Tuesday, April 17, 2012

SAVING MONEY WHILE ON THE TRIP, GETTING THERE

April 17, 2012
Sorry for the long delay in getting this post up life has been just that life. 
We generally drive to Walt Disney World from Oklahoma because we prefer our camper and staying in Ft. Wilderness.  We have found that the cost of driving, for two of us, is almost identical to the cost of flying two of down.  However, when my son travels with us it is definitely cheaper to drive, because of the way we do it.
There is a type of camping called “boondocking”  I’ve wrote about it in my travel blogs previously, but for those of you who haven’t read those blogs a brief description is you sleep in your camper in a Wal-Mart, Cracker Barrel or other compatible parking lots for free.  These lots are generally well lit and have a security patrol.  Not to mention they are generally right at the exits from major highways and therefore give you easy on easy off access.
The companies benefit from your staying so it is the proverbial win-win for all involved.  How do the companies benefit?  You stop and sleep in a Wal-Mart parking lot are you not going to go into the store to at least use the restroom, are you going to look around and maybe buy something?  You buy something they benefit. I often wait to purchase things like bread and other perishables for the trip until we stop at a Wal-Mart to boondock.  That way I’m not paying “extra” but they are benefitting from my sleeping in their parking lot. It is my way of saying thank you for the use of a safe place to sleep.
The main thing to do is check ahead of time if the store allows it.  Most 24 hour Wal-Marts do, but not all.  Some states prohibit it and of course stores near large amusement centers forbid it.  One Wal-Mart we generally stop at on our way to WDW does not allow overnight  camping in their parking lot, HOWEVER, the Sam’s Club next door does.  It all has to do parking space availability. There are lists on Wal-Mart RVing, boondocking and such on yahoogroups.  Many camping groups discuss this periodically too.  They will often have lists of where you can and can’t stay in their files.  If in doubt call the store ahead of time.  We’ve even stayed in lots that we’ve been previously been told weren’t available simply because I called and the manager agrees to let us do so that one night.  Helpful hint: if you purchase your Rand McNally large road atlas from Wal-Mart or Sam’s club they have a chart in them that show where the Wal-Mart’s and Sam’s are.  This chart has if they have fuel and if so what types, if they are open 24 hours and of course where they are located.  EXTREMELY helpful  when boondocking.
Please remember to not abuse this privilege.  This is strictly a pull in and sleep situation, not a camping location.  Don’t pull out the charcoal grill, set up the lawn chairs and run out the awnings.  It is for sleeping one night only. 
Also do not block any drives or delivery areas.  Note where the semis will be coming in to make their deliveries and do not cause them any problems.
We generally pull in just before dark and park on the outer rim of the lot.  Normally we don’t even run the slides out because we are just there to sleep.  But if there is a reason that we need to run the slides out we park where our slides are out over the grass at the edge of the lot, not into the lot.  Such times would be, someone forgot to plan their wardrobe for the trip down where they would not have to get into the drawers that are blocked when the slides are in  and suddenly find themselves in urgent need of clean underwear or socks.  Once the items are retrieved from the drawers we run the slides back in.  We want to cause as little chaos as possible for the stores that are so generous about letting us sleep there for free. We also seldom disconnect unless there is a reason we truly NEED the truck to be free and clear of the fifth wheel.
You can also sometimes pay a small fee to sleep in hospital parking lots.  One trip we slept at a fair grounds for next to nothing.  We’ve also slept at truck stops (very noisy with the semis there), rest areas on the highway (not recommended, but if you are very drowsy far better than having a wreck) and many other spots.  Safety is your first consideration, so we generally go with the Wal-Marts that we know have night time security patrol.
If you feel the need to camp in a real campground instead of boondocking then look into the National Parks Pass to stay for half price in the National Parks and Corp of Engineer parks.  If someone in your party is over 62 this pass will cost you $10 for a lifetime.  If you are under 62 the price is much higher and an annual cost.  I’ve written more about the America the Beautiful Park Pass in previous posts. 
If the National Parks pass won’t work for you then look into acquiring a KOA or Good Sam’s (not Sam’s club) card for discounts at their campgrounds.  Both give discounts and/or free nights camping. 
Whether it is the Parks pass or the campground discount cards you need to weigh the price of the card against the savings you will reap for the trip both to and from the World.  Sometimes it will not pay for itself.
Camping not your cuppa?  Many hotels have discount/loyalty cards as well. Check those out.  Also many charge cards have discounts for certain hotels, as does AAA, AARP, and insurance cards.
Also check into discount websites like Expedia or Travelocity for discounts on hotels as well.
Flying?  If you can’t get someone to take you the airport, then check the yellow pages, your insurance company and all the organizations like AAA you belong to for discounted airport parking. 
When we are driving down we also travel with X amount of cash with us, because there are many fuel stations that have gas as much as $.12 a gallon cheaper if you pay cash.  Since we do not use charge cards any longer it’s not a problem for us.  Some stations will consider a debit card cash, others consider them a credit card.  Most places, in the past, considered travelers checks cash, but now many places will not even accept them.  So cash in hand is the best option for us.  We divide the cash up to avoid a major loss/theft in various places.  We use the debit card on the special travel checking account we have when we can and still get the cash discount, but otherwise we pay with cash.

