ideas for cheap lodging when traveling cross country
When my Husband told me the military had given him a definite moving date it left me with about 1 month to plan before the movers where supposed to be at my door. Being new to military life and having lived in Virginia basically forever, I was just a little overwhelmed. We knew this was coming we just didn’t know exactly when.
Our plan was to drive both cars with one kid in each car and one Great Dane in each car. Yes, we had bought a new Dane puppy and he was scheduled to arrive the same week we were now going to move. Ahhh, this crazy life I love. I’ve really not done a lot of traveling, and the kids had even less experience than me, so we decided to make this drive across the Country something to remember. We took approximately 3 weeks without rushing and enjoyed it!
I will share how we frugally played and stayed all the way from Virginia to California in 3 weeks.
Since the kids were not happy about moving away from their family and friends I decided to try and make the trip feel more like a vacation. I even made a little powerpoint, yea I’m that mom. It was complete with where we planned to stop along the way, pictures of the exciting things we were going to do there, how many miles and hours we were going to travel each day, restaurants we wanted to try etc.
This really helped the kids to have a visual of the things to look forward to as well as give my husband and I a plan so we didn’t forget the cool places we wanted to detour to. That little powerpoint became the perfect guide for me to find lodging nearby the things we wanted to do in each state, guesstimate a budget for the trip and have a great timeline for our trip. I hate to spend a ton of money on a place I know we are just going to be sleeping and leaving so I started to do a little research. Here are the things I found help keep our nightly cost under $99 per night.
Our family had a couple additional obstacles, namely Lacy and Huck. Our 5 year old 100lb. dog and a 10 week old 40 lb. dog. Most hotels are either not pet friendly at all or have a weight limit of under 20 lb! This made me start out looking at KOA Campground cabins. We booked two nights with them, one in VA and the other in TX. I am not big on camping but the family loves it so I decided to give it a shot. Here are some of the things that were pros’ and con’s for us.
Membership discount (20% off for $30 per year)
Some areas are fairly inexpensive
No pet weight limit
Quiet and Peaceful
Not a huge price difference vs. hotels in popular areas
No fridge or microwave
No continental breakfast
Must bring your own linens/towels
Bathrooms are not in the cabins
If it’s cold there is only 1 space heater
The beds are a piece of foam covered in vinyl (my non-camping self had to add this)
Our fist KOA stay was Natural Bridge, Virginia in March and it was COLD! I only packed sheets, pillows and thin blankets to help save space, so we all froze in that little cabin with a single space heater and 20 degree temps outside. I’m sure we would have enjoyed that stay more had it not been for the cold, or my lack of comforters. Our second stay with them was in Amarillo, TX. It was much better! The kids enjoyed the playground and the front porch swing was a relaxing way to watch the sunset.
We have a PetSafe wireless fencing system that simply plugs into the wall and creates an adjustable radius barrier for the dogs. This was perfect at the campground for giving the pups some freedom to play in our little space. If you enjoy the camping style you can really save on your lodging. One of our nights was as low as $48 for a 2 room cabin! Depending on how many people you have traveling, the lack of a free breakfast might make up that difference. However, if you have room for a cooler and can buy groceries the campground is definitely worth considering.
If you are traveling with a pet you will find a friend in a website called Bringfido. You can find hotels, restaurants, services and more that are pet friendly. This was especially helpful when we needed to find something on the road since it was easy to access from a cell phone as well.
La Quinta Inn
Most of our trip we stayed at La Quinta Inn. They all allow pets and most don’t have a weight limit! Be sure to check out their pet policy and call each hotel to confirm. I went through Cheap Tickets and found fairly good deals as well as a convenient way to keep track of our itinerary. They were also easy to work with when I messed up a couple dates for check in/out. I recommend checking out their prices before booking since I received our biggest discounts using the site.
