Hopefully you are dreaming of some great escapes this year. My wife Ione and I have been on some great trips in the past few years and want to share some money-saving and experience-enhancing retirement travel secrets.Traveling by car (or RV if you prefer) is still great, and hey gas prices are way down, especially considering inflation. We just came back from a 2,000+ mile trip.
Here is what we learned. First, we won’t be using Expedia (or Hotels.com or Travelocity) on road trips. Before you click me off (what used to be cut me off), hear me out. Do use an online tool like Trivago, which also probes those sites, just to get a feel for demand. If they aren’t selling out due to a school sports competition or other event going on, it simply isn’t necessary. We learned that, actually just walking in the hotel / motel etc. they will offer you $5 off simply because they don’t have to pay Expedia. If you are concerned, have the Expedia page up with that hotel showing the $X rate booking you can get online.
We actually found that the hotel always quoted a lower rate when we walked in. Simply ask “What’s your best rate tonight”? If you find a hotel you like, don’t hesitate to call them direct, 200 miles out and ask “Do you have a convention or school conference tonight?” Remember that school programs means teens running in the hallways till 2 a.m.
Another great way to save money is to load the “GasBuddy” application on your phone before you leave home. This can be super handy when you are getting down to a quarter tank of gas. Not only can you find the sources of gas but the current prices. For example, we found gas prices ranging from $2.99 down to $2.01 per gallon in the same town in Texas on more than one occasion. That’s a lot of lattes!
My final road trip travel secret is to stop in those crazy towns you usually avoid. We found virtual ghost towns, with populations of 2,000 or less and they are thrilled you stopped. Ask one question, and you will get four answers. The abandoned stores or unusual ones are simply fascinating, and your legs really do need a stretch. You will lose a whopping 15 minutes in an eight hour day. Your heart and legs will thank you.
We’ve learned we love major hotel chains in the USA. Especially if it’s just a night or two. After all, why pay a cleaning and service fee? If you are lighter on the dinner side, and especially if you enjoy happy hour like us, we haven’t been able to beat good old Embassy Suites. We love pulling in at 5 p.m. and getting a two room suite, for just $50 more than a Holiday Inn. We really enjoy the manager’s cocktail hour and last time we had our fill of chicken salad, cheese and crackers, plus plenty of libations.
Every time we return from Europe, we stay the last night in the airport hotel. This is expensive but so worth it. They usually have a manager’s happy hour (free wine and food in Europe is extremely rare). There is no running to the airport in the morning. How much is your stress relief worth?
People ask us about AirBnb and VRBO: Let’s just get to the brutal truth. Many people want to use these properties to be real estate investors. Finding a property that is owner occupied in the USA is hard enough. What are you getting (yourself) in to? Do you really know what that neighborhood is like? How big / small / clean / and especially quiet is it? And what about those fees? Yikes. They can add a lot to the price. Plus, unlike a hotel, it is difficult to make a change to your reservation. Most of the time you can’t leave early and get your money back. We are not telling you not to do it. I’m not saying not to do it, you just have to do a lot of due diligence. Spend an hour or so reading the reviews, which by the way, everyone is kind of pressured to write a good one since the landlord can write a bad one about you, which can impact your ability to rent. We did find AirBnb in Europe to be a much better experience than in the USA. Some love it. And if you’ve had great experiences with AirBnB and VRBO – great for you.
We hope this info has been helpful to you as we’ve taken some bumps and bruises to learn our travel secrets. Please comment and tell us about your experience. And don’t forget to subscribe to our website so we can keep you up to date on our wanderings. In subsequent articles, I will talk about retirement travel secrets for Europe, ocean cruising and river cruising.