Frugal Travel Tips For Road Trips

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What better way for the frugal traveler to stretch both her budget and her vacation allotment than by taking road trips during long weekends? Here are some of my top tips to reduce that cost even more.

Keeping The Cooler Cool

Packing an accessible cooler full of drinks and snacks is a great cost reducing option. To maximize cooler space, instead of filling with ice, freeze water bottles and low filled beverages (including drinking boxes, makes a healthier juice slushy). No more soggy sandwiches or spilled water in the backseat.

Eating Where The Truckers Eat

For longer road trips, travelers may have to look outside the cooler for a meal. Instead of haunting the usual fast food chains, keep an eye out for any local roadside restaurants with transport trucks parked outside. When truckers find a spot with good, affordable meals, they tell their buddies.

Note: Just because the sign says truck stop, doesn’t mean the truckers stop. The vehicles never lie.

Keeping The Kiddies Entertained

This is a trick I’ve stolen from my Mom. Whenever we went on a long road trip, she would dig out the coloring books and crayons. That may not seem exciting except it was…to us. During a road trip was the only time we were allowed a new coloring book.

Updated for today’s kid, keep a few toys or video games only for use on road trips. This could be a brand new toy or a favorite. The novelty of the toy will keep kids busy and looking forward to the long car rides.

Prepping The Vehicle

Road trips mean relying on your vehicle so prep work is essential. Check all fluids, oil, antifreeze/coolant, windshield washer solvent (for the bugs all road trip vehicles collect). Check the tires, ensuring that they are properly inflated and in good condition. Check all belts and hoses, looking for wear and tear.

AAA Or Other Vehicle Assistance Programs

Frequent road trippers should consider an AAA or other vehicle assistance program membership, especially if they have an older vehicle. One tow and the membership pays for itself. Plus no scrambling for local mechanics/tow trucks.

One of the benefits that I love about AAA is their TripTiks which are route maps complete with information such as road works (very helpful during the summer road work season) and rest stops. There are even blurbs on each town passed.

Road trips are a great way to see more local destinations and to stretch the travel budget.

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Frugal Travel Tips For Las Vegas Attractions

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I don’t gamble so I often get asked why I visit Las Vegas at least once a year. The answer? The free attractions make Las Vegas a frugal traveler’s paradise (and we’ll save the dining discussion for another article). Almost every casino has some sort of freebie gimmick to attract gamblers. In this article, I will cover, what I consider to be the must-see’s to give tourists a flavor of Las Vegas.

The Fountain Show At Bellagio

With nightfall comes the fountain shows at Bellagio. In the massive pool of water on the Strip side of the casino, illuminated spirts of water dance to a variety of music, popular, classical and even opera. They usually operate every 15 minutes (check with the casino to ensure), with a different song and show each time.

Sirens Of TI

Every night, in front of Treasure Island on the Strip, a battle takes place between sexy sirens and renegade male pirates. There are usually four identical kid friendly shows nightly. Get there early for best viewing (especially if you are vertically challenged). Stand close and you could get a bit wet.

Circus Circus Shows

Approximately every half hour in the Circus Circus casino on the Strip, there are free yet world class midway acts including jugglers and trapeze acts. I stayed for three shows and all three were different.

Freemont Street Experience

Las Vegas is more than the Strip. Situated in the heart of downtown, the historic Freemont Street Experience is a pedestrian walkway, covered by what they bill as the biggest big screen on the planet. There are street performers, vendors and every night at multiple times, a light and sound show.

Ethel M’s Chocolate Tour And Botanical Cactus Garden

Want to get away from the Strip yet do something free? Check out the Ethel M Chocolate Factory (One Sunset Way). A must for chocolate connoisseurs (I have purchased chocolate from all over the world for my Mom, her favorite is Ethel M’s), there is a self guided tour, free samples, and products for sale.

Outside there is the Botanical Cactus Garden with over 350 kinds of cacti, succulents from the local area and around the world (also free admission).

Note: There is an Ethel M’s at the airport if you are concerned about chocolate melting (check hours of operation as every time I go, its closed).

