Recently, I took a 7-day road trip from San Diego, California to Portland, Oregon for less than $700. (Not including flights from where I live in Kansas to get there.) This is less than $100 a day for a rental car, gas, parking, food, accommodations, and entertainment. And I didn’t use travel hacking to do it!
What is Travel Hacking?
In case you haven’t heard of it before, travel hacking usually involves saving a lot of money on travel by using rewards credit cards to rack up points. Then you redeem the rewards for airfare, hotels, rental cars, gift cards, or even cash to use for spending on vacation.
It’s a solid strategy if you can use credit responsibly to pay for your normal monthly bills and other spending. But, for people with a history of overspending on credit, it’s probably not a good idea. (At least until you’ve reformed your spending habits.)
Because of my history of overspending on credit cards, I’m not a big fan of travel hacking.
Admittedly, I do use credit cards for some of my spending. But, I don’t spend nearly enough on credit cards in order to successfully travel hack a trip for nearly free.
Instead of being concerned about travel hacking, I’m completely content to simply save for travel instead. I add a little bit of money to my travel savings fund each month. Then, when I travel, I try to use it wisely to get the most bang for my buck.
Here’s how I did it.
Split Expenses with a Companion
On this trip, I was able to split expenses with my friend, A. We each paid half of the rental car, gas, parking, and accommodations. We each paid for our own food and entertainment costs.
Splitting expenses by traveling with friends is one of the easiest ways to cut down on travel costs. If you can travel with more than two people, it will make your trip even more frugal. Just be careful about traveling with too large of a group. If your group is large, it could start to get more expensive per person. For example, you might have to have more than one hotel room, or a larger, more expensive rental car.
My share of the rental car, gas, and parking for this trip was $367.42.
Consider Alternative Accommodations
Hotels and overnight accommodations are one of the most expensive parts of traveling. However, with a couple of tricks, my friend and I were able to significantly cut down on the cost of our accommodations. I spent only $181.32 for 6 nights.
On this trip, we mostly stayed in chain hotels. In order to say a significant amount of money on hotels, we used a Friends and Family discount code we had from another close friend. This helped us save about 50% on the cost of a hotel room each night we were able to use it.
We also stayed at an Airbnb one night. This cost us only $17.50 each due to a discount code I received for referring friends to Airbnb. And yes, our experience with Airbnb was MUCH better this time than my first time. 🙂
One night we were in a remote location, causing us to stay in a hotel that was quite expensive. We were unable to find a budget-friendly chain hotel or Airbnb in the area. Sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
Don’t Eat Out
We all know that eating out for every meal is expensive. So, when you’re traveling try to avoid eating out if possible.
Instead, look for hotels that offer a free continental breakfast. If they have a large spread of food, you might even be able to take a granola bar or a piece of fruit to use as a snack later in the day. Some Airbnbs also offer light breakfast items for guests. Look for this in the description before you book your stay.
We also took a lot of food with us on this trip.
We flew with Southwest airlines, which allows you to check up to two suitcases for free. So, we each took and checked a suitcase with our clothes and personal items. Plus, we took one extra suitcase between the two of us with snacks and breakfast food items.
We took things like granola bars, trail mix, fruit cups, etc. These are things would pack and travel well without being damaged. We also took paper plates, plastic silverware, napkins, and a picnic blanket so we could eat at various outdoor locations during our road trip.
Once we arrived in San Diego, we found a grocery store and bought a few perishables. We got sandwich meat, fresh fruit, vegetables, and salad. We stored these items in a cooler bag with ice to keep them from spoiling.
Each night we would put them in the mini fridge in our hotel room. Every morning we would refill the cooler bag with fresh ice from the hotel ice machine (for free!) before putting the food back in the bag.
Because of these tricks, we only ate out for two meals. One was when we first arrived (before we went to the grocery store). The other was a planned splurge later in our trip. My total spend for food for 7 days was $107.50.
Find Free (and Frugal) Entertainment
Luckily, almost all of our entertainment along this road trip was free. We enjoyed walked around in the cities we visited, exploring neighborhoods, hanging out on the beaches and piers, and window shopping. The only time we spent money on entertainment was to visit Alcatraz, costing us each $44.25.
Splurge for the Important Things
All in all, my spending for a 7-day road trip up the California coast cost $700.49.
We had a great time and got to see some amazing sights, like beautiful beaches, redwood forests, the Golden Gate Bridge, and more. We were frugal. But, not so frugal that we didn’t enjoy the trip.
We splurged when we wanted to splurge, like paying for a tour of Alcatraz, and eating out for fresh seafood. But, we saved on things we didn’t care so much about, like our hotel rooms, since we were barely in there anyway.
Travel doesn’t have to derail your financial goals. There are ways to save money without travel hacking or going into debt. Now, I can’t wait to plan my next adventure!
Have you tried travel hacking to save money on vacation? What are some of your best frugal vacation tips?