Ask the Readers: How Do You Travel Frugally?

By Ashley Jacobs on 21 February 2012 (Updated 28 February 2012) 80 comments
Photo: whatleydude

Editor's Note: Congragulations to Kristin Turberville Haffey, frugalportland, and Happy Love for winning this week's contest!

Being able to get out and see the world is something everyone should budget for. It is important to save up to take trips to places you want to see, but it is also important to travel frugally once you finally hit the road. From airfare to hotel expenses to dining costs, there are always ways you can stretch your travel dollars!

How do you travel frugally? What do you do to reduce hotel costs? How do you save on airfare? What tricks do you use to cut back on dining expenses when you are out of town?

Tell us how you travel frugally and we'll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We're doing three giveaways — one for random comments, one for random Facebook "Likes", and another one for random tweets.

Mandatory Entry: 

  • Post your answer in the comments below 

For extra entries (1 per action):

  • Go to our Facebook page, "Like" us, and leave a comment on this article telling us you did, or
  • Tweet your answer. You have to be a follower of our @wisebread account. Include both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" in your tweet so we'll see it and count it. Leave a link to your tweet (click the timestamp for the individual URL) in a separate comment.

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, February 27th at 11:59 pm Pacific. Winners will be announced after February 27th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
  • You can enter all three drawings — once by leaving a comment, once by liking our Facebook update, and once by tweeting.
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook.
  • You must be 18 and US resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

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Guest's picture
Lorri

We rent vacation apartments and prepare breakfast and dinner in the apartment. We also prepare picnic lunches to take with us for our time sightseeing. This saves our family of 5 a lot of money!

Also, everyone carries a bottle of water at all times. Then we don't have emergency drink needs that often could end up costing $20. Saves a lot!

Guest's picture
tami

we stay at bed & breakfasts. most of the time you can use the kitchen to cook your own meals, and that can save you a lot of money - especially on islands where almost everything is imported

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tami

i liked you on facebook :)

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Jennifer

Instead of eating full meals while traveling, my husband and I will buy smaller foods throughout the day to share. It lets us try a wide variety of foods and keeps costs down. Because we do so much walking, it keeps us energized and a mini picnic or grab and go food keeps us on the move and on to our next destination.

Guest's picture
rm

I use travel deal sites a lot. I try to subscribe to local daily deal sites in the areas I am traveling to find dining coupons.

Guest's picture
Terri

When my husband travels for his work my 4 year old son and I always tag along. We are able to feed the 3 of us with my husband's per diem money by observing the following tips & tricks: Restaurants are for dinner only. Pack non-perishable foods that you can use to prepare your own breakfast & dinner. Granola bars, rice chips, dried fruit, applesauce, bagel thins and peanut butter work great. On our first day of travel we hit a local grocery store to grab juice, cheese, lettuce, etc. for our hotel refrigerator. We bring silicone/collapsible bento boxes with us to pack a daily lunch and take it with us as we sight-see. Also bring your own silverware and mesh bags to easily wash fresh produce on the go.

Guest's picture
ronb.

I make sure my car is maintained regularly,and I limit any vacation travels to shorter destinations.

Guest's picture

I travel frugally by searching for the best deals on sites like tripadvisor and slickdeals.com.

Guest's picture
Christie

Before you even start planning, save, save, SAVE! If you have all the money for the trip saved up before you even leave, that is the most frugal way to travel. Figure out if it is more economical to fly or drive and if the difference in price is worth it. (We're looking at a trip now where flying would only take a day and driving would take 2.5 days each way, but driving would still be several hundred dollars cheaper, even factoring in hotels and food over the total 4 or 5 days.) Buy snacks at the grocery store before you leave. Enjoy your nicer meals out for lunch -- dinner is almost always more expensive in a restaurant. Get the whole family involved in saving for your vacation. And remember, you don't HAVE to go on a big vacation every year, go when YOU can afford it, even if it is every few years. You'll enjoy the vacation so much more when you know that the bills won't be haunting you for years to come.

Guest's picture
Brenda Faulkner

I seek out discounts on Groupon for resturants in the area that we are visiting, pack the car with snacks, water and drinks and book hotels through Expedia or other discount services.

