The perfect balance of planning and being spontaneous can be hard to find. Especially when budgeting is your biggest concern. Traveling pros calculate as many costs possible before they leave to have a better idea of how much money is left for fun when they get there. This guide will help you line out your trip, but still leave room for unplanned pit stops and adventures.

Guestblog by Veronica Baas

Will you drive or fly?

Sometimes deciding whether to drive or fly is tough. I bounce between Google and Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights. Skiplagged pre-inputs promo codes so you never miss a sale, and they also show hidden flight options. Which means, you buy a two or three leg ticket and only take the first or second flight. One time I was trying to get home to Phoenix from Newark, NJ. I ended up buying a flight to Cabo. It was cheaper to stop in Phoenix on the way to Mexico than to just buy a direct flight.

For those planning to drive, see how much gas is going to cost with a mileage calculator. Once you get there, parking might be hectic. I can’t help you find a space, but being able to find your car later is equally important. I like to drop a pin when I park so I can wander carelessly and always find my way back.

Where will you stay?

Having friends or family who live where you’re traveling to is ideal, but not always the case. There are dozens of sites to find deals on hotels. I’ve heard booking.com is really great, but I tend to use Priceline.

Anyone who’s on a tight budget, check out Airbnb or the Couchsurfing site. Another cool thing I found, but have never personally used, is Camp in my Garden. You can pay a small fee to camp in someone’s backyard, mostly in Europe.

In the U.S., camping for free is even easier than you’d think. Whether you’re desperate and take a spot on the side of the road, or you’re adventurous and make your own path into the woods, you’re allowed to camp free anywhere in a National Forest.

If your trip is too long to make in a day, you’ll need to stop and get some rest. If the weather permits, sleep outside and save some cash. Bring camping gear if it’s convenient, but non-campers (or if you’re tight for space), just sleep in the car and use a pool floatie as an air mattress.

When can you budget on the way to and from?

It’s easy to get in the mindset that you are bound to spend money while traveling to or from your destination. Bring some snacks for the plane ride (seems pretty obvious to do in the car). You can’t bring drinks through airport security but you can bring an empty water bottle. If you need some flavor bring a propel packet.

You don’t have to go data crazy. Reserve by using Google Maps offline tool. Download music before you leave. You can even do it for free, legally. Try out listentoyoutube. Take any Youtube video URL and download the audio directly into your iTunes library. You can also check for free wifi along the way with this WiFi Map app.

Fill up at the cheapest stations by searching for gas along your route in Google Maps. Or try Gas Buddy. Another popular idea for frequent roadtrippers is to use a gas card. Read more about which card company will give you the best return.

What do you already know you want to do when you get there?

If you can book it beforehand, do it. Most of the time booking ahead will save you some cash. It’s also a stress relief to know where you’ll be spending your time. Another good trick is to check out coupon sites that are city specific. Even huge companies like Groupon make individual pages for each city that they have a big customer base. Last week I traveled to California. I used the Things To Do In San Diego page and didn’t buy a single meal that wasn’t majorly discounted. If I find a good price I don’t feel any buyer’s remorse, even after the last bite.

One last app I’ll mention is Roadtrippers. It finds fun things to do and cool places to stay along your route, or at your destination. It doesn’t hurt to look at what you’ll be driving by.

A few other tips…

Reuse your 3oz toiletry containers. Keep filling them up with your toiletries at home. Look up your airline’s baggage fee policy before you pack. With that said, make the most of your “personal item”.

For those on the road, find clean bathrooms with the SitOrSquat restroom finder. Another pit stop tip: truck stations tend to offer more services, cleaner bathrooms, and are open later than average gas stations.

Plan wisely, but do it light heartedly. Traveling is fun, don’t get caught up in the logistics. But do so while protecting your wallet from unnecessary spending.

Veronica Baas is a guest author for The Road Trip Guy. She can be reached at veronicabaas.wordpress.com or on Twitter @vernnbaas.

 

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