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4 Ways Smart Vacationers Save Money on Travel

1. Drive instead of fly. This is true for long distances if two or more people are traveling together, if time is not a consideration, if you have multiple stops along your route and/or if you need transportation while you are at your destination. So, if you and your spouse are taking the kids to Disney World on a budget, go ahead and stay in a Disney hotel because it really is worth it. But driving might save a lot on your transportation costs.

Let's run a scenario. You, your spouse and two kids are flying to Disney (Orlando, FL) from Chicago.
You got a great deal on your round trip airfare (meaning a whole bunch of other people did, too) of $150 per person. Wow! You are really cutting costs. Total cost of airfare is $600 (plus parking, if you park at the airport).

The distance from Chicago to Orlando is 1224 miles and your car gets 25 miles per gallon. Gas costs what it does right now. $104 in gas each way = $208 round trip. It is a 2-day drive with an overnight stop in the middle. That hotel costs $80. (2 nights at $80 = $160 + $208 for gasoline = $368.) You just saved $232 IF you packed your meals.

Note how the math works. If five people are traveling on the same trip, the savings is greater.  But if three people are going on the trip, they spend about the same no matter which they do. If two people or one person is traveling, they may save money by taking a flight instead.

Subsidiary Note: Staying on interstate highways increases the gas mileage in most cars. It also saves time and stress by reducing traffic (except during rush hour in major metropolitan areas) and gas/time spent idling at traffic lights.

2. Pack your lunch -- This is the best penny-pinching trick of all time. I love it because it not only saves money, it saves valuable time. Let's say the average, cheap fast food meal on the road costs $6. How much does it cost to make a sandwich at home? Add a piece of fruit per person (less than $1 each) and a whole bag of chips ($3.50?) for everyone to share and we are still talking about a tidy savings. But the best part is that you can eat at a rest area instead of having to get off the road to find a restaurant and then stand in line or wait for a server.

On my recent road trip from Wisconsin through Texas and Louisiana, I packed a lunch between Wisconsin and my daughter's university, then from there to Memphis. We could not pack our lunch between the hotel and Debbie's place, and ate at Taco Cabana (yay) on the next two legs of our journey. But we again packed sandwiches to get back to my daughter's school and I packed food to get back into Wisconsin to my sister's place. At an average savings of, say, $5 per meal (a very low guess) times 6 meals, that was a $30 savings! (Plus, it saved my poor waistline at least a little.)

Of course, if you know you will be driving past a Taco Cabana like we did, you might want to plan to stop... unless it is that one messy Taco Cabana one the east side of Houston with the virtually empty salsa bar and no toilet paper. Stopping there was a big disappointment when we drove through Houston last January. (Next time, if there is a next time, I will stop on the west side of Houston!) But remember how nice the one in Waco was. Ahh... memories. (Let's go back!)

3. Get an oil change before you go. I always, always get an oil change before I go on a long drive. Why? Because it increases my gas mileage. New oil and correctly inflated tires make a big difference when it comes to gas mileage. My dad (the scientist) goes one step farther by always giving his car a good wash before traveling a great distance. He insists that dirt causes wind resistance and reducing wind resistance increases gas mileage.

4. Stay with friends and family. This one trick saves a mint on hotel accommodations. Of course, it does not work if you have no friends or family to stay with. What I try to do is plan the route for my driving trips so that I will pass by a close friend or family member along the way. Most people seem to be okay with letting you camp out on a sofa for a night if you are passing through, as long as you spend some time visiting with them.

On my recent month-long trip, I stayed in a hotel only one night because I stayed with friends and family for the other 27. I think it cost me about $80. If $80 per night is the average, I saved over $2100 (that I did not have) by spending time with people I know. Talk about a win-win!


$1.59 per gallon!
P. S. A fifth trick that makes travelers feel quite clever but does really not save much is to use loyalty cards to save cents on gas. I generally avoid this one because I don't want to sign up for a million different programs, but it could be somewhat useful to devout penny-pinchers driving very long distances.

Here is some simple math to show the potential benefit. Now, I just drove about 3000 miles for my recent round-trip and my little car gets about 30 mpg . But let's say your round-trip is going to be 1000 miles and your car is slightly larger than mine. We'll say it gets 25 miles to the gallon (on the highway). 1000 miles divided by 25 mpg = 40 gallons of gas for the 1000 mile trip.

If you buy gasoline at all, say, "Jack's gas" stations because it is a nationwide brand that you expect to be all along your route, and IF the Jack's gas stations you stop at have the same price for gas as the other gas stations near them, and IF your loyalty card saves 10 cents per gallon (roughly 6.25%), then you have just saved a total of $4 on gasoline for your time and trouble of using only Jack's gas stations during your entire trip.

My time when driving thousands of miles is more valuable to me than $4 (total).

What I did instead was get a "Rewards" credit card. This way, I can buy the "cheap" gas, no matter whether it is an Exxon, a Shell, a Diamond Shamrock or whatever, and I still save 5% (thus recapturing most of my potential $4 savings).

BONUS -- I also get savings on some of the meals I eat out while traveling. (But I still pack my lunches for the road when I can -- unless I know I will be passing a Taco Cabana, in which case I plan to stop for lunch.)
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4 Ways Smart Vacationers Save Money on Travel


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