Guest's picture
Guest

While using such coupons can save you money, it may cost you time if you don't know where you'll be versus the restaurant. We had an excellent meal at an Indian restaurant in London, but it probably cost us an extra hour to get there.

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Brenda Faulkner

I "like" you on Facebook!

Guest's picture

My girlfriend and I have been traveling around the US since November with nothing more than our dog and our truck full of gear. While US-based travel isn't as cheap as some areas, like Asia and South America, we're able to travel full-time for about what most people spend on a week-long vacation (aside from our normal expenses for health & car insurance, school loan payment, etc, we spend $1500-2200/mo to travel).

Here are a couple of our tools for cutting expenses and getting a better experience:
- Hotels.com - usually cheaper rooms and every 11th night is free
- WWOOFusa.org - go help on a farm, get free room and board (typically)
- WorkAway.info - pretty much the same as WWOOF
- HelpX.net - pretty much the same as WWOOF
- Local Harvest - find local farmer's markets

The WWOOF/WorkAway/HelpX stays have actually been the most rewarding part of the trip, giving us the chance to learn new skills, figure out what we enjoy and don't enjoy, and meet new people around the country.

Aside from that, we camp when it's warm enough, which is usually $40-50/night cheaper than staying in a hotel. We do most of our own cooking. We have a 2-burner Camp Chef propane stove that works as well as any normal kitchen range. And we have a basic kitchen setup...cast-iron skillet, a couple pots, a knife, cutting board, backpacker's fork and knife set, a couple bowls and plates.

When we're in hotels, we eat out here and there and try to make a giant salad in our room other times. When we eat out, we look for small local places where the two of us can eat with tip for under $30...why travel if you're going to eat at chains anyway?

On our return trip home in May, we're going to snag our crockpot and that will allow us to cook in hotel rooms without having a kitchen so that our hotel meals aren't always salads. Even when we're in hotels, we've pulled into a park picnic area, pulled our stove out, and cooked right there in the park, then packed up and went about our day.

There are tons of ways to save money when traveling. Eating out and drinking out are the most expensive things. Also, look for roadside produce stands and seafood stands (when near the ocean).

Cheers
Scott

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Troy F

I always buy plane tickets at least two weeks in advance!

Guest's picture

I keep my eye open for deals, take just one bag, and have simple expectations. Travelling in the off-season doesn't hurt, either. :)

Guest's picture

I love to see how frugal I can get...within reason! Some of the things I do on a regular basis....lunches/sandwiches from the local grocery store, planning out my route to my lodging or hotel with public transportation online instead of taxis and looking online for the free offerings at this particular location. When my kids were little, I would make sure to buy inexpensive location-specific souvenirs BEFORE the trip (like Disney) and hand them out while on the trip. Kids don't know the difference! And the last few tips, get on the mailing lists of all the budget airlines, as that will be the first notification of their specials/price drops and stay in small B&Bs or rented rooms (such as airbnb, etc).

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James

I stay with friends as much as possible. Even when traveling abroad, I try to cultivate relationships where I'd be able to stay with them in the future.

Staying with locals gives me a better sense of the actual culture, and they are able to give me better suggestions of places to eat, places that are often cheaper and better than any fancy schmancy restaurant.

Guest's picture
NJJ

I travel in the off-season which is much cheaper than traveling in-season

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Valerie Morgan

I travel frugally by researching ahead of time and buying food/meals at least part of the time in grocery stores.

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Valerie

I liked Wise Bread on Facebook.

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Patrick

I used to travel for work and accumulated enough frequent flier miles to take a few free personal trips.

Stay in hotels with a kitchen for less expensive meals. There is also a major hotel chain that offers free dinner three times per week.

Stay in hotels with free shuttles to and from airports and that take you to and from your destinations.

Assess whether all-inclusive packages are really worth it. I've found they rarely are.

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Francesca

I travel frugally by finding the cheapest airfare via Kayak, then actually making the purchase through the Upromise site and paying with a reward credit card, and also by avoiding fees by taking only carry-ons.

