7 Tips for a Budget-Friendly Road Trip

With many indoor attractions still closed or operating only at a limited capacity, there’s never been a better time to pack up the car, RV or camper van and set out on the road trip of a lifetime. However, without careful planning, a road trip can get pricey, especially with soaring gas prices and the rising costs of food. For this reason, we’ve put together seven solid tips for a budget-friendly road trip. This should help you hit the road in style without breaking your budget.

1. Save on food costs 

Food can quickly turn into the biggest expense of your trip unless you plan ahead. And no, this doesn’t mean dining only on canned baked beans or instant soups for the duration of your trip. Here’s how to save on food costs during your road trip: 

  • Stock up on staples while at home. Shop your local stores for basics before setting out. Once you’re on the road, you won’t have as many choices for food shopping, which may stimulate overspending. 
  • Get your “kitchen” into gear. Unless you’re road-tripping in an RV or camper van that comes with a fully equipped kitchen, you’ll need to gear up for basic food prep on your trip. A good knife, cutting board and small cooking appliances, like a portable grill, panini maker and plug-in burner, can be great starting points. 
  • Plan a mix of meal types. You likely want to eat some meals out during your trip, but overdoing the dining out will quickly kill your budget. Instead, mix it up, alternating between home-cooked meals, dining out on fine cuisine and tasting local street foods. 
  • Only eat out at places you don’t have at home. For further savings, save the dining out for delicacies that are unique to your current location. Think fresh seafood on the Oregon coast, authentic Korean food in K-Town of Los Angeles or Cajun food in New Orleans.

2. Camp out instead of sleeping in hotels

Sleeping under the stars whenever possible will add another layer of awesome to your trip. Check out recreation.gov, where you can book accomodations at 3,600 facilities and 103,000 individual sites across the country. Lots of camping spots will run just $20 a night.

3. Find free attractions

Who says you need to pay for your fun or it doesn’t count? Most tourist hotspots will have a wide selection of free activities and sights to see at no cost, like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and city street art in Pittsburgh, PA. Check out local websites or ask around on the street to find the best-kept secrets at each location. 

4. Map out your route for greater savings

Instead of blowing money on gas, create a detailed schedule of all your stops before setting out, choosing the most efficient and inexpensive route. Look up local attractions in the areas you plan to stop at to book reservations in advance when possible. In many places, you can save a tidy bundle of cash just by pre-booking. Also, keep in mind that many attractions still require reservations as a COVID-19 precaution, so be sure to plan accordingly. 

5. Download GasBuddy

With gas prices hitting $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, your car’s tank can take a huge chunk out of your road trip budget. Download the Gas Buddy app before hitting the road to find the stations selling the cheapest gas throughout your journey. You can save hundreds of dollars on gas costs by leveraging this game-changing app.

6. Check in on a Sunday

For those nights when you must have a hot shower and comfortable bed, you’ll likely be checking into a hotel. If you can swing it, check in on a Sunday. According to a study conducted by the travel app Kayak, hotel reservations are at their lowest rates on Sundays. 

7. Explore more and drive less

Hit the brakes and get out of the car! Spend some time covering miles on foot by hiking through local trails or even backpacking through city streets. You’ll enjoy an enriching experience and save on gas costs at the same time. 

Your Turn: Do you have more tips for budget-friendly road trips? Share them with us in the comments. 

Scam Free Summer

Hello, summer! It’s the season of flip-flops and ice pops, of sun-drenched afternoons and lazy days at the beach. And, unfortunately, summertime is also prime time for scammers. People are more relaxed, schedules are looser and vacationers are traveling in unfamiliar locations. All of this can lead people to let their guard down during the summer, and the scammers know it. 

Don’t get scammed this summer! Follow these tips to stay safe. 

1. Never pay for a “prize” vacation

So you won an all-expense-paid trip to Aruba? Or a vacay in a remote French chalet? Sounds like a dream come true, but if you follow through, you’ll be caught up in a nightmare.  If you’re asked to pay even a small fee to claim a free vacation prize, you’re looking at a scam. A legitimate company will never ask winners to pay a fee for a prize.

2. Use a credit card when traveling

A credit card will offer you the most protection in case something goes wrong. You’ll be able to dispute unauthorized charges, and in most cases, reclaim your lost funds.

