Transportation — Both Expensive *and* Cheap!

by Katy on April 2, 2014 · 15 comments

Bolt Bus

However much effort you put into frugal traveling, there are simply some areas where you overspend. (Okay, okay . . . I guess you could hitchhike to go camping, but that’s simply not my family’s style of vacation.) You can put a full effort into eating frugally and staying away from buying stuff, but some categories simply defy frugality.



Although the Portland to Washington D.C. tickets for my husband and myself were free, we did have to pay for our sons. And at $588 apiece, the tickets packed a real wallop. (Thanks, spring break!) I balanced this by booking $17 Bolt Bus tickets from Washington D.C. to New York City. Unfortunately, I accidentally booked them from NYC -> D.C., and it took a $12 rebooking fee to fix that mess. And then it turned out that my husband had an appointment to meet with Congressman Blumenauer late on Wednesday, so I had to change the tickets again.

Boom . . . another $12!

My husband was extremely suspicious of my cheap bus plan, but he ended up being completely satisfied with the experience. However, he later looked up reviews, got scared about the return trip to D.C., (Flying in and out of D.C. saved us around $400 per ticket vs. flying out of NYC.) and booked us a rental car. And suddenly our return to D.C. went from $68 to $200 by the time rental fees, tolls and gasoline were added. Not to mention the stress of finding a gas station in D.C. and the rental car return place which turned out not to be at the airport.

While in New York, we exclusively took the subway. However, the days of $1 tokens are a thing of the past, and $2.50 on a Metro Card is the new game. (Shows how long ago I lived in NYC!) My sister briefly burst my bubble by saying we should have bought 7-day unlimited Metro Cards, but since that would have set us back $120, such was not the case.

We took 32 subway rides all together, which set us back $80.

We kept our subway costs down by batching our days. For example, on the day we went to The Museum of Modern Art, we ate $1.50 slices of pizza a few blocks away and then split up to look at the American Girl Doll store, (me and my niece) store and the Nintendo Store, (my husband and son.) And when we met up with a friend in the financial district, we then had lunch with another old friend in SOHO. This way we only took two subway trips per day.

And of course we walked, walked and walked. Which is all we did in D.C., which helped to balance our transportation costs as well.

However, it’s easy to forget when tallying up expenses that transportation, food and entertainment would have happened at home as well. It’s not like we wouldn’t have driven had we stayed put in Portland.

There was no way around the $1176 for our son’s plane tickets, but we did do our best to reign in the rest of our transportation expenditures.

Do you have favorite ways to keep your travel expenses low? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Shari April 2, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Our family just spent Spring Break in NYC. I pulled the kids out of school one day ahead of the break and saved $150 on EACH ticket by flying Friday morning at 8AM rather than late Friday or during the weekend. Our home is 2.5 hours from the airport so we used a portion of that savings to book a room at the Westin at DTW….the room included valet parking and my husbands $14 AARP annual membership provided us a $40 discount…so we arrived TH evening and had an easy and relaxing check in and flight. We flew into LGX because we could take a bus from the airport into Queens which would drop us right at a subway station one block from our apartment rental 4 Unlimited 7-day Metro cards purchased at the airport set us back $120 but that provided transport to/from the airport and around the city for 5 days. When we arrived back in DTW we only had to send a text to the valet and by the time we retrieved our luggage our car was curbside!

The best way to minimize travel expenses is to plan ahead! Understand your options and understand the trade offs of different travel times and hotel locations.


Katy April 3, 2014 at 6:38 am

We also saved money by leaving Monday instead of Sunday. And since the beginning part of our trip was part of the award that was husband was receiving in D.C., the hotel, (quite fancy, BTW) was included. Didn’t have a kitchen, but most of our meals were provided. My husband won a hundred dollar bill in a trivia contest, which was great since we met up with an old friend for dinner one night and the bill was $244 before the tip! They had planned on paying for the meal, which I wouldn’t have let happen, so being able to hand over the hundred bucks was very helpful. (I just pretended the money never belonged to us in the first place.)


Alison at Diamond-Cut Life April 3, 2014 at 3:14 am

I agree that transportation often defies frugality, especially airfare. But unlike many folks, I truly enjoy cooking when I’m on vacation. We stay in places with kitchens, and making our own meals reeeallly saves on restaurant bills.

My love of books is a great alternative to expensive entertainment. Speaking of good reads, I’m giving away an autographed copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book “David and Goliath”. Full of inspiration. Come on over if you’re interested.


