Hello, all, and welcome to another Frugal Friday! As you are probably well aware, last weekend, I went with my fiancee Sondra to Niagara Falls, had some fun, and have since come back hail and hearty, ready to greet the world again. Spending the last several months trying to get ready for this trip (we first made the hotel reservations back in March) has got me to thinking about vacations, travel, and the many ways it’s possible to cut down your travel expenses (besides the obvious one, not traveling, because who wants to spend all their time at home?)
To help you out (which is the goal of this blog, after all), I thought I would compile a few suggestions to help you save when traveling. Now, obviously the topic of travel is broad enough to fill entire racks at the local bookstore, and even frugal travel fills a couple of shelves. So, to try to break down the amount of information into more digestible chunks, I figured I’d I take a look at several aspects of travel individually over the next few weeks. First, transportation this week; then next week will be lodging, and finally, a guide to saving while you are enjoying your trip around the Fourth of July. First up:
If you need to travel a long distance in these modern times, chances are that your first instinct is going to be to fly. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as taking to the skies to get to your destination. If you want to travel by air and be frugal, consider the following tips:
1. Book Your Flight Well Ahead of Time: Airlines like knowing how many people they will have flying with them in advance, and are willing to cut you a break on the price if you book a few months before your actual trip. Assuming you’ve planned your trip well ahead of time (and that’s always a good idea), then making sure to book two to three months in advance can be a great way to save some money. (You can sometimes find deals by waiting until the last possible to book a ticket, as airlines don’t like to send up planes with any empty seats (wasted fuel, don’t you know), but that requires a lot more patience, and an increased willingness to take very odd flight times.)
2. Fly During the Week: Much of the current airplane traffic is during the weekend, as most people would rather travel then compared to during the week. If you are willing to schedule your departure and arrival times in the middle of the week (Tuesday through Thursday is usually recommended), you’ll end up saving a great deal in your transportation costs.
3. Comparison Shop: As with most things in life, if you shop around, you can usually find a better deal on airline travel than you would likely get by sticking with one airline. Luckily, unlike many things in life, shopping around for the best deal on plane tickets doesn’t take too much effort: there are sites like Kayak.com that compare dozens of airline prices all at once. (Be aware, though, that some airlines don’t participate and much be searched on their own; Southwest is a notable one.) Much as with any type of comparison shopping, you should be able to keep your costs down while keeping your quality high.
Trains (and Buses),
Alright, if you are visiting the US (or a United States citizen vacationing domestically), chances are you aren’t going to do much train or bus riding, as the public transportation system here is, well, lackluster (to put it mildly). But, in many parts of the world, trains and buses are one of the best ways to get from point A to Point B without spending a small fortune or walking the entire distance. So, if you want to ride the rails without taking your wallet for a ride:
4. Book Early (Again): Just as with airlines, train companies offer pretty substantial discounts to those who book their trips well in advance. Check out the guides to the country (or countries) you are planning to visit, and see what they say about the optimal time to book; for example, in England the best time to book a ticket is exactly 12 weeks before the train is scheduled to leave (when the law requires that the train company post the trip). Book then, and you can get some of the cheapest possible tickets.
5. Look Into Appropriate Passes: Particularly in Europe (but likely anywhere there is a robust public transit system), you can buy passes that allow you hop on a train or bus everyday for a set period of time, all for a single up front payment. If you can find a pass that covers the entire geographic area you want to visit, you can get it for the duration of your trip, and have you travel expenses all but covered until you go home.
6. Consider Discount Cards: If getting an all inclusive pass doesn’t make financial sense (perhaps you are only staying for a short time, or covering such a large area in your trip that no pass will meet your needs), you can still save by getting a discount card. You’ll usually have to pay a fee for the card, but if the savings you can get more than offset the cost, it’s definitely worth considering.
Ah, taking a road trip in the car, bringing the spouse and the kids, and seeing the country from your windows as you drive along. If there’s a more common vacation experience in the US (or a more popular topic for wacky travel comedies), I haven’t seen it. But with gas hovering near $4 a gallon and cars not getting any cheaper to buy and fix, it’s becoming increasingly expensive to make those family outings. How can you have a traditional American road trip and not pay out the nose? Well, you could be sure to:
7. Keep Your Car in Good Repair: A car that has all its parts working properly, all its inspections up to date, and all its fluids at the proper levels is going to run better than a car in disrepair. I know, getting everything fixed can be a big expense, but particularly with gas being so expensive, getting better mileage out of your vehicle can more than offset the costs of most preventative maintenance. (That’s saying nothing about what’ll happen if your car breaks down and you need to get it repaired when you are far away from home and any repair place you trust.)
8. Watch Your Driving Habits: I’ve discussed this before, when talking about how to help save our planet, but it bears repeating. One of the few things you have real control over when it comes to how much fuel your car consumes is how you drive it; it could be the most fuel efficient vehicle on the planet, but if you drive aggressively, constantly accelerate and decelerate, and keep your AC cranked at all times, you’re going to end burning through more gas. Drive like a lady or a gentleman, and you’ll burn much less fuel on your travel.
9. Get a Fuel Card: Much as the train and bus discount cards mentioned above (and frankly, the discount cards that seem to be offered almost anywhere), gas stations offer loyalty cards where filling up at their stations can help you to save money. If you have a preferred gasoline chain, get a preferred customer card from them (usually free), and as long as there are stations with that brand along your travel route, you should be in a position to save some money when you fuel up. (Be more cautious about getting a gas station branded credit card, though; while it might be worthwhile, there is a tendency for such credit cards to have higher interest rates and offer poorer rewards than a typical rewards card.)