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Jane Hudson

We have friends all over the world so we almost never have to spend money on hotels because we are such awesome guests!

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Guest

No one likes sitting through seminars or being influenced to by some timeshare they will never use. However what's 2 hrs of your time for free airfare and lodging. It's a great way to stay at some nice Places for free and once your there you can be ou and Rome around with the extra $ in your Pocket that you saved just from a couple hours of your time. Just remember though you have to be able to say no thank you and not actually by a timeshare.

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Happy Love

I visit people I know (free lodging and often also free trasnportation).

When I'm not staying with a friend or family, I pack meal bars and snacks so that I usually only need to buy one meal per day. (And that way I can spend a little more on a nice meal to really enjoy the area that I'm visiting.)

Guest's picture

I stay in places with kitchens and cook most of our meals -- this saves SO much money, and it makes "going out to dinner" a treat, and not the default. Until I started doing this, I would get exhausted by the end of the weekend due to going out SO much.

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KelR1

Like you on FB.

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KelR1

I put hotel gift cards on my birthday and Christmas lists and save those up for vacation. I also go to the websites or toll-free numbers of the state and city I'll be visiting and request the free info packs which often contain coupons for hotels and attractions. I go on road trips more often than I fly, so I use gas coupons whenever possible to fill up the tank. Also just making sure that my car is in working order (tires properly inflated, oil changed on schedule) helps with fuel efficiency. I print out maps before I leave so I'm less likely to waste gas/time/money driving around lost. For a month or so before vacation I really make an effort to be more frugal in my daily life by not dining out or buying frivolous things. It helps me save up for things I'd rather do and buy on the trip.

Guest's picture
KelR1

https://twitter.com/#!/KelRo1/status/172082218041217026

Guest's picture
RJ

I subscribe to Groupon and Living Social deals for the cities that I am going to visit. They have a lot of great deals for restaurants, hotels and awesome touristy things for you to do. For example: You can get a sightseeing tour for half of the price.

Guest's picture
Scott

Couchsurfing.com has been my travel savior, not just in terms of accommodation but in terms of experiencing a destination more intimately. When not traveling, it has been a pleasure to host other couchsurfers coming through town to further explore my own city and to be introduced to different cultures. Of course you don't have the privacy of a typical hotel room, but if you put the time into finding the right host and sending requests in advance it can be a very rewarding travel experience.

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KarenJ

We rent timeshares, so we have access to a kitchen. We bring some of our own food/wine/snacks. We either plan far ahead to take advantage of the best prices, or sometimes wait until the last minute to take advantage of bargains. We do one 7-day trip a year and then take a few 3-4 one to two night getaways, usually driving to destinations within four hours drive. This helps us feel refreshed and reconnected without the expense of a long vacation.

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bettybruin

travel to and from the airport via public transit, most large cities have airport buses or metro that costs only a fraction of the cost of cab fare.

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TrishB

I can't afford to travel, so I stick to places within an hour's drive or so away. Luckily I live somewhere with beaches and state parks nearby.

Guest's picture
Christie

I left a message on Facebook, but there was no post to "like" and comment under that I saw. :) Loving to be frugal!

Guest's picture
Dee Dee

Call hotel directly for best rate, use public transportation and research food options before leaving home.

Guest's picture
ACeeKayWa

One "trick" we use when booking lodging for international travel is to use web sites from WITHIN the country we are traveling to. More than once, we've saved a lot of money from what we would have spent via a USA-based website.

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Aaron L

Bring your own drinks and food for the time spent traveling so you can spend money on food when it counts.

Guest's picture
Aaron L

https://twitter.com/#!/linjiunhan/status/172128645731721217

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Kristin Davis

I do plenty of research before the trip (sometimes that's almost as fun as the trip itself). Hunting for the best hotels on sites like Kayak and Hotels.com, then checking out the hotel's own site because they often have as good or better deals.

Another good lodging option is AirBnB. They connect travelers with folks who have homes or rooms to share. It's often cheaper and nicer. Plus, you get the inside info from someone who knows the area.

