Friday, November 21, 2008

Recession Travel Opportunities: Part One - Getting There By Car

by Anson Werner

During this current recession, many people are postponing and canceling vacations, for fear of the future economic conditions. But many of us still need some time away from home - a break from the everyday. There is so much information that I need to share with you on this topic, so this article is being presented in two parts: "getting there by car" and "airplane travel".

Pick A Destination That Is A Comfortable Drive Away

Before we had children, my wife and I would travel every summer to visit her distant family members, 500 miles away. We would make that drive in a day, spending about ten hours on the road, with an hour layover for lunch at the midpoint of our journey. Since having the children, we have only made that drive twice, both times staying in a hotel overnight at the halfway point of our journey. It is just really tough to expect a child to endure a ten-hour road trip.

Since those earlier experiences with the children, we have opted to keep our road trips to no more than one-day's driving. If we want to make the trip to visit my wife's family, we opt for either a RV rental or an airplane ride. Given the hyper energy of our children, the RV rental provided the better option, since the two hours early requirement of air travel security forces us to try to tie down the kids for long periods of time anyway.

Given where we live, five hours drive time gives us the option of about seven major metropolitans we can visit by car. Interestingly, the need to find restrooms for the children, along the main thoroughfares in our travel routes, has permitted us to discover interesting destinations that we used to overlook in our earlier travels.

When I was young, my father was a master of this kind of travel. In his job, he was a route supervisor for a major food company. In his journeys around our state and neighboring states, he was able to locate interesting destinations during his work travels. He would then document these locations and build family vacations around these off-the-beaten-track tourism destinations.

On one such vacation, we visited a sod house in the Great Plains of North America. Ironically, I remember the destination more for his silly joke, than for the house itself. He told me of a man, who had built a sod house for his family. He said he built the house, and for the longest time, his wife complained that he was only able to build a house that was dark and dank. He said that finally a door-to-door salesman arrived to sell them a solution to their problem. Then my dad asked me what the couple bought. I did not know. My dad told me that the salesman had sold them windows for their home, and then my dad laughed hysterically.

Food On The Road

My wife and I ate out yesterday for lunch, and we dropped $25 plus tip on our meal. Even in today's higher food price environment, we can feed all three kids and ourselves for three days with the same $25, if we opt for lunch meat, cheese and bread from our ice chest.

Even if you are taking the kids to McDonald's for a quick meal, you are likely to be out $15 per meal, at this recession-friendly restaurant.

Given the fact that your kids need to eat three meals per day, plus snacks, any travel of any length could eventually cost you a lot of money, if you choose to take every meal in a restaurant.

If you plan to stay at a hotel while on the road, see if you can find hotels that offer continental breakfasts, as that can help you to reduce your food costs by one more meal per day. Many hotel restaurants and other restaurants are offering, "Kids eat free" to get customers into the door. Seek these businesses out, to save even more money, during your travels.

Take Advantage Of Tourism And Shopping Coupons

There are a number of sources available to help people get all the discount coupons they need to help their dollar go further. Are you familiar with the discount coupon books available in your hometown? If so, it helps to remember that these are available in most every city in the nation. Here is a list of such coupon sources:

 * Entertainment Coupons (, searchable by city or zip code. Entertainment coupons can help you: save money on restaurant dining (with 50% off coupons and 2 for the price of one offers); hotel, car rental and airline discounts; discount tickets for movies, sporting events, concerts, and plays; shopping discounts and more.

 * Convention and Visitor Bureaus - CVB's play an important role in the tourism industry, helping local businesses to attract new customers. To help local providers, they offer information about local businesses and frequently discount packages and coupons for those businesses.

 * Join American Automotive Association - (AAA). A standard Triple A membership costs only $59 per year. Major hotel chains, such as Hyatt, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, and even Disney properties, frequently offer a 20% discount to AAA members. AAA membership also provides a 10% discount at many restaurant chains, including Hard Rock CafĂ© and Pizza Hut. If you have these restaurant chains in your neighborhood, you could use your AAA membership year-around. Travel transportation companies such as Amtrak, the Grand Canyon Railway, and Hertz rental cars also offer discounts to AAA members.

 * When you rent your hotel room, be sure to ask the hotel proprietor if they offer any package deals for discount tickets to amusement parks or other local attractions. You might be surprised how much extended value your hotel can provide you during your vacation.

Choosing The Best Hotel Value

As mentioned in the previous section, many hotels have package deals with amusement parks and other local tourism attractions. Be sure to ask what may be available.

Also mentioned previously, many hotels offer continental breakfasts and some offer, "kids eat free" to guests who choose to dine in their restaurant.

Hotels make money, helping heads find pillows. When hotels are doing well, they typically enjoy a 95%-98% occupancy rate. But during our current recession cycle, most hotels are struggling with occupancy rates in the range of 60%-65%. When hotels are struggling to fill beds, the hotel's management is more inclined to negotiate special deals to get rooms sold.

If you are willing to indicate a desire to shop around, most hotel proprietors may be willing to negotiate a better price for the rooms they have open. Some may not be willing to lower their price, but they may be willing to sweeten the deal, offering extra amenities to guests who ask, such as additional discounts for meals or other free extras that will make their rooms more attractive to potential guests. You will never know if you can get a better deal, unless you are willing to ask.

This information is also very useful for anyone traveling during off-peak seasons. Anytime a hotel is experiencing low-occupancy rates, the hotel's managers will be more inclined to negotiate to fill a room.

Sometimes the extra amenities offered by hotels will make the stay extremely worthwhile. For example, a hotel that offers an indoor heated swimming pool or hot tub may provide more enjoyment for your family, during its stay, than the hotel down the street that offers a room for a few dollars less.

When hitting the hotel at the beach, your hotel may charge an extra fee (as much as $25) for beach chairs and an umbrella, while the hotel down the road will only charge a few bucks more for the room and provide chairs and an umbrella at no additional cost. Always ask what kinds of free amenities and the cost of extra amenities a hotel may offer, when inquiring about the price. When you are able to compare apples-to-apples and oranges-to-oranges, you will be able to make better decisions about who offers the best bang for your limited vacation dollars.

Beyond Hotels

Many vacation deals are available to those people who are willing to shop outside the box. The Internet provides ample opportunity to seek out new ways to benefit from travel deals, during a recession and during boom times. Many travel related websites offer mailing lists, through which they offer special deals to members.

Many state parks offer cabin rentals, which we have taken advantage of in recent years.

Other vacation rentals may include Bed And Breakfast establishments, located in many small towns and large metros around the country. Many B&B's prefer renting to couples, but there are some out there that offer family vacation deals.

What To Expect In Part Two

In part two of this article, we will be discussing tips for saving money with travel, when you travel far enough from home to need to use an airplane to reach your destination.

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