Would you think any less of us if we told you we probably only slept outside
for a third of our trip? Access to the internet, books of coupons, AAA membership
and the kindness of friends and family ensured that none of our nights were spent
huddled along the road for warmth.
If a National Park site owned and operated its own campground, we tried to
stay there. With very, very few exceptions, NPS campsites are clean, safe and
comfortable. While we prefer first come first served options, you can reserve
camping spots at many NPS sites ahead of time here.
We did not stay at free or unsupervised campsites. This was a personal
decision. Both the National Forest Service and BFO have spaces across the country
where you can drive or hike in and camp without costs. We chose not to use them
because nearly all of our earthly possessions were with us in the ‘Tima and we
wanted the added sense of security that a gate or campground host would provide.
We also know plenty of folks that swear by these free resources.
In addition to car camping at NPS campsites, we spent time in the backcountry
of National Parks like Isle Royale,
Zion, Channel Islands and the Grand Canyon. Click on the links to
read about some of the most memorable moments of the trip.
When we weren’t sleeping under the stars or catching up with old friends, we
were on an exciting hunt for budget accommodations in hotels, motels, motor
lodges and beds and breakfasts. Once we got the hang of this, it was pretty fun.
Here are some of our favorite tricks:
Go Online. We are frequent users of the “Name Your Own
Price” option at www.priceline.com. This allows you to choose a city and
quality level of hotel you want to stay in, and place a bid for a room. If you
bid well, you can save hundreds of dollars a night. Here’s how you bid well:
Go to www.biddingfortravel.com. This online bulletin board
lists winning bids and bidding strategies for every location in the United States
and then some. Not only can you make an informed bid, you can usually calculate
which hotel will accept your offer using the history of successful bids and list
of hotels that people have “won.”
There are other online communities that offer similar information, but we
found Bidding for Travel the most comprehensive and easiest to navigate.
Technically, you are only supposed to bid at www.priceline.com once every 24
hours. There are ways around that. Be sure to go to www.biddingfortravel.com and read more before you
Priceline for a hotel. Hotels are non-refundable, non-transferable and
non-changeable even if the reservation is not used.
We usually waited until the last possible minute to Priceline a hotel for the
night. If you’d rather not fly by the seat of your pants, you can make a hotel
reservation on Priceline months in advance.
While Priceline has an extensive network of hotels, there are not bidding
opportunities in every city. We also used www.expedia.com and www.hotels.com. Not so much to reserve rooms, but to see
average costs and what hotels were available or sold out in an area.
Don’t forget UPromise. Remember that rewards program we told
you about in Road Trip Tips for Filling Up?
Priceline, Expedia and Hotels.com are UPromise partners and will earn you a
percentage of your purchase back to use towards student loans. Go to www.upromise.com and check it out.
Get those coupons! You know those racks of free,
cheaply-printed magazines next to the bathrooms at highway rest stops? Grab them!
These little smudgy newsprint pages are chock full of hotel bargains specially
priced for weary travelers walking in without a reservation. Great to have when
online options don’t work. Be careful, though. Read the fine print to be sure
your coupon is valid for the night you want it. We also recommend driving past
two or three hotels/motels in a town to be sure you are comfortable with the look
and location of the one you finally choose.
Ask to see the rooms. Not all $39.95 mom-n-pop motel rooms
are created equal. One may offer a sticky sink and bed wrapped in plastic while
the one right across the street welcomes you with a fridge and microwave, comfy
clean sheets and, gasp, full cable! It may take a few more minutes of time, but
why not shop around for the best night’s rest? Is that a jingle for a mattress
company? It also doesn’t hurt to mention competitor’s prices to get a better deal
Safety First! Sure, we all want to save a few bucks. But if
there is an uneasy feeling forming in your stomach as you unpack the car; it is
probably for a good reason. Or you simply ate too many free nachos at Happy Hour.
Should you come across something that makes you feel unsafe, trust your
instincts and find someplace else to be. You know you won’t sleep a wink anyway.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the deepest discount possible.
Don’t assume that the AAA rate is the best a motel can give you. Don’t think just
because you have a coupon, it is cheaper than the walk-in specials a hotel might
be offering. You have to ask.
Some nights, a tired Gab would walk into a hotel, state how much cash we had
in our pockets and how much of it we could afford to spend on a room. Amazingly,
when a front desk couldn’t help us, they almost always pointed us to another
place for accommodations that could.
Have some of your own travel tips to share? We know you do! Go here and tell us. If
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