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Lynda

i try, with deals, cheaper hotels, coupons, and packages (after research of course)

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Lynda

tweeted https://twitter.com/#!/oshkoshbgosh123/status/172140232811094016

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Lynda

i like wisebread on fb

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Therese

We belong to frequent flyer and preferred hotel guest programs. We also look for deals to see last-minute shows at reduced prices.

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Nicholas

I tend to vacation near friends and family since they offer up their extra rooms for me to stay for free. Then I just do my research and find things that I would like to do and any deals associated with them.

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Nicholas

I've followed and liked wisebread on facebook!

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Guest in CA

In addition to the other tips already mentioned, we either take our own sodas/juices (when driving) or find a local grocery store & buy them & other food there (if flying) rather than paying vending machine prices. If staying at a hotel, we try to find ones that offer a good free breakfast or discounted price at a nearby restaurant. Or, we'll go out for a really great breakfast or lunch & then eat our own food for dinner (breakfast & lunch menus are usually lower-priced than dinner). If we know we'll need more than one hotel room, we'll compare house vacation rental prices to the hotel price to determine which is the better deal.

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Jesse

I stay in hostels or on friends' coaches.

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Alison

One of the easiest things I do when traveling on the cheap is getting taxi transportation outside of the airport grounds. This is easier in some airports than others. Historically, I have found that taxi companies who lease the right to service the airport charge high rates just because they can and because they have a lot of overhead. By walking off the grounds you can often find taxis that are willing to charge you considerably less. I have saved at least half. This is especially helpful in Mexico and other Central/South American countries where you get bombarded by transportation providers as soon as you get out of customs.

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Brad

Drive to Buffalo and fly from there - Cost of flying out of Toronto is astronomical, and far worse than the cost of gas to drive to Buffalo.

Guest's picture

I subscribe to the travel deal sites I trust, and I get deals emailed right to my inbox. I then plan my trip way in advance when there's a sale. The web is a wonderful thing, and if you use it right, you can save tons of money!

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Liked you on Facebook!

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https://twitter.com/#!/missluckybreaks/status/172445880014733313

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MikeL

I try to travel to places where I know someone who will let me stay with them for free.

If I don't know anyone where I am going, I make sure to plan my time around the free things the destination has to offer, such as museums, parks, hiking, and simply exploring the area.

I stay away from shopping centers. Photos and the rocks on the ground are souvenirs enough for me!

Guest's picture
G

I use miles and points to travel cheaply. I recently redeemed points for $804 in airline tickets and $508 in hotel rooms. My wife and I are going to have a luxury vacation at an affordable price--our first nice vacation since our honeymoon almost 4 years ago. I am already blogging about my experiences and I would love to write a guest post. Love the site, by the way! I've just found it.

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Betty

My last trip, my travel agent got me a good deal on hotel and airfare. What saved us a bunch of money was bringing empty reusable water bottles. The two of us can easily drink 12 or more bottles out in the sun. The hotel had an outdoor water cooler that we refilled from.

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Betty

I like you on Facebook.

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Betty

I responded on Twitter. Sorry, I'm having a hard time copying the link on a tablet, but it's from @1bets1. (does that count? lol )

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GM

I carpool- everyone chips in on gas.

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Rebecca B. A. R.

We always use our AAA discount on hotel rooms and always eat the continental breakfast, if they provide one. We don't travel very much. I get homesick after being gone from home for about 3 days, so I guess that saves us money, too!

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Kristina

This summer, we're going to camp out to save money.

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Rachel

To stretch my travel dollars I:
- take advantages of travel opportunities through school (field courses, research projects, conferences) for subsidized travel
- use couchsurfing or stay with friends
- have an ISIC card (international student identity card) - great for free admission
- eat breakfast where I'm staying, before I head out
- stay away from prepackaged trips
- go to places off the beaten paths, where the cost of living is less expensive. Europe is gorgeous, but 1 week in Paris costs about the same as 1 month in Quito, Ecuador

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Rachel

Forgot to add my email address! Whoops! Comment above is by me.

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James

Take your time, hitchhike to take it to another level. Indulge in the local way of life, for example, take a 40 baht public bus in Thailand for a 5 hour trip, or eat from street vendors. Make new friends, have someone to talk to when waiting for someone to hitch a ride from, to share accommodation with, or to show you around if they are from the area!