3. Ignore celebrity messages

Celebrities might have a direct line with the public through their social media platforms, but don’t believe a private message appearing to be from your favorite movie star, singer or athlete. A direct message from a celeb asking for money for a charity, or claiming you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a processing fee, is a scam.

4. Check for skimmers at the pump

If you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road this summer, and pumping gas in unfamiliar places, it’s a good idea to check the card reader for skimmers before going ahead with your transaction. A card skimmer will read your credit or debit card information, enabling a scammer to empty your accounts. Here’s how to check for a skimmer on a card reader:

  • Try to wiggle the card reader; this should dislodge a skimmer if there is one. 
  • Check the keypad to see if it looks newer than the rest of the card reader.
  • Touch the surface of the keypad to see if it’s raised.

5. Research vacation rentals carefully before booking

With so many vacationers now booking stays at private homes instead of hotels, scamming travelers is easy. All it takes is a few fake photos, a bogus address, and you’ve got yourself a fake vacation rental. In other vacation rental scams, scammers will falsely advertise a rental as a beachfront property when it’s not, claim that it’s larger or more up-to-date than it is or promise amenities that are missing when you arrive. 

Don’t get scammed! Before booking a vacation rental, read the reviews left by previous guests. If there aren’t any, or they don’t sound authentic, you’re likely looking at a scam. You can also look up the address of the rental to see if it in fact exists and if the location matches the description in the listing. As another precaution, you can ask the owner for more details about the property just to see their reaction; if they sound vague or uneasy, it’s likely a scam. Finally, as mentioned above, use a credit card to pay for the stay so you can dispute the charges if it ends up being a scam.

6. Vet potential contractors well

Contractors who go from door-to-door looking for work are a fairly common summertime sight. Unfortunately, though, some of these “contractors” are actually scammers who are only looking to con innocent homeowners out of their money. They’ll deliver shoddy work at an inflated price, go AWOL once a down payment on the job’s been made or do more harm than good with their “home improvement” work.

It’s best to only hire contractors whom you’ve personally reached out to instead of waiting for one to come knocking on your door. Also, before hiring, thoroughly research a potential contractor, asking for contact info of previous clients, checking out their online presence and looking up the business on the BBB website. Finally, it’s best not to agree to pay more than a third of the total cost of a job before the work commences. Even then, only pay when you see the materials arrive. 

Don’t let summertime turn into scam-time. Stay alert, follow the tips outlined above, and stay safe!

Your Turn: What are your tips for a scam-free summer? Share them with us in the comments. 

Tracking Holiday Spending Keeps Seasonal Stress Down

Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing your loved ones’ faces light up when they open that perfect gift you (err, Santa) gave them.

Tyler’s new bike, Olivia’s new tablet and that gift card to mom and dad’s favorite steak place all add up to wonderful holiday memories… until the credit card statements show up.

The holidays will look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is why most people will try even harder to make the season brighter for others. But, you don’t have to dip into Tyler and Olivia’s college savings to create a special time for everyone!

The most important thing to remember is to plan ahead: Have a set spending amount for gifts, wrap, entertaining, donations and travel.

Make a list and check it twice

Many are struggling financially this year, so it will be no surprise to those outside your family if your gift-recipient list is shorter this year. Once you trim your list, make a holiday treat or handmade token for those who got the cut. It really IS the thought that counts.

Once you have your list complete, figure out a realistic amount to spend on each person. Jot down a couple of gift ideas in your price range for that person.

Try a budgeting app like Mint to keep your spending in check. You can use Mint for regular monthly budgeting, but it also allows you to allocate more funds for holiday purchases. Using graphs and reports, it shows how much you’ve spent and how it will affect your budget in the months to come.

The iSpending app uses charts to show your expenses and how much you have left to spend, while CashTrails allows you to separate your normal expenditures from special purchases like holidays and travel.

Shopping

Due to the pandemic, holiday shopping is already in full swing. Most people want to avoid crowds, so they are already hitting the malls. Retailers are well aware of this trend, and are offering pre-Black Friday sales and discounts.

Spreading out your holiday shopping over several weeks also makes it easier on your budget. Always shop with a list and keep track of your spending. As you buy your gifts, subtract from your total budget.

