Tuesday, January 2, 2018

How To Take A Cheap Winter Road Trip

Our family recently got back from a winter road trip from Iowa to Florida, about 2,700 miles round trip.  It turned out to be a great time to head south since the high temperature in Iowa was below 0 degrees, and the high temperature in Cocoa Beach, Florida was 80 degrees.  We were able to swim and hang out on the beach all day.

Take a Cheap Winter Road Trip!
  Take a Cheap Winter Road Trip!

We decided to skip Christmas presents this year to help fund the big road trip to take the kids to see the ocean for the first time.  Based on this recent experience, here are some tips on how to take a cheap road trip:

  • Avoid tourist traps
  • Get food at grocery stores, not restaurants
  • Hotel hopping for the best deals
  • Drive, don't fly

Avoid tourist traps!

We thought about stopping in Orlando to visit attractions such as Universal Studios and Disney World, but decided the beach is where we really wanted to be instead.  It cost us $20 to rent beach chairs and an umbrella all day at the beach.  We brought a cooler with bottled water and snacks.  I also paid $10 to rent a boogie board for the day as well.

Had we gone to Orlando, I bet we would have spent hundreds of dollars on tickets for attractions and expensive fast food.

Beaches are a cheap activity, and also exploring national parks and other wild areas make for an enjoyable and inexpensive vacation activity.  If we had more time, we would have visited the Kennedy Space Center which would have been inexpensive and memorable as well.

Get Food at Grocery Stores, Not Restaurants

On the trip down to Florida, we stopped at a Target to pick up healthy snacks and grocery items.  In Florida, we stopped by a local grocery store to pick up snacks and food to prepare for meals.

One problem we encountered was that we bought some hamburger and pork patties with the intention of cooking them with the oven at our hotel suite.  Unfortunately, it turned out that our suite didn't have an oven, only a microwave.  Plan B was grilling them at a charcoal grill that was available next to the pool at the hotel.  When I went to grill the burgers, I realized that we would want some aluminum foil to put on the grill, plus some charcoal and lighter fluid.  This cost of this meal was starting to add up.

One of my kids found instructions for cooking hamburgers in the microwave using only paper plates.  At first I was skeptical that this would work, but decided to give it a try instead of buying grilling supplies to cook the burgers.  I checked the microwave burgers and found that they were hot and cooked all the way through.  They were actually pretty good, and a lot easier to make than grilling on the road.

By getting food at grocery stores instead of eating at restaurants, fast food places, and gas station convenience stores we probably saved hundreds of dollars.

Hotel Hopping for the Best Deals

We didn't have much of a plan when we left on our road trip, and that's how I wanted it.  The problem with making reservations ahead of time is that you are then tied to a plan which can add stress and forces you to keep track of time and try to meet a schedule.  Plus some reservations are not refundable, so you could end up paying for a hotel stay even if you don't stay there.

For the most part, Mrs. Penny Pincher checked for deals on Kayak with her smart phone at about 5 pm each day to figure out a good hotel deal.  By late in the day we had a good idea of where we would want to stay for the night.  We found a hotel on the beach that we liked at Cocoa Beach and ended up staying a second night.

Look for a hotel that provides a free hot breakfast, this provides a good value when you are on the road, especially in expensive locations.

Drive, Don't Fly

Flying a family of 4 to Florida would have been an expensive operation.  Instead, we drove my 13 year old Toyota Highlander with 155,000 miles.  The cost of putting a few more miles on a car this old is almost nothing.

On the highway, we got about 25 miles per gallon.  For the round trip of 2,700 miles we use about 108 gallons of gas.  At about $2.30 per gallon, this works out to $250.  Sometimes you can find good airfare deals, but there's no way you could get 4 round trip tickets to Florida from Iowa for anywhere near $250.  Even considering that we had to stay overnight on the way down and on the way back, driving was a lot less expensive than flying.  Plus since we drove instead of flying, we had a car available once we reached our destination, avoiding the expense of renting a car.

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