Also liked on facebook (y)

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Verl

Drive when possible. Bring snacks and a meal or two with us. Use discount hotel websites.

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Raina

I like WiseBread on Facebook.

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Raina

I haven't gotten to travel in a long time, but the last few times I did, my boyfriend at the time paid for everything, which was a great way to save ME money, haha. In the past, I used to spend the night in the airport instead of paying for a hotel.

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Angie W

When travelling frugally, I always book a hotel room with a microwave and refrigerator. I then go to a grocery store and stock up on food that we'll need to eat and store it in the room. It save SO much money to have our own food instead of eating each meal out. The other alternative is to get a vacation rental condo or home. Same thing, just a bit more privacy than a hotel. :)

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Angie W

I like you on facebook

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Cari

To travel frugally:

1. I travel with my mother (only once a year LOL). She has AARP and I have AAA, and between the two of those we save on hotels and dining. We split the costs of everything, so it comes out cheaper than if traveling by myself. We bring snacks and nonperishable food and only eat out once a day.

2. Have a state park as my destination. Many of the Texas parks have cabins, and all have some type of camping facilities. The limited use cabins are cheap and always close to restrooms/showers. The parks themselves have hiking trails, some have lakes, and all have fresh air and quiet peaceful surroundings.

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LMR

If your trip involves arriving by air and no car rental, instead of a cab, consider SuperShuttle or a similar service (usually located in the luggage claim area) from the airport to your hotel or cruise terminal.
Many hotels have free vans that pick you up at the airport and will take you to the pier at little or no charge if you are a guest of their facility. And rental car companies sometimes have pier drop-offs, if you do opt for a car rental.
Additionally, many cruise companies offer before and after items (hotels, tours, etc.) to complete your package. Ask your agent what's available once you settle on a cruise line.
If you're traveling to a city for the first time, consider a half-day or 1-day tour soon after your arrival. They are often very reasonably priced, cover all the main attractions, and often include extremely knowledgeable guides. Then you can spend remaining vacation days revisiting those sites in depth at your leisure.

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lsharp

Packing lunch every morning before we head out, whether it is the beach, lake, or biking. It gives us the flexiblity to just eat when we want and not have look around for somewhere to eat in the middle of the day. For a family of five, we also like to save the big "eating out" meal for breakfast. We never go out to breakfast at home, so it is a big treat when on vacation.

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cwaltz

I save up my Subway points throughout the year for our annual vacation and I use gift cards I earn through points program. We usually go during the week rather than the weekend to save money on hotels and avoid crowds. It also saves money because at least one of our meals is pizza(usually they run deals on pizza during weekdays.)

Christine

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Nancy C.

I subscribe to airline newsletters to find out about special airfare sales. Also, when flying, I carry a water bottle that I can fill at a water fountain and I pack my meal/snacks. Keeps en route travel costs low. Recently, I learned that some hotels will allow you to park long term for a small daily fee, assuming you're a paying guest. Significantly cheaper than long term parking lots.

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Carmen

We don't travel much, but did just a couple weeks ago. I did some comparison shopping for airlines and went for the best price. Fortunately we didn't need a hotel.

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Carmen

I like you on Facebook

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Phoenix

I take public transit when traveling as much as I can rather than taxis, rental cars or shuttles. Along with saving money, it's a good way to get to know new places.

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Phoenix

I liked you on Facebook.

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Jennifer

We do our research way in advance so we know how much the total trip will cost us, then save every penny of it before we leave home. That way we aren't tempted to rack up debt on credit cards! We also rent homes that have full kitchens where we can prepare all of our own meals and just go out for one nice dinner. Airbnb.com is a great resource for home rentals. And we takes lots of pictures and collect things that are free - like shells, for instance - as our souvenirs instead of buying things.

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Rissa

We camp 99% of the time and cook our own meals 95% of the time. We tend to stock up on the majority of the food at the beginning of the trip where we know there are cheap stores, like Trader Joes, and then only have to restock or pick up perishables as the trip progresses.