Linda in Mass April 4, 2014 at 3:50 am

I do the same thing! I do not like to go out 3 meals a day, so we try to rent condos or efficiency’s. This helps to really keep the costs down. Last year we went to Ocean City, MD. We stayed in an efficiency, about 2 blocks from the Boardwalk. We saved a bundled and liked being off the Boardwalk better. A short 2 blocks and we were at the beach!


Diane April 3, 2014 at 4:20 am

Travel is expensive…period! No way around it. But, it’s a good expense. Widens horizons, broadens world views and brings family joy.


Katy April 3, 2014 at 2:15 pm

I agree, 100%!



jill April 3, 2014 at 5:27 am

I don’t think I do anything differently than you when trying to save money when traveling – we eat out of the cooler, search endlessly for transportation deals, choose wisely for activities and trying to find all the free things we can do, stay with family, use points if we have any…but I love seeing and doing something new so it is worth it to me to save in some areas and I try not to sweat it if I overspend in another – I try not to but am not always successful. My husband actually has a more difficult time with this than me so I am always trying to get him to relax and enjoy more.


Mr. Everyday Dollar April 3, 2014 at 9:27 am

I play the “credit card churn” game: opening up credit cards in order to score the huge sign-up bonuses of points and miles.

It’s a good feeling when you are comfortably relaxing on a plane that’s headed to Europe knowing that the airfare was completely free. Then you check into your hotel that ALSO is free.


Katy April 3, 2014 at 11:54 am

I’ve never played that game, although I suppose I should as I do love to travel!



tna April 3, 2014 at 11:18 am

“One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person.” $ don’t matter on this one…everybody pays…even the factory workers in Bangladesh watching the water rise.


K D April 4, 2014 at 4:20 am

Sometimes when you search for airfare you can indicate that your dates are flexible and they give you a chart with the lowest rates for each of several departure and return dates. I believe you can also search nearby airports on some searches. That being said travel is expensive for us. All our family are spread throughout the country. We try to earn airline rewards where we can so that we occasionally can redeem miles for free flights.

I believe sometimes it is cheaper to fly than drive. This weekend my husband is flying from the Baltimore-Washington area to Providence to visit his mother. Somehow the airfare and rental car will be less than $200, including gas. It would cost at least that to drive it, plus this will be faster and safer. Because he likes to sleep at home he will take the first flight out tomorrow and take the last flight back tomorrow night. We live 10 miles/15 minutes from the airport so dropping him off and picking him up is simple and easy.


Heather April 4, 2014 at 2:43 pm

If you are traveling to or near a city with a major university in the summer, many rent dorm rooms to tourists for cheap. I’ve done this in London, Toronto, and other places. Usually saves a bunch and breakfast is often included!


Katy April 5, 2014 at 7:47 am

Ooh . . . good tip!


Suzanne P. April 5, 2014 at 2:43 am

Now that we’re living on one income I have really changed my ways regarding travel. We drive most places and stay in yurts at State parks along the way, or get really good deals on Priceline. We go on trips during the off season and pack most of our own food. However, it’s nice to budget for a few meals out.

No matter what we take a family vacation every fall. Sometimes the trips cost thousands of dollars (like the one to Mexico when I was still working) sometimes only a couple hundred. Even if we only get away for a long weekend to a nearby state park we make sure that it’s a memorable event.


Kirsten May 23, 2014 at 8:46 pm

I absolutely believe in using ‘flexible date’ travel searches on sites like Skyscanner and Kayak (but I usually book direct with the airline once I’ve found the cheapest days for flying). Using apartment rental sites like flipkey or airbnb can help keep costs down if you use the kitchen facilities. Otherwise choose a serviced apartment style hotel with a kitchenette. I booked one of these for our last trip, and also picked a hotel within 5 mins walking distance of the town markets so was able to easily and cheaply acquire bread, cheese and fruit for breakfasts. Using public transport is a no-brainer. As is using public transport express links to travel to and from the airport. If you can access free wifi then download an off-line app or map of the local network to your phone. And check blind booking websites for hotel deals (I like and you can sometimes get really lucky there). And private rooms at ‘flashpacker’ hostels can sometimes have nicer facilities than a 2 or 3 star hotel, for a better price. When I was in NYC last year, we scrimped on some experiences so we could treat ourselves in others. For instance, we were happy to eat at Chipotle or get takeaway salads from Wholefoods and picnic in Central Park, and then ‘splurged’ by having a cocktail each during sunset at a fancy rooftop bar (which was lovely and cost much much less than a meal there). And free activities are sometimes the most memorable – and for us these include poking around the NYC Public Library, and watching buskers in Washington Square Park.


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