By Train, by Plane, by Automobile…Ways to Save on Travel

Posted by in Articles, personal finance | 12 comments

The post was originally published on The Centsible Life.

With the holidays approaching and winter right around the corner, I’ve been letting my imagination run away from me. The idea of taking a vacation, or at least leaving my living room, is making me drool over each and every sunset-on-the-beach photo I come across. Yet, traveling on a budget calls for creativity, research, and gumption. Lately I’ve been scoping out the best modes of transportation for quick weekend get-aways, longer holidays, and family vacations that are frugal and can fit within any budget.

Quick Weekend Get-Aways….on the rail

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to a nearby city on Amtrak. It was my first experience on a train and I absolutely loved it. The roomy seats, the ability to walk around the cars, and the experience as a whole was incredibly comfortable compared to driving the short distance in a car. I decided from that point on that I would travel by train to cities within a couple hundred miles of me, as long as there was a direct Amtrak route.

Here is a breakdown of some sample excursions for west coast, mid-west, and east coast residents including prices via Amtrak:

  • Los Angeles (Union Station) to Santa Barbara – Pacific Surfliner: $24 each way, travel time 2 hours and 48 minutes. Santa Barbara is known for its temperate, coastal climate, charming State Street, and expensive properties. It’s a beautiful beach-side city to visit for the day.
  • Milwaukee to Chicago (Union Station) – Hiawatha: $22 each way, travel time 1 hour and 42 minutes. I’ve never spent time in Chicago, but would like to some day. Their waterfront and downtown area look like a fun and exciting city to visit for the day or weekend (summer, preferably for me!)
  • New Haven, CT to New York (Penn Station) – Acela Express: starts at $35 each way, travel time 1 hour and 32 minutes. Ahhh! New York, it’s my town! There’s so much to do that one day won’t cut it. From Time Square to Central Park, Manhattan is a great place to visit.

Finding Great Last Minute Airfares

Depending on if my travel plans are flexible, there are some terrific last minute deals to grab from sites such as Expedia and Travelocity. I’ll use Travelocity as an example; they have a Last Minute Packages feature that allows me to select trips for about $250 including flight and hotel. (Wow!) One of their current deals includes a trip to Washington D.C. as a destination. Departing from Los Angeles and traveling to Washington, the trip averages about $375 per person for 3 days including airfare and hotel. East coast departure cities come closer to the $250 price tag. Not too shabby!

Another method I use when searching for the best airfare deals online is Kayak.com. Kayak searches multiple online travel engines simultaneously, saving me time searching each of them myself. Multiple browser windows pop-up and I can effortlessly compare their airfare deals side-by-side.

Once I’ve found the best flight price, I check to see if they are part of the MyPoints.com program. Purchasing through a My Points vendor builds up my points, which I then use towards gas and gift cards. I have to admit that I don’t fly often enough to rack up enough frequent flyer points on any one particular airline, so the My Points program allows me to earn points through various vendors. It’s a great alternative for me.

Making traveling by car comfortable

Sometimes, the least expensive travel option is driving to your destination, especially for families of three or more. Though driving to your vacation spot can be trying, verging on grueling, there are some ways to make it more comfortable and pleasant.

One of the best ways I’ve found, relieving the intensity of driving long distances, is to break up the drive time. Plan to stop along the way, whether it’s a 30-minute rest stop or spending the night at an inexpensive motel, stretching out my legs and getting out of the car helps alleviate the discomfort of sitting for hours on end.

Another option to make driving comfortable is to bring along a neck rest or pillows. Of course, this only comforts the passengers of the vehicle, not the driver him/herself. As a child on family road trips, I remember crashing in the back of the conversion van and sleeping for hours while my parents drove across state. (This was during the days of no seatbelts. I don’t recommend this!)

Bringing along my own fresh snacks also helps during the scheduled, frequent stops. It saves time and money by not having to eat at a restaurant every few hours, and it’s healthier than most fast food options, a standard on almost every road trip.

And finally, to help restless kids pass the time (without staring at a monitor the entire trip) there are a few good, old-fashioned travel games you can play to keep them engaged and entertained. Here is a short list:

  • The traditional I-Spy game is always fun (for about 10 minutes, that is).
  • Scavenger Hunt: before your trip, print out a list of items you might see while traveling. Then try to predict who might win the game first. Each kid and adult can scratch off their list as they view their item.
  • License Plate Game: See who can find all 50 state plates first. Print out a list of the states before you go, give each person a list.
  • Portable travel games: There are many portable, printable games available, like bingo and scrabble. A great site I came across that has printable versions of many of these games is www.momsminivan.com. A great resource for activities.
  • Card Games: Some games I remember enjoying as a kid were Uno, Go Fish, and War. All you need is a deck of cards.

As the cooler weather trickles in, I’m itching to hop on the rail and zip up to Santa Barbara with my bike. With the convenience and low cost of Amtrak, and their luggage cars that store my bike throughout the trip, I might just have to take an excursion this weekend!

12 Comments

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  1. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

    We are always open to travel in any way we need to to save money. On our Asia trip we used flights, our feet, tuk tuk, and train to get around. It worked out really well. Even this last weekend on a getaway to the US, we used the train to get to and from downtown. Saved a ton on gas and parking.

  2. retirebyforty

    Nice. I love the train as well, but it takes forever to get anywhere. I took the train from San Jose up to Portland once and it took over 24 hours. That’s too long and it’s about the same price as a flight (back in 2004?.)
    We took some trains in Japan and that was awesome. I really wish we have high speed rail in the US.

    • Little House

      @Retire by 40 – That is one of the down sides. I looked into a train ride from LA to Arizona and there wasn’t a direct route and it was a travel period of over 10 hours. Much too long for my taste. Maybe they’ll eventually get that LA to San Fran high speed rail project going!

  3. Hunter @ Financially Consumed

    Train travel is great fun for the family. Our kids grew up with a lot of exposure to Thomas the tank engine, so there is a natural curiosity to see what it’s all about for them. Plus, as parents we can engage the kids easily when we don’t have to keep our eyes on the road.

  4. Layla T.

    Santa Barbara makes for a great weekend vacation. Just be careful once you are there not to spend too much money – the wine tours and dining out add up fast. Plus, the hotels there are SO overpriced! My husband and I always take the kids to free activities, like the Seven Falls Hike by the Mission, the Courthouse, and, of course, the beach. We also like to stay at The Sandman Inn on State. It’s a quaint little inn that’s close to everything and really reasonably priced.

  5. krantcents

    We drive to San Francisco from Los Angeles probably once a year. Since we have old cars, we sometimes rent a Prius to save on gas and wear and tear on the cars.

  6. Carol

    When I lived in Texas, I was taught a new game for car trips called “hey cow.” :) Makes me smile already… Basically, when you see a group of cows in a pasture you are driving by, one person screams out the window “hey cow” and then you count how many cows look at you… and you get that amount of points. Then it is the next persons turn the next time you see another group of cows. The game continues like that for the whole trip! It is of course good to have rules such as no screaming “hey cow” when there are people in the cows proximity :).

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