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Tips for a Tightwad Traveller
Old 06-26-2013, 10:11 AM   #1
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Tips for a Tightwad Traveller

I've been living in Thailand for over 6 years. My wife and I want to take 2 month trip in the US. I know I will be going through a bit of a sticker shock so I was looking for some tips and advice on reducing some my expenses. I know as a senior, I can save a National Parks pass. I also plan to join AARP.
I guy I know mentioned something about getting a discount booklet to save on motels/hotels but I haven't found anything on Google that resembles that.
I'll probably be renting a car for part of the trip. Please way in on any other tips you may have to lower my expenses.
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Old 06-26-2013, 10:25 AM   #2
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You can buy food at grocery stores and eat it in your hotel room or picnic at a park. Many groceries have hot food or salad bars for very reasonable prices compared to restaurants.

I have even heard of one guy that takes an electric hot plate and a skillet with him to cook good stuff in his hotel room (I haven't tried that personally).
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Old 06-26-2013, 10:40 AM   #3
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Try AirBnB for lodging. The most expensive thing about USA travel is hotel rooms.
The coupon booklets are probably not worth the trouble, honestly.
You can try last minute booking sites and apps for cheaper rates, and of course small towns will be less expensive than cities.

Grocery store deals can be good--maybe sign up for a few loyalty programs to get the best deals and Fuego is right about the deli being a good place to look for inexpensive meals.

Also, of course, eating your big meal at lunch and doing a light dinner is going to be less expensive as well.

Gas Buddy is a good app for finding inexpensive fuel for that rental car, too.

Network with locals when you can for tips specific to their area. They won't (obviously) know about hotel deals, but they will know about "specials of the week" and local free attractions.

And our public transportation is abysmal outside the major cities. Don't expect to have a pedestrian friendly or carless-person friendly experience most places.
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Old 06-26-2013, 10:49 AM   #4
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Sometimes we buy an Entertainment book ahead of time for the city we will be visiting. You can check out the books online. They have new books in October, so the price drops on the old books very low for the old year in the preceding months right before the new books come out. They have half price discounts on restaurants and local attractions plus nationwide hotel discounts.

We usually take snacks and a hot pot for things like tea and dried soups in our hotel rooms. During nice weather we sometimes take along a cooler and grill and have cookouts at parks. One of our nicest meals on vacation was at a park on the Pacific coast overlooking the ocean.

If you join one museum that belongs to NARM or ASTC passport programs, you pay one annual membership fees and get into other museums in the same program all over the country for free. There are also similar programs for zoos, gardens, and children's museums. A Six Flags annual pass also used to get you into Six Flags in different states.

Many cities and local, state and national parks have free public events and lectures that aren't as heavily advertised as for profit attractions but often more fun. Look at the calendars and city and park web sites on the Internet before you go.
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Old 06-26-2013, 11:09 AM   #5
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Groupon, livingsocial, etc deal web sites for meals and local events too. Usually you end up paying about half the price of full retail. And those type of sites have tickets to events or attractions typically too.

Hotels in central business districts of big cities (NYC, Chicago in my recent searches) seem outrageously priced to me (coming from a lower cost of living US city). Not sure a way around that other than stay a little further out and enjoy a train or bus ride in to town. If exploring big metropolises is even on your list of things to do.

For exploring big cities, public transit is usually way cheaper than having a car and paying for car rental and parking. Not always more convenient, but sometimes. Most urban transit systems have day passes or multi day passes that can save you big bucks if you plan on traveling around town much.
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Old 06-26-2013, 11:15 AM   #6
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The motel coupon books are available free at interstate welcome centers, restaurants, truck stops, etc. We have used them and saved money. Now, however, in my old age I get reservations for every night of a road trip before we leave home. It's no longer fun for me to look for a place to stay after I've driven 500+ miles in a strange place after dark.

The most expensive car rental is at the airport or at your hotel. You will save substantially at rental location not associated with an airport or hotel.

Speaking of rental cars I've discovered to my dismay while making reservations for an upcoming roadtrip, that apparently Hertz/AAA Local Edition rentals now are limited to 1750 miles per week with $.09 for each addtional mile. Hertz/AAA airport rentals still have unlimited miles but are much more expensive. I checked with AAA and they say that MOST Hertz/AAA have unlimited miles, so maybe this only applies to the Hertz Local Edition that I've rented from for years.
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Old 06-26-2013, 11:46 AM   #7
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I use hotwire & priceline for hotels & rental cars. I haven't tried airbnb yet.

Use betterbidding dot com to get an idea of what the 'blind' hotels are on both hotwire and priceline, but you can't rely on it totally.

When on a car trip, we carry a cooler and use supermarkets a lot. Better food and less expensive too.
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Old 06-26-2013, 11:47 AM   #8
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Check VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) for lodging if you are staying for more than a few days in one area. Typically this is an entire condo/house/apartment -- with fully-equipped kitchen, and all the usual amenities including washer and dryer. No daily maid service.

