There’s a saying that goes, ‘The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco’. It’s credited to Mark Twain, but that’s a lie; nobody really knows who said it. I wish I had.
You know what else I wish I had? A friggin’ car! Don’t get me wrong, San Francisco is one of the true loves of my life, but I could really use some summer sunshine. So what I’m gonna do is sit here and fantasize about taking a road trip and in the meantime give you some pointers on how to do it on the cheap.
1. You don’t actually need a car
(I know I just complained about not having a car, but I’m actually tied to my desk right now, so just look at my car reference before as a metaphor for ‘the freedom to not be at my damn desk’.) Wanna go on a road trip but your only vehicle is your ChevroLEGS? All you gotta do is ride share! That’s right, go to erideshare.com or craigslist.org and find a ride to wherever you’re going. And if you wanna hit up multiple locations on your trip, just set up rideshares to and from all the different spots on your itinerary. Then your only costs are sharing gas costs with the other riders.
2. Cheap rental cars
If you don’t have wheels but aren’t too keen on riding with random strangers, you can always rent a car. Start by comparing prices from a few websites like hotwire.com, expedia.com and travelocity.com (to name a few) then find the cheapest rates. Here’s the real tip though: If you have a major credit card and you make a car rental reservation with it, the credit card company covers your rental insurance! Amazing right? I just saved you like $15 a day! Just make sure you check with your credit card company to see what they cover.
3. Car sharing
Still on the car-less theme, if you use Zipcar or one of the countless smaller local versions of car sharing, you can take a vehicle for multiple days at a time. This often amounts to somewhere around $60, but that money also covers gas and insurance. There’s typically a 3 days limit though, so it would have to be a shorter road trip. Peer-to-peer car sharing is starting to take off in some cities, so check out services like getaround.com for local deals on cars that are probably more interesting than the typical Ford Focus rental.
4. Pack your food
Don’t wanna spend too much loot on food while traveling? Pack your grub and take it with you. Pick foods with a decent shelf-life and bring a cooler. Not only will this save you money, it will probably allow you to eat healthier too. Unless all you pack is Lunchables of course. Then you might as well just eat at McDonalds.
5. Camping, hostels and couch surfing
You read Lonely Planet, so you know the drill, but just in case you don’t, I’ll break it down for you. Save money by not staying in hotels. Is the weather warm? Then sleep outside. Don’t like critters crawling in your sleeping bag? Then stay at a hostel. Can’t afford that? Then check out couchsurfing.com and find a nice soul who will let your weird ass sleep on their couch. Just kidding, you’re not that weird…probably.
6. Do free activities
If you wanna save money on a road trip, don’t go to Disneyland, or any other theme park for that matter. Pick things to do that don’t cost money like going to the beach or hiking. If you’re one of those people who just needs a destination, go to a national park. There’s so much beauty out there to be seen.
7. Free food at happy hours
If your road trip is leading you to a city and not the wilderness, do a little research beforehand. Every American city has bars that give out free food at happy hour, you just need to know where to find them. Go to yelp.com or chowhound.com and search for terms like ‘free food happy hour’ and see what you find.
8. Free and cheap websites
Same goes for cheap entertainment in the city you’re heading to. Let’s say you’re going to Chicago, Google something like ‘free and cheap Chicago’ and do a little research. You’re guaranteed to find websites that cover all the cool free and cheap happenings in that city. And if you’re going to San Francisco or New York you can just check out BrokeAssStuart.com.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, has written guides for Lonely Planet but is probably best known for his print and online guides to living cheaply in San Francisco and New York, making him the only person known to have been called ‘the pimp daddy of budget travel’. Stuart has a new travel TV show on IFC called Young, Broke & Beautiful and a new book Young, Broke & Beautiful: Broke-Ass Stuart's Guide to Living Cheaply, but until those hit the big time, he’s still living the broke-ass life.