Frugal travel – recommendations for saving cash “on the road”

The Elk River in Canadian Rockies, not far from our ATC hosts in Baynes Lake, BC.

Frugal travel – recommendations for saving cash “on the road”; use “cheap travel” to extend your vacation time!

Seattle's Spaceneedle and city skyline, not far from our first house-sitting assignment on the base of Queen Anne Hill.

Let’s assume you have plenty of vacation time, or, are retired with lots of time – and desire to travel extensively. Here are suggestions for cheap travel allowing maximization of your travel explorations.

First suggestion: Focus first upon your region, state, the US and Canada. I’ve always been somewhat aghast at friends who notch their belts counting foreign countries visited, yet have only toured a handful of states in the wonderful US, and often skip both Canada and Mexico. Hence, visit your current region and country first – there is so much to see in the west and throughout the United States.

If you adopt that goal, you can see most of the west, or, all of our country via private auto. We’re into travel with smaller autos (ours, a Ford Focus and Ford Escape, 40 and 30 MPG, respectively), and lightweight and/or classic travel trailers (up to 27 MPG towing our teardrop trailer). Use the same approach for rental cars; smaller cars use less gas and cost less to rent. If you find you’ve chosen a rental car too small, you can always upgrade on the spot (and, frequently rental agencies will upgrade the size you have asked for).

On longer trips, don’t hesitate to ask friends or family along the way to host you for the night. Most of us maintain an extra bedroom/guestroom just for that purpose.  If you’re booking a motel, we’ve found websites like or allow us to reserve a night’s lodging from the road (often for that same night), saving 40 to 50% over a reservation made days earlier.

David and Nancy Marchant, Baynes Lake, BC, our lovely hosts for our first Affordable Travel Club visit. David cooked a lovely steak dinner, offered a sumptuous breakfast and insisted in giving us a local tour of their scenic country!

If you like to meet people and learn about local lore, consider joining a club like the Affordable Travel Club ( We have been members of ATC for three years; our yearly $65 membership allows us to email or phone one of the ATC’s 3,000 members nation or worldwide, get a night’s lodging and a sumptuous breakfast, tipping the host just $20 on departure. In addition to overnight accommodations with a lovely host – saving big bucks over staying at a chain motel – you learn so much about the community with hosts proud to share details.

The ATC also offers a bulletin board offering housesitting assignments. In the last two years, we have spent two weeks housesitting a beautiful condo on Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill, a month housesitting in Edmonds, Washington, near Puget Sound and affording us travel to many parts of the Pacific Northwest. This past spring, three weeks housesitting a beautiful home in Tucson, Arizona allowed side trips to many Arizona highlights. Sometimes these assignments come with plants to water or pets to feed, but zero cost for beautiful lodging is hard to beat.

We have three weeks housesitting coming up in Taos, New Mexico in April, and 2 1/2 weeks in June in St. George, Utah, a stone’s throw from Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. With most of these, we take along our tiny travel trailer, to camp along the way and on the way home. Traveling with small, classic travel trailers is another story in its own right; I will save that for another day.

Save on meals: At Seattle's Pike Place Market, we split a lunch salad and clam linguine at the Athenian Restaurant - plenty of food for two!

For meals, we take advantage of continental breakfasts offered by motel chains (and pack an apple, banana for mid-day snack), and travel with granola and a cooler full of milk and drinks for breakfast, drinks and snacks in route. If we’re dining out at nice restaurants, we often split a salad and main course – with America’s often huge portions – we’ve never left hungry and cut our bill by almost half. For a quick lunch stop on the road, two McDonald’s McDoubles and two senior coffees have never left us hungry – less than $5.

If you are traveling by air, consult Conde Nast Traveler ( or other on-line travel resources for best day/time of week and how far in advance to purchase airline tickets and save considerably over last-minute airline purchases. Conde Nast recently offered the best day to purchase airline tickets is Sunday, especially if booking more than 21 days in advance; the cheapest days to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

When flying, pack light, with a carry-on roller-bag and a back pack – avoiding paying for checked bags, the long line to retrieve baggage off the carrousel or, worse, lost luggage. Take snacks or lunch for your time in the terminal or on the flight; better food and cheaper than you’ll buy at the airport.

Grand Circle Cruise Lines 'River Harmony' at anchor on the Main River in Germany.

If you’re into luxury cruises (we’ve done several European small ship cruises with Grand Circle Cruise Lines), we go to Grand Circle’s web site,, search for Ways to Save, then Last Minute Travel Deals (“last minute” generally means you’ll depart in 6-8 weeks; we retirees have that luxury). In December, a 15 day adventure “Christmas Markets on the Rhine”, with airfare and three additional days in Basel, Switzerland, cost the two of us $7,078 total – well under the over-$10,000 regular pricing. Other cruise lines also offer “last minute departures” with significant savings

Some may call us cheap; I prefer “frugal or smart” (and, we travel in style more than most)!

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at Happy travels in your world!

This entry was posted in Alaska, Canada, Eastern, Canada, Western, Central California, East Coast US, Europe, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, Teardrop and tiny travel trailers, United States beyond! and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

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