I've had some luck with those motel coupon books (usually found all along the busy interstates -- in bins at fast food places and gas stations) on long transits of several day's duration. As we were driving, we'd figure out where we'd be spending the night (several hundred miles down the road), and call ahead and 1) ask if they are honoring the coupon price and if so, 2) make a reservation.

Many of the major chain motels offer a "free breakfast buffet" option. Typically heavy on carbs (cold cereal, toast, waffles, etc.) but sometimes they include hard boiled eggs and fruit along with juice, coffee and tea. This will save a few bucks as well as speed you on your plans for the day.

If you like grilling and are in places with decent weather, it's easy to buy a small portable propane-powered grille (under $50. usually more like $30) and fix a lot of your meals that way. Go to a dollar store and buy some cheap cookware and a few plates and silverware and you're good to go.

Buy a cooler to keep in your car for drinks, munchies, and food that you can either cook on a grille or have for a picnic. You can even keep your "doggie bag" (leftovers from a meal eaten at a restaurant) in there to enjoy later.

Beverages seem to have the highest markup at even 'budget' restaurants...so consider drinking water when eating out...and buy whatever you prefer to drink later like beer, wine, soda pop, and bottled water (to keep in your cooler) at a store.

Enjoy your visit!

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Old 06-26-2013, 12:02 PM   #9
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Sign up for hotel loyalty programs and register for promotions (ex. Free night stay after 2 Marriott stays, etc). The hotel coupons booklet available in Interstate rest areas can also be found at hotelcoupons.com (formerly roomsaver) and ehotelcoupons.com. These work well for walk-ins. If you dont mind, you can try couchsurfing.com.
If you want to stay longer, craigslist sublets might work.
Choosing hotels that serve a decent breakfast and have a microwave/fridge in room helps save on food costs greatly. You can also stay in hotels with kitchenettes (most hotel chains have a brand for such stays - Candlewood/Staybridge, Towne/Residence Inn, Extended Stay, Homewood, etc) that typically have decent discounts for longer stays.
You can search for local car rentals using costco car rental site and expedia/travelocity/orbitz for car rentals.
Groupon, LivingSocial, etc are great for food and sightseeing and their travel sections now have hotel stays, etc.
Use gasbuddy for best price gas.
One of the best things we did in our previous cross-country road trips is to get a data plan on ipad, so we were able to plan our hotels, food, sightseeing, gas, etc while driving.
What cities or route you are planning?
Enjoy. Road travel in US is great.
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Old 06-26-2013, 12:32 PM   #10
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Two hotel chains that seem to combine cheap rates and free food are America's Best Value Inn and Drury Inn. ABVI is similar to Motel 6 Super 8 type lodging (low end) but the one we have stayed at was clean and basic with good service. The breakfast was as good as an Ihop and I think we paid $40/nt which is probably not much more than the IHOP would charge for a family of 4.

I just discovered Drury Inn today while booking a big block of rooms at the government rate, but apparently they offer free breakfast and free hot dinner and free alcoholic drinks, and popcorn/soda all day. I seem to recall you were a vegan or vegetarian ?? so free food of that type may be constrained. Their rates looked mid range when I saw rack/discount rates, but they offered a $63 government rate (~50% off already discounted rates) for me, so maybe say you're with the government?
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Old 06-26-2013, 12:58 PM   #11
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Two hotel chains that seem to combine cheap rates and free food are America's Best Value Inn and Drury Inn. ABVI is similar to Motel 6 Super 8 type lodging (low end) but the one we have stayed at was clean and basic with good service. The breakfast was as good as an Ihop and I think we paid $40/nt which is probably not much more than the IHOP would charge for a family of 4.

I just discovered Drury Inn today while booking a big block of rooms at the government rate, but apparently they offer free breakfast and free hot dinner and free alcoholic drinks, and popcorn/soda all day. I seem to recall you were a vegan or vegetarian ?? so free food of that type may be constrained. Their rates looked mid range when I saw rack/discount rates, but they offered a $63 government rate (~50% off already discounted rates) for me, so maybe say you're with the government?
I was a huge fan of the Drury Inn chain when my travel was mostly in the midwest. They are not yet national but are expanding. Very good service, clean, generally reasonable rates but not the cheapest around. Breakfasts are amazing; other free food was limited to happy hourish snacks the last time I stayed but was good; and, I do know they have expanded those offerings in the last year. I think the free popcorn/soda all day is only at some locations; but, this may be chain wide now. (I have been known to get all of my calories for a day in free food at the motel.) Sign up for their specials/newsletter/rewards program now if this interests you.

