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How to get out of town for a long weekend on the cheap

A vacation is always nice, but it’s no longer just my daughter and me.

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A vacation is always nice, but it’s no longer just my daughter and me. Now that I’ve blended families with my boyfriend — which means three kids — we sometimes have to settle for taking a road trip and keeping travel low-key. I’ve already learned that there are plenty of ways to make taking trips a less stressful, but what about making them a lot less expensive?

Sometimes I like to just pick a place that’s a couple hours away, get in the car with my boyfriend and the girls, and drive somewhere for a mini road trip. Unfortunately, this isn’t as inexpensive as I had imagined it would be. The last time we took long drive, I was appalled at the amount of money we spent just getting to our destination. Between gas and snacks alone, I was already too many dollars in the hole. The beauty of driving should be that you aren’t paying crazy prices for flights or stuck eating disgusting, microwaved food — and of course that you get to lounge comfortably listening to whatever you want, and that you can stop to use a real washroom whenever you’re so inclined. But my weekend getaway cost a lot more than I anticipated.

So for all of you planning to travel on the long weekend — by car — here’s what has helped me and my loved ones.

1. Be prepared: Buying snacks and food along the way costs lot more than preparing a cooler in advance. Try shopping in bulk to get the most out of every penny. Stores like Costco are perfect for this — with five people to feed, I spend a lot of time there — and whatever you don’t bring along can be kept at home for next time. Between bottles of water and treats, you’ll already be saving a lot of money.

2. Get a rewards card: Gas costs can add up quickly, so look into cards like the TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express. They offer two-percent cash back for gas, which will make road trips a lot more worthwhile. And for someone like me who has a large, busy family that drives so much — multiple dance classes a week, soccer and hockey games, visiting family and friends, and now letting my significant other use the car — we go through gas like it’s going out of style. This type of credit card will really make a difference at the end of each month, let alone each year.

3. Stay with friends and family: We underestimate the value of spending time with those closest to us. We may think that vacations are meant to be spent on a beach or in a swanky hotel, sometimes the best type of trip is the one that allows you to simply get away from work and the daily grind. Not only is it great to catch up with family and friends, it’s also a really smart way to save money on accommodations. Next time you’re invited to your pal’s cottage, say yes!

4. Sometimes you spend money to make money: That old saying doesn’t just apply to business anymore. With the right system in place, you can make money while you spend it. You might be spending money along the way on things like stopping at restaurants, but with a credit card like the TrueEarnings Card you earn three-percent cash back on these purchases so you’re accumulating money for the next trip you want to take.

5. Bring your own entertainment: We all have books, CDs, DVDs, iPods, games, puzzles, etc. stored away somewhere at home — instead of spending money on things to keep you occupied when you arrive at your destination, just bring your own stuff. Especially on road trips, there is usually lots of room in the car to keep extra stuff you might want so bring it along.

What are your tips for long weekend travel on the cheap? Share!

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