In addition to shopping the sales and collecting coupon codes for online purchases, know when to buy. December is the best time to buy cars, appliances, winter clothing and electronics. Also, know how much items cost before a markdown to know if you’re really getting a deal.

It is expected that online shopping will increase by 35% this year because shoppers don’t feel comfortable being in stores. Some states still have restrictions limiting retail establishments’ capacity and store hours.

If you’re shopping online, order early and expect delays in shipping. Increased shopping during the holidays will affect already-strained delivery companies. To avoid shipping delays and higher shipping costs, shop at stores that offer “buy online, ship to store” service. This service is free at most retailers, some of which offer curbside pickup.

Get the best deals on cards, decorations and gift wrap during the days right before and after Christmas. Discounts of up to 75% off can shave a lot off your holiday budget for next year.

Entertaining

Still reeling from the pandemic, most folks will host smaller holiday gatherings this year, which will save tons on food, treats and adult beverages. Many people are still working from home, so work parties and gift exchanges also will be virtual or postponed, keeping cash in your wallet.

If you’re hosting guests, keep costs down by asking everyone to bring their favorite side or dessert and include festive recipe cards with the chef’s name.

For the adults, serve a warm mulled wine or holiday punch or make one festive signature cocktail.

Use DIY decor featuring natural items, like holly and pine cones. Gather the kids and go on a hike to find outdoor holiday decorations. Not only will it save you money, but it will also give you some stress-free outdoor time with your family.

Save more by partying without plastic. Disposable plates and dinnerware are not great for the environment or your budget.

Travel

If you must travel home for the holidays, don’t forget to figure in other incidentals beyond gasoline and the cost of a plane ticket.

If you’re traveling by car, gas prices have luckily seen a steady dip. Still, the GasBuddy app can help you find the best prices for gasoline wherever you are, and you can even pay from the app. Don’t forget to figure in tolls and any emergency costs that may come up.

If you’re flying, consider baggage fees, parking and shuttle costs and the expense of ground transportation once you arrive.

And don’t forget Fluffy! You’ll need to pay someone to take care of your furry friends. The Rover app can help you find pet care options near your home.

Charitable giving

The holidays are a time for goodwill toward all. But if your budget cannot accommodate a monetary donation, volunteer your time. If you are able to make a financial donation, be sure to check that the charity you are supporting is legitimate by consulting Charity Navigator.

Keep your holidays dollars in check, and you may have some holiday spirit left over even after the last elf is packed away and the January bills start rolling in.

We at Advantage One Credit Union wish you all a happy, healthy and stress-free holiday.

Your turn: What are your best tips for sticking to your holiday spending plan?

Learn More:
forbes.com
thebalance.com
mentalfloss.com
hgtv.ca
gasbuddy.com
www.moneycrashers

Travel Planning Apps

person holding a smart phoneWith summer beckoning, you can’t ignore the call of the open road and the foaming ocean waves for much longer.

Are you tediously sifting through dozens of travel sites for the best prices on flights, car rentals and hotel rooms?

Hold up! Before you book anything, check out our list of travel-planning apps. With just one free download, you’ll have all the info you need at your fingertips.

Kayak logoKayak
Kayak is a favorite among vacation-goers – and with its super convenient features and easy-to-use interface, that comes as no surprise.

The travel planning app takes the stress out of your vacation by searching hundreds of travel sites until it finds the best prices on flights, car rentals and hotel stays. It also offers up exclusive deals you’ll only see on Kayak to help you save even more.

Not sure if you should book now or wait until the price drops further? Enter Kayak’s Price Forecast! This nifty feature takes a peek at what the price for your hotel room, car rental or flight will look like a week from now – or a month from today. This way, you can decide if you should grab the deal now, or wait. The app will notify you when the price on a booking you’re interested in has dropped so you can seal the deal while it’s still live.

  • Best features
    Kayak helps you plan your trip beyond the booking by letting you see important details, like your flight confirmation number and boarding gate, at a glance. You can also opt to get automatic updates on your flight statuses so you know about any delays before you set out on your trip. No more camping out at the airport!
  • Glaring glitches
    While Kayak does a fantastic job at providing you with details about flights, cars and hotel stays, you can’t actually book anything through the app. Instead, you’ll need to click on the embedded links to make your trip happen.