PearTree is the next tier down in the Drury family; these buildings are usually a bit older; free food offerings not quite as extensive; but, they generally run about $20/night/room cheaper. This is usually the best value in my opinion when it is available.
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Old 06-26-2013, 01:12 PM   #12
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If you travel by car consider buying a cheap ice chest. Fill up when a motel offers free ice cubes to keep drinks and food cool for the day. Buy (or bring) some air tight plastic boxes for the food so that it does not drown in melting ice cubes.
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Old 06-26-2013, 01:24 PM   #13
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I was a huge fan of the Drury Inn chain when my travel was mostly in the midwest. They are not yet national but are expanding. Very good service, clean, generally reasonable rates but not the cheapest around. Breakfasts are amazing; other free food was limited to happy hourish snacks the last time I stayed but was good; and, I do know they have expanded those offerings in the last year. I think the free popcorn/soda all day is only at some locations; but, this may be chain wide now. (I have been known to get all of my calories for a day in free food at the motel.) Sign up for their specials/newsletter/rewards program now if this interests you.

PearTree is the next tier down in the Drury family; these buildings are usually a bit older; free food offerings not quite as extensive; but, they generally run about $20/night/room cheaper. This is usually the best value in my opinion when it is available.
Good to hear. I was referred by some guys in my org that travel to my destination city a lot on biz and we only get $63/nt for hotel (unless we have an executive order from the governor), and this place seemed amazing given the location and free stuff they provide. Tripadvisor says they are similar to Fairfield Inn, and I've never been done wrong by them.

Evening food looks basic (baked potatoes, hot dogs, chicken fingers, mac n cheese, soups, etc). Should go nicely with free beer, wine, and cocktails.
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Old 06-26-2013, 07:21 PM   #14
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I recently drove my motorcycle from Los Angeles to Seattle.

When I got to a city and planned on spending the night, I called my wife in LA. She knew where I was via GPS coordinates. She then used Priceline to get the cheapest room in the area. All rooms were satisfactory.

When using Priceline, just bid low and they'll tell you it's too low, but try this (and then they name a price). That gives you a good idea on how much a hotel will cost you. Since many small hotel chains are run by people from India, they are used to barginning. Since you have a price of what you'll pay on Priceline, go to different hotels and tell them you can get a hotel at such and such a price and offer them a lower price but cash.

Even at 60, I don't mind staying at hostels.
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Old 06-26-2013, 07:31 PM   #15
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......... I also plan to join AARP.......
Joining AARP is inexpensive, but most places take your word for it if you say you are a member.

The cheapest car rentals that I've found are through Costco and off airport. Insurance might be an issue if you have no US car insurance.

Plus one on Priceline for hotels, especially if you want a little nicer place.
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Old 06-26-2013, 08:29 PM   #16
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Please way in on any other tips you may have to lower my expenses.
What are you planning on going and doing? I think the advice can be much more specific with more details.
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Old 06-26-2013, 10:48 PM   #17
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For a recent trip, I looked for rental cars months ahead of time and the rates varied widely from one week to next. I checked the Thrifty and Budget websites, COSTCO, Priceline, and Southwest Rewards. A twelve day rental for a compact would be $325 one week and $500 or $600 the next. Prices were higher 3 months before the trip than at 1 month. One good thing about the rental car websites is that you don't have to provide a credit card number - they just give you a confirmation number. In case my plans changed, I did not want to be charged for a cancellation or failing to cancel. I made a reservation early to make sure I had one but then kept checking the websites until I found a more reasonable rate.

I've had good luck with Priceline for hotels when staying in large cities but not so much in smaller towns. Also I try to go to upscale restaurants for lunch and hit the less expensive barbecue/good eats/international places for dinner.
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Old 06-27-2013, 12:54 AM   #18
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I use hotwire & priceline for hotels & rental cars. I haven't tried airbnb yet.

Use betterbidding dot com to get an idea of what the 'blind' hotels are on both hotwire and priceline, but you can't rely on it totally.

When on a car trip, we carry a cooler and use supermarkets a lot. Better food and less expensive too.
+1 on Hotwire.

I much prefer Hotwire over Priceline because with Hotwire, you get to see what the amenities are at the unknown hotel BEFORE you buy. So you can see if that 2 star or 2.5 star hotel offers a free breakfast, free airport shuttle, free parking, or has a kitchenette/suite before you agree to pay the rate.

Using Hotwire is (IMO) much better than the hotel rewards. With hotel rewards, you are locked into that one chain, and you might get a free night after staying 10 nights (which works out to maybe a 10% discount). The rates on Hotwire are much more than 10% lower, typically, so you're money ahead in the long run with lower rates on Hotwire.
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Old 06-27-2013, 08:41 AM   #19
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I just realized no one has mentioned Hotels.com yet. You won't always find a great bargain there; but, at least for me, it is always worth checking. I have occasionally found rooms at really nice hotels there for less than I could rent a room via AirBnB. I like this site better than Priceline or Hotwire since you can actually see the hotel, its location, etc.
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Old 06-27-2013, 10:45 AM   #20
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Regarding our travel plans, they haven't been finalized but we'll probably fly to NY where I have friends and family. Stay around the area for 3 weeks. Then, we will fly out to Tucson to visit a dear friend. There, we'll rent a car to tour the southwest. Ideally we would like to drive to LA to catch our return flight.

Thanks for all the great advice. Keep them coming!!!!
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