Thursday, June 30, 2011

Taking a Budget Road Trip: Part 5: Loose Ends

What came before:

Part 1: The Basics
Part 2: Lodging
Part 3: Food and Drink
Part 4: Pack List

In Part 5, I tie up loose ends:
  1. Common budget busters
  2. Should I rent a vehicle for my road trip?
  3. Ask to see the room 
  4. Mile markers, exit numbers, and odd/even highways

Common budget busters

In the previous articles, I covered the biggest budget busters. Below are some more:

Not keeping track of your spending along the way. Write every expenditure down as you go. If you don't, I guarantee you will lose track of your spending. And this means you will over-spend. This is also important if you're traveling with others and you split costs. Avoid conflict later. Write. It. Down. Be anal about it.

Watch the card use!  Too many of us lull ourselves into thinking that if we put it on plastic, then it doesn't really count. Or we rationalize an impulse buy ("A balloon ride! Only $200? Life is short!") that is going to hurt us really bad when we're back home and have to come up with the extra $$$ to pay off that unanticipated credit card debt.

Buying new clothes for the trip. The cost of the trip starts when you start buying trip-related stuff. Instead of buying new clothes "for the trip," go the opposite direction: A road trip presents an opportunity for unloading clothes that you're ready to retire. Old underwear especially - wear 'em, then pitch 'em. Those pants that are almost, but not quite ready to be tossed? Perfect for long driving days when your only goal is to chew miles. 

Souvenirs. Consider making your road trip a souvenir-free trip. Or set a souvenir budget before you leave and factor it into the overall cost of the trip. Consider what you might do with the money if you choose not to get any souvenirs. Spend an extra night on the road? Pay for a tank of gas? Pay the admission to an additional event or attraction?  

Should I rent a vehicle for my road trip? 

There's no right or wrong answer to this question. Factors to consider include: 
  • Number of people in the party
  • Road types, e.g. paved roads, some gravel/dirt that are level and in good condition, or some gravel/dirt roads that are heavily rutted
  • Condition of your vehicle
  • Gas mileage of your vehicle
  • Your personal deal-breaker threshold re: the reasonable likelihood of a breakdown in your vehicle or your ability to deal with a break down if it happens 
  • Duration of road trip

If I use myself as an example, I won't hesitate to take my 1995 Toyota Camry (150k miles) on a road trip of any duration or distance, assuming:
  • Number in my travel party is no more than 2, maybe 3 adults
  • The roads I'll be on are paved or gravel/dirt in good condition (my car rides low)
  • My car passes a thorough pre-trip check at my auto repair shop or I can get current or potential problems fixed before the trip

I have AAA roadside service membership, so I'm not that concerned about dealing with a breakdown. I also figure that if my car breaks down on the road, it would have also broken down at home, so I just factor in the repair bill as an ordinary cost of using my car. Unlike the hapless family in National Lampoon's Family Vacation, it hasn't been my experience that auto repair people have tried to gouge me when I've had a problem on past road trips.

But on a road trip with 3 or 4 people, with all their gear, I'll be looking at sharing a roomy rental with good gas mileage unless one of my companions owns something comparable and s/he is OK  using it for the trip.

Here's another voice on the matter: Your Next Road Trip: Is it Better to Rent a Car or Take Your Own? at PT Money

Ask to see the room

When you go to a motel, hotel, or hostel, it is perfectly OK to ask to see the room before you commit for the night. No matter how low the price, it is appropriate to expect:

  • Clean bathroom
  • Working locks on the doors and windows
  • Clean bedding (feel free to pull back the bedspread a bit to ensure the sheets are clean)
  • Working shower, sink, and light bulbs
If the room you're shown lacks the above, you can either ask to see a better room or move on to another place.

But let's say you don't find out til after you check into your room that it's a bad one. Don't unpack. Leave your stuff in the room, proceed directly to the front desk, explain the problem, and ask to see a different room. Look at the alternate room before moving your gear. If it's OK, then move. If not, request a refund, put your gear in your car, and go somewhere else. 

Be calm, polite, and firm. Most places will try to make you happy.

Mile markers, exit numbers, and odd/even highways 

I'd be embarassed to say how old I was before I knew that odd-numbered highways go north/south and even-numbered highways go east/west. Or that in most states, exit numbers correspond to the mile markers for the highway they're on.

The mile markers correspond to the number of miles on a given highway within the state you're in. So it's kind of nice to know that if you're going west on Interstate 70 in Missouri, for example, you know exactly how many miles you have left til you get to Kansas. This is because the mile markers descend in number. Once you hit the Kansas border, the mile markers start over; they begin with the last mile, thus you know immediately how many miles you've got to go before you arrive in Colorado, should you follow I-70 the whole way.

Did you pass Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4?

Go to the Taking a Budget Road Trip page.

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