By a special account I mean that is all we use this account for.  We put the vacation money in that account prior to leaving and that’s all that ever goes into this account.  It is at an entirely different bank than our household budget account, so if some evil person steals that card, or hacks into the account they will not be able to access ALL our money.
As we travel we eat a lot of cold meals at the camper in parking lots and rest areas.  We will generally, however, have one hot meal a day at a fast food place that has a very large parking lot nearby that we can park the fifth wheel  in and walk to the food establishment.  This has been included in our trip food budget.  I’ve also been know in the past to heat foods in the sun on the dashboard in a food saver vacuum sealed bag, or wrapped in foil placed on the hot truck engine.  Whether we dine out or heat in this manner we have at least one hot meal a day while traveling.  It just boosts the morale.
Remember the mypoints I mentioned in the last post on this subject?  Those gift cards you get from mypoints can be used to pay for your fuel or for that hot meal each day.  That’s free money for your trip.
If you are traveling with children another thing to consider is the “are we there yet?” syndrome.  Kids get bored quickly.  Download audiobooks from the library for free for them to listen to, if you have a travel dvd player record movies for it long before leaving, also free from the library—I recommend Disney movies to set the mood.
Various travel games, a road map they can write on and follow the route on that is all their own is good as well. You can get free maps from AAA if you belong to them.
My son recently told me one of his favorite things while traveling on the long trips as a kid was “the rest area box”.  This was a box that contained things like jump ropes, Frisbies, balls, sidewalk chalk for hop scotch and such.  It only came out of the trunk when we stopped at rest areas.  The kids were REQUIRED to choose an activity from the box and do it. Like jump rope all the way around the picnic area, play a game of hop scotch or something similar while I laid out the lunch stuff.  Afterwards Mom and Dad would play catch or throw the Frisbie with them for awhile.  While this adds a bit of time to the length of the trip, it adds a LOT of quiet to the car/truck as you get back on the road.  Quiet is PRICELESS!
We also schedule stops along the way both to and from the resorts, especially on the way home.  It helps to ease the let down of the trip of a lifetime being over. Of course we watch for discounts for these stops as well. 
One of our constant travel companions is the AAA Tourbooks for the areas we are traveling through.  Often there are free or nearly free sites listed in the books that can be truly interesting.  On our Mt. Rushmore trip we found many interesting FREE sites.  I was always a “Little House on the Prairie” books/tv show fan so discovering I could visit reconstructed locations where the books took place was fun for me.  Large sculptures along the roadside were another favorite, as was Walls Drug.  If you do not belong to AAA, which I highly recommend you do if you travel any at all, then perhaps you have a friend or family member that could pick these up for you for free.
On the Disney trips we stop at the beach where Jaws was filmed, Civil War battle fields and graveyards to research the family genealogy.  These are generally free or we find discounts (like the National Parks Pass) for the places we stop.  Even driving out over the ocean on a very long bridge just to see what we could see is fun.  If the budget allows we might stop in Gulfport, MS and go on a submarine tour.  Whatever we do, we always include these stops to help break the travel up.
I am certain there are more ways to save on the travel part.  I’m definitely open for suggestions from all you kind folks.  Thanks for your continued reading.
Jan who can’t wait to be back on the road to Walt Disney World from OK.

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