Hopper logoHopper
Are you ready to save up to 40 percent on your next flight? Then you might be ready to download Hopper.

Hopper brings sophisticated algorithms to the big wide world of air travel. The app has built an enormous database of billions of airline prices and flight trends to accurately predict when flight prices to any given location will be at their lowest. Hopper can also tell you when the price on any flight is likely to change, and the best time to buy a ticket for a specific date of travel and destination. And, it’s not just lucky guessing: Hopper prides itself on being accurate 95 percent of the time.

You can search the app for flights to your chosen destination and then choose to be notified if the price drops or rises so you can book when it’s cheapest.

  • Best Features
    Hopper prides itself on being your all-in-one airline travel app. Save your payment details on the app, and when your flight of choice is at its lowest price, you can book your flight in under 60 seconds. How’s that for convenience?
  • Glaring Glitches
    Hopper is a strictly airline travel-only app. You won’t be able to search for hotel stays, car rentals, or any entertainment avenues via Hopper.

Hipmunk logoHipmunk
What do you get when you take a bit of every travel-planning app and put it all together? Hipmunk, of course!

The Hipmunk app offers up a fast and easy way to plan your next getaway. With a powerful search engine that covers commercial airline flights, charter flights, train routes, hotel stays and vacation rentals, you can plan your entire trip in minutes. With just a few swipes, you’ll bring up prices from the best travels sites so you can comparison shop for the cheapest rates.

Air travel is about more than prices, though. To that end, Hipmunk flight searches include an “agony index” which measures factors like flight duration, stopovers and more.

  • Best Features
    Hipmunk lets you cash in on last-minute deals by letting you know about hot prices on hotel reservations near your vacation destination in real time. You can also relax to the max by checking out the app’s list of shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues near your hotel or vacation rental. It’s truly an all-in-one vacation app!
  • Glaring Glitches
    You can’t book anything through Hipmunk; you can only search for prices. Hipmunk also can’t predict when prices will drop for any given flight.

How they stack upApplication Feature Chart

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite app to help hack your travel planning? Tell us all about it in the comments!

SOURCES:
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/best-travel-apps/amp/

https://www.tomsguide.com/us/pictures-story/491-best-travel-apps.html

https://support.hopper.com/hc/en-us/articles/215153748-About-Hopper

https://www.kayak.com/mobile

https://www.hipmunk.com/about

Traveling with Cards

The last thing you think about doing as you’re getting ready to leave for a trip is calling the credit union. It may seem like an odd thing to do, but it really is something that should go on your to do list before you leave for any trip. The reason is that it can help ensure that your debit and credit Cardscards will work when you reach your destination.

The geographic area where your card is active is something that is tracked. When card purchases suddenly show up across the country, or in areas that are far away from where you usually make purchases, it can appear as if your card has been compromised. When atypical card usage is noted, an alert is generated, and many times a hold will be placed on the card. Then we have to get in contact with you to confirm that you were the one making the purchases before regular usage of the card can resume. Obviously that can be a major inconvenience for you, which is the last thing you, or we, want to have happen, especially while your on a trip.

Fortunately, this whole situation is easily avoided by a making a quick phone call. Simply let us know when you plan on using your card far from home and we’ll note it. That lets us protect your account and makes sure that you can use your card when and where you wish without any annoying interruptions.

This leads into one other important habit that you should get into with everyone that you have a card from. That habit is to make sure that your contact information is accurate. In the event that we do receive an alert and put a hold on your card, we need to know how to get in touch with you. So, the next time you’re in one of our lobbies, simply ask to have the teller review the contact information on file. Or give one of our friendly call center reps a call. Any of them are happy to update your information so that we can get in touch with you in case of emergency.

Finally, it’s also always a good idea to have at least a bit of cash, or traveler’s checks, on hand in addition to any cards you may plan on using. That way, if something does happen, whether it’s a disabled or broken card or simply non-functioning ATMs at your destination, you’re covered. Following these simple tips can make traveling a lot less stressful and ensure that you have a good trip.

We love to get feedback from our readers, so feel free to comment. We’ll do our best to answer any questions you may have. Got a topic you’d like us to cover? A question that you’d like to have answered? Comment or shoot us an email!