When we embarked on our most recent adventure, we were on a pretty strict budget for a pretty extensive trip. 9 days, as many breweries as possible, a few food trucks, and one New York City Broadway show (for my birthday).
Once we made our list of priorities we set to work thinking about places we could save – food, gas, hotels, random souvenirs and shopping, and attractions. We ended up doing the whole trip for around $1250 (for two) Some things worked really well, and some things…didn’t. If you’re planning a budget road trip, read on for our five money-saving tips.
1. Cheap Eats on the Road:
We were headed to New York, so we weren’t silly enough to plan to pack all of our meals. But we also knew that by packing a lot of our food, we could really cut our costs. So, we agreed to skip restaurant food on the way up and back, and to make our own breakfasts and lunches throughout the trip. For about $60, we picked up all of the ingredients for smoothies and oatmeal (breakfast), wraps, veggies, cheese, and homemade hummus (lunch and some dinners), and carrots and a whole lot of popcorn (snacks). I have a bullet which is small and easy to pack for smoothies. I made hummus for the first time, more than a litre for about $4. We also brought our own coffee beans, grinder, and roaster. This was one of the easiest and biggest savings on our trip (around $40 saved – or a decent NYC dinner out).
In addition to saving a lot of money, we didn’t feel bad – weight or wallet wise – for the few meals we chose to eat out. We took advantage of happy hours and deals – like three small plates and three beer at the delicious 508 GastroBrewery. We also shared a sample tray at all of our NYC brewery stops and picked up growlers and bottles to take home. That way we were able to try the local beer we wanted, without paying twice the price.
2. Alternative Accommodations:
Hotels were the hardest place to save. We looked at a few options – from hotwire, to Air BNB to discount and points based hotels, to low-cost hotels. I made a few attempts to book hotels or Air BNB in advance to no avail (and by no avail I mean not the price I wanted to pay). I found a great place for our first night and kept our fingers crossed that the rest would come together.
The first night was spent at Chipman Suites in St John. We booked it through Air BNB for $77 (after tax and Airbnb fees). It was a great spot. We had a private, comfortable room with a kitchenette, and it was a three minute walk to St john Ale House and Big Tide Brewery.
Night two was spent at the Howard Johnson in South Portland – I booked this one directly through HOJO. It was only $62 a night. My mom warned me that HOJOs can be hit or miss, but this one was a hit. The lobby was a bit run down but the rooms were clean and comfortable and it had a great continental breakfast in the morning.
Night three was the worst (THE WORST). We booked a room through HotelsClub.com. It was an okay price ($73 after tax) but the place was a dump. There were old radiators in the hallway, the bathroom was dirty, and we could only get internet in the very back corner of the room (basically if we put our computer behind the sink). Bad. In good news (I’m being sarcastic) Hotelsclub.com called me after I left a negative review and offered me a whole $15 credit for the next time I want to book through them.
At that point our luck did a total 180. We heard back from one of the Airbnb rentals in Harrison, New Jersey. Our host had a week rate listed, so I asked if we could stay four nights for $180. The place was perfect – a single room with shared kitchen and bathroom. It was also just a three minute walk from the PATH train (less than 20 minutes to get into NYC!). After the US exchange and Airbnb fees, it still only came to $224. That booking pretty much saved our budget, and I will definitely be going to Airbnb first next time I take a budget trip.
On the way back home we made the last minute decision to cut our trip one night short. Our last night came to $67. It was pretty good, despite the fact that Hotwire said it had a pool when it didn’t. (Guests have access to a pool at a different hotel). The staff were really nice and very helpful at this one and the rooms were clean. By that point we were really ready to be home so we didn’t mind.
All in all, that’s $503 for 8 nights for two people.
3. Aeroplan and Other Points:
I was kicking myself the whole trip that I don’t save airmiles or have an aeroplan card. With such a tight budget, I realized how amazing even a single free room night would have been – an extra meal or two out or close to two tanks of gas. Drew and I pay for most things in cash or debit (because we buy most things locally and credit card fees for small businesses can be brutal) but it has me thinking about better planning the few things we do charge so that it can help offset some of our travel costs for things we would be buying regardless.
4. Fuel Smarts and Drive Sharing: Gas is really expensive right now, but it’s nothing compared to the cost of flying two people from Halifax to New York. Flying was going to be almost $1000 for JUST ONE PERSON! Plus, I hate (HATE) flying. I actually start stressing about flights more than a month in advance. So driving it was. We were both kicking ourselves that we didn’t think to check out some drive sharing programs the week or two before we hit the road. It would have been a great way to pay for a bit of our gas. We packed light, and stuck to 100 km per hour. On the way there and back, we stuck to cruise control for most of the trip. All those things kept our gas consumption down. We thought we would spend around $400 on gas and it ended up closer to $350.
5. Pack Smart: I can’t even count the number of times I have forgotten little but necessary items – toothbrush, shampoo, hairbrush, Tylenol – and ended up with extra expenses on the trip. This time, I laid everything out in advance so I could see everything, planned things in outfits, and triple checked my toiletries.
But the real (simple) key for a successful, low-cost trip…
Prioritize what you want to get out of your trip. Little things can add up fast. For us, this trip was about beer, great food, and Broadway. For you, it might be different. Define your most important experiences, budget the bulk of your money there. Find loopholes and alternatives for everything else.
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