In our pre-Retirement/pension days, we normally looked for hotels as we needed them, and found gas stations along the highway as we traveled. Of course, the closer any gas station or hotel is to the highway, the more expensive it is. This time I wanted to cut down the cost of the trip (but not stay in fleabag hotels) so I used two apps on my (Android) phone to help.
Hotels.com app - This is a great app! You can use it ahead of time if you know where you want to stay or, as we did, pull out the app when you find you're getting tired and want to find a hotel. I like this app because it will show all hotels on a map of the area you're in, and it can list hotels by reviews or by cost. My biggest suggestion if you're trying to cut down on costs is to READ THE REVIEWS! Yes, you can find a $35 hotel, but if the reviews say things like "I stayed here for six months and even though it ain't real clean the folks who werk there are just like family to me"... you know it might not be the right spot for you. It seems to $65 to $80 range is where you can find the best bang for your money, but you still need to read the reviews. Often people who have stayed in the hotels will be brutally honest about cleanliness, staff, and location of the hotel. If you don't feel safe leaving your car in the parking lot overnight, it's not a good choice.
Often Hotels.com will also offer an online discount. If the hotel rate is $90, hotels.com might offer it for $65. And for every 10 nights of reservations you make through the app, you get one night free. FREE is good! We'll be using our free night in an upcoming trip.
GasBuddy. I use this at home all the time to find out which local gas station has the best prices, but it's also very useful on road trips! Make sure your GPS feature is turned on, and GasBuddy will show you either via map or in a list, where the nearest gas stations are and the gas prices for each station. Once you choose which gas station you want, you can click on DIRECTIONS and your GPS will guide you to that station. You don't have to travel far off the highway to save .20 and .30 a gallon from highway gas prices.
We also saved money on food for this trip. First, I packed up a cooler at home. It contained:
- Bottled Water (all but a few frozen to serve as the ice in the cooler)
- Iced Tea
- A loaf of bread
- A bag of small bagels
- A container of cream cheese
- Two resealable containers of lunch meats
- Six containers of yogurt
- Cheese sticks
- Fresh apples and pears
- Banana muffins
- Peanut Butter
- Granola Bars
- A ziploc bag of trail mix (nuts, raisins, dried fruits, M&Ms, Cheerios)
- Napkins, paper plates, plastic cutlery
- Coffee maker, coffee, sweetener, Cremora
- Thermos filled with hot coffee (made each morning in the hotel)
If we saw a restaurant we wanted to stop at for lunch, we stopped. Then that evening we would have sandwiches and fruit and crackers for our dinner in the hotel room.
With this bit of pre-planning and packing, we paid for just one meal a day.
I will write more soon about the actual trip itself -- we had FUN and it was a joy to have time with our family!
Life is good!