For the past week, we’ve been on the road, traveling in Washington state. The fields and vineyards flow by, framed by a ring of mountains all around. We often see them through our car windows, and savor them when we stop for coffee. Tomorrow, we’ll head a bit west toward the ocean, fresh seafood and a quiet run by kayak on the Sound. Lovely.
This place definitely brings out the budget hound in me — how many other areas can let you visit ocean, farmland and the mountains — all in the same state?
There are other ways to save an easy buck while traveling:
*Looking for a flight? Check late on Tuesday night. The airlines are known to drop prices then, to clear out leftovers and other goodies. You’ll have to keep a close eye on things — know basic fares already — and jump on bargains when you see them. But bargains you’ll find.
*Get the lowest price. For hotels, flights and car rentals, we start with Kayak. This comprehensive website not only gathers the lowest prices it can find — but collects them from places like Expedia, as well. (Bear in mind that some airlines, like Air Tran, don’t use Kayak. If they’re one of the options for your destination, you’ll have to check them separately.) Combined deals are also possible. (Tip: Look for flights early and late, as well as those on Tuesdays and Thursdays — they’re usually the cheapest.)
*Bid even lower. Got the lowest price? Good. Head to Hotwire. Sure, you can get discounts there. (In fact, it’s one of the options on Kayak.) But don’t buy yet — you can bid even lower on the same items!
Case in point: the Brick found a rental car for this Washington trip at a rock-bottom price: less than $20 a day. He took that knowledge and went to Hotwire. Boom — his bid was accepted. Our car rate dropped to $14/day!
“I could have gotten it lower,” he groused. Another Hotwire lesson — once you bid, you’re obligated to buy, if the company accepts your price. Start as low as you conceivably can, then slowly bid up. Sometimes it doesn’t work…and the Kayak price is the lowest. But many times, that Hotwire bid will blow away prices anywhere else.
*Take only carryons. Ten days’ worth of clothes can be packed in a carryon suitcase — really! (This New York Times slide show will show you how.) If you pack your laptop, use that case as your second bag — meds, purse, reading materials, etc. (Always include a few protein or granola bars, and a few of your favorite tea bags.) Or substitute a large, roomy tote bag instead — bottom-priced airlines like Spirit Airlines will even charge you for the larger carryon.
*Hungry? Don’t eat at the airport. Bring a snack from home…or plan to eat once you leave the premises. Some airport eateries aren’t too bad — most are fat-laden, tasteless and pricey.
*Get a hotel that includes free breakfast. Even if it costs a few dollars more, the total will generally be cheaper than going out to eat, especially if there’s two or more in your group. Breakfast this morning at our Best Western included scrambled eggs, Canadian bacon and crisp waffles. Nothing to argue about there. (One of my most memorable hotel breakfasts came in Laramie, WY, with The Mama and cousin Joy. A Hell’s Angels club was also there, sleepily eating cereal, and The Mama was talking to them. “What nice boys,” she said, as they roared off. To salvage their reputation, no doubt.)
*Switch to two meals a day. A big (hopefully free) breakfast can set you up for most of the day. Eat your supper in late afternoon, instead of evening, and keep an apple, cookies or microwave popcorn handy for a snack later on. Voila, you’ve just saved at least a third of your food expenses — maybe even half! (Tip: save fast-food coupons,, like McDonald’s or Burger King, or restaurant chain coupons, like Olive Garden or Red Lobster, up — they can often be used around the country.)
*For souvenirs, buy what’s unique — and cheaper — locally. Grocery stores are especially good. Our Canadian stop included specialty biscuits (cookies), a British town scene in chocolate atop each one; Red Rocket tea, in a distinctive red tin; and dill pickle-flavored rice cakes! If we’d been visiting a Chinese or Vietnamese area of town, we’d have been looking for dainty tea sets, like the one below.
What’s the area famous for…smoked salmon? Woven rugs? Is a cheese factory nearby, like Tillamook, Oregon? (It has great no-charge tours, too.) That’s what you should be bringing home.
*Take your time. You came on vacation to relax — not rush around, jamming everything in. You might miss a few landmarks, but you’ll actually get a rest, and gain some peace of mind.
You’ll see the rest next time. Have fun.