Although we saved money prior to starting our travels around the world, we are always keenly aware that the more money we save on the road, the longer we can extend our trip for. We knew we would be undergoing a journey without 5 star hotels and meals at Michelin star rated restaurants. At the same time, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity because of its cost or live so cheaply that we didn’t enjoy ourselves. Before we set out we had a few money savers planned (such as camping and using a National Park Pass) and others we discovered on later on the road (such as check-in on Yelp). Below are the most tried and true money savers we used while on our 4 month road trip.
I have long been a member of the American Automotive Association (AAA). It is great in a pinch if you get a flat tire and also a good travel resource which provides members with free maps and travel guides. However, for us the biggest advantage of the AAA membership is the discount which most hotels provide. Almost every hotel we stayed at honored the AAA membership card by providing a 10% – 20% discount on hotel rooms.
TIP: AAA also offers discounts at many stores both online and in person. I’ve used my AAA card for discounts at Banana Republic Factory stores. Tanger Outlet Malls also offer a free coupon book to stores in their properties if you show your AAA card at the main office.
The National Park provides year long park passes for $80. Each pass may be co-owned by two people and allows a car (or 4 people on foot) to enter ‘federal recreation sites’ owned by the Department of the Interior. Day entrance to national parks can cost between $7 – $25. Besides for national parks, the pass also works at national monuments, forests, and grasslands and wildlife refuges. We visited 24 national parks total (as well as almost a dozen other national monuments and forests) so our annual park pass saved us over $300.
TIP: If you are 62 years of age or higher, you can purchase the Senior Pass for $10 and doesn’t expire.
From the start of our trip we used Yelp a lot; to find restaurants and to search for lower price restaurants. Later in the trip we discovered the ‘check-in’ feature. Many restaurants on Yelp will give you an incentive to check-in by offering discounts ranging from a free appetizer to 15% off of the total bill.
Groupon (or similar)
If you are able to do a little advance planning, social media coupon sites like Groupon or Living Social can save you money on tours and meals while you travel. We did not use Groupon because we didn’t plan in advance, however we have used it on a prior trip to New Orleans where we purchased a walking city tour and a swamp kayaking tour. At least once, we saw a price on Groupon and inquired about it when we called the tour company. They honored their Groupon price without having us actually purchase the Groupon ticket.
Travel Off Season
This one is more obvious, but I have to list it. Traveling during the busiest times to a destination can be expensive. If you travel off-season it is most likely that the hotel rooms will be less expensive and that some tour guides will give you a discount. We also found that several of the National Parks and Monuments waive their entrance fees once their peak season is over (Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Colorado National Monument). There are some disadvantages to traveling off-season; the weather, a lack of open restaurants, and fewer guided tours may be offered. However, for me, the biggest advantage to traveling off-season is missing the huge crowds that come with nice weather.
This one might be obvious too, but staying or just meeting up with friends in each city is a huge money and time saver. Chances are your friends enjoy similar activities to you and can provide the best recommendations and tips for visiting their cities. Often we saved hotel costs by staying with friends, but even when we weren’t with them, friends were able to give us tips, such as where there is free parking, when a museum has waived entrance fees, or the best free activities in the city.
In at least one location we were able to borrow our friends’ bikes for a day to tour the city. Additionally, in several cities, our friends were members of a museum or aquarium and had guest passes we could use for free or purchase for a small amount.
Ranger Talks / Walks
If you are visiting national parks like we are, Ranger Talks are a great way to learn about the park and are surprisingly interesting. Best of all, they are usually TOTALLY FREE! Ranger talks can range from a guided hike on a nature trail, to a discussion on park preservation, to star talks which point out constellations and let visitors use telescopes.
If you download the Trip Advisor ‘City Guides’ application, you essentially get a free travel guide on your phone. Included in the application are user submitted ‘self-guided tours’. The application provides walking routes through city neighborhoods specializing in various interests such as architecture, history, food, or landmarks.
Hotel Rewards Points
During our trip, we became members at 4 hotel rewards chains. Accruing points is slow going and we have not yet saved enough to get a free hotel room. However, another benefit of being members of hotel rewards programs was the free late check out that most programs allow for their members.