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Tips for travel: Staying frugal on the freeway

Published June 16. 2010 05:00PM

We recently returned from a trip to Pittsburgh for a close friend's wedding. It takes about four hours to drive there, which meant that we were bound to get hungry on the road. This was a great chance to flex our frugal muscles!

Most of the meals out there were paid for but we still had to feed ourselves on the drive out and back, and we like to have snacks and drinks on hand. How can you save money on the road this travel season? By planning ahead, of course.

Meals on the go

Because we took the turnpike out to Pittsburgh, there were three or four "rest stops" along the way. These rest stops are a great chance to stretch your legs and use the restroom but they aren't a great deal when it comes to meals. Restaurants know that you've got limited options for food. They price their meals accordingly. Fast food may be "fast," but you'll pay for the convenience!

It doesn't take much effort to prep food for the road. You'll need a cooler and a few minutes to make meals or get fast food to go. The morning of our trip, I stopped at a hoagie shop in Lehighton for two foot-long hoagies. Cost: $10. These hoagies were dinner on the road and lunch the next day.

Why not pack sandwiches instead? You'll save even more money and have a chance to use up bread and lunchmeat that might spoil while you're gone. Cost: $0.

Snacks and treats

I get very grumpy (and hungry!) if I'm trapped in a car without food. My husband also likes to snack while driving and late at night, so we always pack a few snacks to keep us happy and a bit less stressed. If you've got kids in the car, snacks are a must-have!

Again, don't get trapped into buying expensive food on the road. Pick up a box or two of crackers, cereal, or other dry snacks that can survive a few hours in a hot car. Save even more by buying snacks on sale or by using coupons.

We took three different types of crackers, all bought using coupons because when you're driving for hours, who needs monotony? Cost: $4.

Don't forget drinks!

It's important to stay hydrated in the summer, especially while traveling. Start stocking up now on drinks as they go on sale.

No sales? No problem. Grab your drinks at a local grocery or retail store anyway. They'll still be less expensive than soda or water at a gas station or restaurant.

We used four containers each of sports drink and flavored water. Cost: $4.

Thanks to planning ahead, we paid about $18 for food on our trip, including lunch, dinner, snacks, and drinks. Not bad, considering that our food lasted for four days!

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