There are a ton of third party sites to choose from but Cheap Tickets had good prices in the areas I needed AND they are up to 5% back on Ebates so I was sold! If you are military it seems La Quintas Military Rewards program is a great value as well. I didn’t know about this before I planned our trip and discovered it halfway through. It allows you to save 12% on your room and they offer a points program to earn free stays. It cannot be used with a third party booking like Cheap Tickets so you’ll have to weigh the savings.
We had nice rooms with La Quinta and most of the hotels were recently renovated or in the process of being renovated. Their free breakfast was a nice way to save money too. Our family of 4 typically cost $30-$45 to have breakfast out. That’s a significant savings from not getting breakfast at the KOA. Also I chose hotels with an indoor pool for the kids which was a great way to get some energy out after being stuck in a car.
If you are traveling through the Midwest I highly recommend Drury Inn. I had never heard of them and took a gamble since they were pet friendly and there was no La Quinta in Missouri where we wanted to stay. I wish I could have stayed at Drury our entire trip! Their rooms were spacious and the pools were great but the there were 3 things that truly set it apart.
First, they have a phenomenal rewards program. You can exchange points for cruises, flights, restaurant, shopping, hotel stays OR donate them to the Red Cross!
Second, when we checked in they invited us to have evening drinks and snacks from 5:30-7:00 pm. We saw a popcorn and soda machine and thought, yea the kids will think that’s cool before we go out to dinner. Boy were we in for a surprise. When we came down there was a full all you can eat bar set out. We all had a wonderful dinner with tons of choices and whatever you wanted to drink in a serve yourself style and it was FREE! Both our stays with Drury saved us from buying breakfast AND dinner! Here is a sample of their kickback menu but I’m telling you it’s a see it to believe it experience.
Lastly and most importantly to me, this is a Family owned Hotel. The best part is you can tell! From the moment we walked in the staff was amazing. They talked to us like a friend. Everyone from the front desk to housekeepers just had the nicest personalities. I had the privilege of riding the elevator with a staff member and she asked about our dogs and children and told me a little about hers. Such a sweet encounter after a day in the car.
My husband and I decided to take a late dip in the hot tub after all the kids had gone to bed and I used the pool phone to ask for more towels. They were there in no time at all. That lady was so excited to hear it was our first time staying at Drury. You could tell she loved the hotel and her job. She then asked our name so she could set us up in the rewards program and called our room later to confirm it. Isn’t it awesome when people care about what they do! (This was also a buy through Ebates and Cheap Tickets.)
We stayed at several touristy spots along the way which means a higher price tag. Nashville, Grand Canyon and Las Vegas were 3 places that I struggled with cost. Luckily by the time we decided to take the one night detour to Vegas I thought about my old friend Groupon. I searched for hotels in Las Vegas and was pleasantly surprised at how many there were to choose from. We decided to stay at the Stratosphere for $40 for the night using Groupon. Side note, I always use my Ebates account before using Groupon and I normally earn 6% or more back on whatever I spend! Win – Win!
We boarded the dogs with the money we saved. This gave us the night free to explore with the kids and have a nice dinner out and relaxing breakfast in the morning before getting the pooches back. While Groupon is not a sure fire way to book all of your hotels along the way it does help with these higher priced hotels in the popular areas. If you don’t forget about checking them out like I did at the beginning.
When planning this big adventure, and knowing I would soon need a lot of air travel to visit home, I decided to look into air miles credit cards. I researched several different cards using nerd wallet. This site is easy to understand and compare card stats. I was able to get a great introductory incentive around Christmas time on the Capital One Venture card earning 40,000 points for spending a certain amount of money within the first 3 months. This turned out to be a great tool for us since we used the card to pay for our entire trip. You can redeem the points for more than just air miles and even convert it to pay your bill. Just more savings to add to all of the deals you already used to book your lodging!
We spent on average $98 per night on lodging. That cost does not include the Ebates return or the credit card points. For 2 adults, 2 kids and 2 dogs that’s not bad. Especially considering our 3 nights in Fairfax, Arizona was $150 per night…that was our little splurge to be closer to the Grand Canyon. I’d love to hear your tips for travel cost in the comments.