There are many, many other free attractions in Las Vegas. Attractions that are changed often to ensure the city remains fresh, exciting and a frugal traveler’s paradise.

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Frugal Travel Tips For Cruises

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Cruises are one of my favorite ways to see the world. I love falling asleep in one country and waking up in another, not having to pack and unpack. Cruise lines run the range of prices from value to super expensive. For frugal travelers, here are some tips to cut expenses.

Consider All Itineraries

When most people think of cruises, they think of the Caribbean, the Mediterrian, and perhaps Alaska. However, name an ocean port and there is likely a cruise sailing into it. And some of these itineraries can not be only bargains but a pleasant surprise. We once booked a 12 day Baltic cruise from London to St. Petersburg and return for less than the airfare from New York to London. It remains one of our favorite cruises.

Bring Your Own Non-Alcoholic Drinks

Food is normally included in the price of a cruise (except for dining at the exclusive restaurants). However, beverage other than water, coffee, tea, and if lucky iced tea come with an additional cost. So what we do is buy non-alcoholic beverages in ports (allowable – for alcoholic drinks, there is often a corking charge) and then pour them into glasses.

Make Your Own Tour

We’ve been on over a dozen cruises all over the world and have only done one ship organized tour (on our first cruise). They are expensive, move forward at the pace of the slowest traveler, and restrictive. For a well organized traveler, making their own arrangements is preferable.

One trick that we use is to look at the sights the ship tours cover and include those in our “tour.”

Note: Tour Directors will often tell of horror stories about passengers not getting back to the ship on time. The solution? Leave some extra time and do the far away venues first.

Big Breakfast, Late Dinner

For the frugal traveler, maximizing the time in port is a must. That means if possible choosing the late seating at dinner. Also we tend not to eat large lunches (if at all). Instead we eat a large breakfast on the ship (where the breakfast is free), snack on bits and bites of local food while on shore, and then top the day off with a leisurely late dinner.

Cruising is one of the favorite ways for this frugal traveler to see the world. And by using these tips, it is one luxury that can fit into a traveler’s budget.

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Frugal Travel Tips For Chicago

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Chicago offers many free attractions for the frugal traveler. These free sights offset more costly splurges like deep dish pizza, the entrance to the famed Shedd Aquarium, and a trip up the Sears Tower.

Free Trolleys

From Memorial Day weekend through the Labor Day weekend, between 10am and 6pm, free trolleys operate every 20-30 minutes to Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations. There are stops along Museum Campus, Michigan Avenue (The Magnificent Mile) and Navy Pier. Do a few of the loops to get a sense of the city. Drivers often give out bits of information about landmarks.

Street parking downtown is often free on Sundays.

Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, and Millennium Park

Buckingham Fountain (seen in the opening credits of the tv show Married With Children) in Grant Park, close to the waterfront, was designed to emulate the great fountains in the palace of Versailles. It consists of three basins, surrounded by four bronze seahorses.

More modern art can be found in the adjoining Millennium Park. The Crown Fountain has two giant glass towers with projections of faces on them. Water squirts out of the faces’ mouths, much to wading children’s delight. Cloud Gate resembles a giant stainless steel jellybean, warping the reflection of onlookers.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier hosts a street carnival type of environment. There is a classic styled 148 ft Ferris Wheel, a musical carousel with painted animals, a children’s museum, a museum of stained glass, and a funhouse maze. Add seasonal street performers, food vendors, and face painters, and travelers can people watch for hours.

The Old Water Tower

The Old Water Tower, situated on the famed Michigan Avenue near the John Hancock Center, is one of the most famous survivors of the Great Fire. Designed to resemble a tiny European castle, the Old Water Tower is now a visitors center.

The Art Institute Of Chicago

With great American masterpieces like Grant Wood’s American Gothic, the Art Institute Of Chicago is a must see for art lovers and a freebie for the savvy traveler. From May 31st to August 31st, admission is free after 5pm on Thursday’s and Friday’s.

There are many other free or frugal attractions in the Windy City, window shopping on the Magnificent Mile, facades such as Dearborn Street Station and others.

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