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Extreme Travel Savings

Andrea Gearllach loves to take vacations with her husband Lee. What she doesn’t love is paying for them.

“My husband and I love to go exploring and we just like to hit the road, throw a few things in the car and bail out of town,” says Gearllach. “I don’t necessarily like to have a budget. A budget seems too restrictive, so I like to just get everything as close to zero as possible.”

After Christmas last year, Gearllach and her husband took a 3,000-mile, 10-day road trip from their home near Seattle to visit friends in Nevada. Their only expenses were gas, a few groceries and a single-night hotel stay. The rest of the time they stayed with friends and family. She estimates they saved about $1,500 by not eating out or staying at hotels.

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Along the way, they either dined at friends’ homes or cooked on the road. That’s right, in their car! Gearllach found a crock-pot online that plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter. She packed Christmas leftovers, and the two ate at rest stops or while driving.

“We were getting hungry. It was about dinnertime at that time but I didn’t want to stop to get fast food. So we ran into the grocery store, got some meat, vegetables and some beef broth and just dumped it all in a crock-pot and it cooked for about four hours on the way home, and we stopped at a rest stop and ate dinner,” Gearllach says.

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OK, so maybe using a crock-pot in your car isn’t for you. But thinking outside of the box can certainly save you a bundle. Here are four radical savings tips for your next vacation.

Skip Restaurant Meals

First, take a cue from Gearllach and make dining one less expense on your plate. Instead, enjoy affordable, local cuisine from street vendors, outdoor markets or grocery stores. Stay at hotels that offer free breakfast and search travel social-networking sites like Couchsurfing.com for free dinner party meet-ups.

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Join a Hospitality Club

You can also join a hospitality club where you can also receive lodging hosted by locals. Check out sites like AffordableTravelClub.net, HospitalityClub.org and BeWelcome.org. Another alternative to a hotel is a house swap. You trade homes with another family, and you both get a vacation. Visit sites like LoveHomeSwap.com, Vacation Home Rentals and HomeExchange.com to connect with other house swappers.

Don’t Pay for Gas

Now, if the price of gas has you running on empty, consider letting someone else do the driving. Express bus services, like Megabus, offer fares for as low as $1. Megabus serves 135 cities within the U.S., plus they offer free Wi-Fi on board. Similar services include BoltBus and Greyhound Express.

Find Free Activities

Finally, once you get to your destination, the question becomes how to spend your time. Pricey activities can quickly blow your budget.  

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Plan your trip around free activities, such as the Treme Creole Gumbo Festival held yearly in New Orleans, featuring free jazz concerts. Outdoor attractions such as beaches or national parks offer endless ways to spend a day. Even exploring a city on foot is a great way to spend an afternoon, and best of all, it’s free!

Back in Washington, Gearllach has seen her frugal efforts pay off, and she’s looking forward to her family’s next adventure. “Because we saved so much money on our road trip during Christmas, I felt very [confident] that we could take a second road trip in January,” she says.

What are some strange but true ways you’ve saved on travel? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh and use the hashtag #finfit.