PhotoAs the legendary baseball player Yogi Berra once said about a super-popular night spot: “Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded.”

A similar principle applies to road trips on Memorial Day weekend: “Nobody drives anymore, because the roads are too crowded.” Still, even with today's high gas prices you'll find a handful of plucky people willing to brave the traffic for a mini-vacation, whether to avoid touchy-feely TSA airport agents in the airports or because, even with those gas prices, transporting multiple people in a single vehicle often remains cheaper than buying individual plane or train tickets for everybody (in addition to saving the cost and hassle of renting a car once you reach your destination).

If saving money is your main motivation, you know that mere “driving,” on its own, isn't enough to save money. Indeed, with either bad luck or bad planning, your road trip vacation might end up casting more than a first-class flying one. Yet a few obvious though easy-to-overlook tips can significantly cut the costs of your mini-vacation — leaving more money for bigger and better trips later.

Take the road less traveled

If you watch science-fiction disaster movies, you're familiar with the scene where everybody flees the coastlines and the big cities, to escape the alien invaders or asteroid strike or whatever threat the movie is about. You should consider doing the same thing, not for catastrophe-avoidance reasons but because, as Berra noted, “Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded.” (Spending several hours sitting in traffic is annoying enough on any occasion, far worse when those hours are eating away at your brief 72-hour vacation.)

That's not to say beaches, big cities or other super-popular tourist attractions are never worth visiting, of course, just that a 72-hour vacation weekend isn't the best time to try.

Take some food with you

To cite another quote from Yogi Berra (or was it Yogi Bear?): “Let's get us a pic-a-nic basket.” More specifically, bring one with you. