just to see if they can beat the others is Costco but you must be a member in order to do so.

How else can you stretch your dollars? By limiting how often you eat out. It’s amazing how quickly all of the drinks and snacks and meals can add up! It’s nuts! If you cannot find a hotel or motel that’s reasonable that also offers breakfast, bring your own! As long as the room has a refrigerator and a microwave, it’s really all you need and it’ll save you a ton of money. If you intend to drive to wherever you’re going, you can do everything prior to your departure. Before I head out the door on a road trip, I precook a week’s worth of bacon and boil several eggs and place them in a cooler along with a couple of old milk jugs (that I filled with water and froze). In addition to that, I also bring a small container of milk, creamer, drinking water, yogurt, honey, fresh fruit, peanut butter and jelly, and anything else I wish to take (including sliced cheese and lunch meat). Along with the refrigerated items, I also bring a bag of dry goods. Dry goods consist of bread, single packet oatmeal, potato chips, jerky, nuts, coffee, salt & pepper, and whatever else sounds appetizing.

The other items I bring are a one gallon beverage cooler, two reusable water bottles, and powdered drinks (i.e., green tea and Gatorade). I loathe paying for beverages more than anything. It’s so much handier and cheaper to fill up the beverage cooler with ice and water each morning, add the powdered mix, and have it readily available for when you get thirsty throughout the day. It definitely beats paying $3 each for flavored water each time you stop at the convenience store to fill up the gas tank. Paper plates and bowls, a roll of paper towels and toilet paper, plastic utensils, Ziploc baggies, a couple of hand towels, a small container of liquid dish soap, a kitchen sponge, hand sanitizer and hand sanitizing wipes, and a couple of small, rectangular, microwaveable, glass containers (with plastic lids) are wise to keep on hand, too. I know, it seems like a lot of work. It is! That’s the ‘cost’ of saving money. The alternative is having to continually ‘eat out’. Some folks prefer that, and if you’re one of them, knock yourself out! No judgment.

As for me? Saving money is in my blood. As I’ve mentioned before, I come from a long line of penny pinchers and nickel squeezers. If there’s a way to get around paying ‘top dollar’, I’m going to find it. But in order to do so, research and preparation are key. The less research and the less prep time, the more you’ll likely spend. I’m willing to do it because I have a budget to follow and let’s face it, I’m cheap. Alas, as much as I’d love to go somewhere, because of the current circumstances, it looks like I’ll be staying put for a while (at least until I can get vaccinated). I guess all of those air miles I’ve saved up will just have to wait. It’s alright. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in the meantime. But it’ll sure be nice when this ‘Covid-19 craziness’ is behind us and we can all get back to travelling again! Thank you so much for stopping by. I enjoy the opportunity to share things about my life and family or to just make simple random observations. If all goes well and I haven’t run you off, I trust you will return tomorrow as will I.

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