Travelling on a dime - part one - my best kept secrets for travelling when money is tight

Bummed out --

That was my feeling when I checked on plane tickets to go home for Thanksgiving.

Super bummed out --

That was my feeling when I checked on plane tickets to go home for Christmas.

Then -- out of the blue came an email for $79 tickets!

Woohoo!!  My day was made and so was my flight back to Minnesota.

Needless to say, travelling can be expensive, but for someone like me, who travels for a living, I am often asked, “how do you afford it?” Here's a few starters to get you back on the road --

Cook in your car

Everyone needs to eat, which means you are technically not adding extra expenses to your travel budget, unless you are eating out (i.e. restaurants).

I routinely make peanut butter sandwiches on top of my center armrest and keep mayo and black pepper packs in the glove compartment to add to a can of tuna for a quick lunch -- and by all means, keep a small cooler in the trunk.

If you need something heated up, grocery stores, superstores, or gas stations will often have a microwave available for use if you purchase your food there.

I try to save dining out for special occasions like meeting up with friends or clients. This way, I can either take a deduction on my taxes or roll the dice of having someone else pick up the check (remember this works both ways though). And if you’re in a special area that has interesting local cuisine (like cheese steaks in Philly), plan one meal to splurge on, but only order the entree keep it reasonable. (If you need to leave a tip, don’t be afraid to be frugal, as tipping is a matter of pride and should be for service above and beyond what is expected.)

Find free

Over the past few years, I've realized that tourist attractions seem to be about up-selling. It’s about getting you into the “trap” of stopping by, and then selling you something you’ll rarely use (or even regret) -- like a superman shirt with a cape attached (worst $30 I ever spent).

The key is to change your mindset about what travel and tourism is. Make it about treasuring the experience, not the merchandise.

Try taking a camera along and take some pictures to display around your house instead of picking up the, made in China, bric-a-brac that will eventually come to rest in the back of your closet.

Also, remember that many of the places you want to see cost nothing to enjoy. Here in Pennsylvania, almost all of the major historical sights don’t charge a dime for admission, not to mention, every one of the 117 state parks are free to enjoy. If you’re more interested attending concerts or festivals, consider volunteering, as many venues will give gladly give you a in for an hour or two of service.

If you’re not afraid of needles, try donating blood in the area where you are going as many blood banks give out free tickets to sporting events, rock concerts, and Vegas shows. If needles aren’t your thing, you can alway check out area casinos to see what kind of entertainment they are featuring for free. You might be surprised how good some of the cover bands are.

Upkeep is key

First off, if you’re going to travel by car, it only makes sense to own or rent a vehicle with better gas mileage. After my Mazda died (which averaged 32 mpg), I went car shopping with hopes of finding something that would offer the same, or better fuel economy. I was in luck as I purchased a Honda that averages 40 mpg! Those eight miles make a big difference as I save around $650 per year. (I’m still laughing at my friend who thought I was insane to want more than 25 mpg. Hmm... I still can’t figure see his logic.)

Secondly, there are a couple of basic techniques to help your car run at peak, cost-saving efficiency: properly inflate your tires, use manufacturer's recommended oil grade in engine, don’t floor it coming off of stop lights, and shed the extra weight in your trunk (or backseat). All these items will save you money in which you can spend elsewhere.

Also, if you’re super interested in saving money with your vehicle, the U.S. government has set up an entire website devoted to fuel economy.

- - - -

This is a HUGE topic which requires more than one blog post - so part two will dive into: places to stay, airplane tickets, and on-the-road income.

What other areas of travel can I help you hack?  Let me know in the comments.

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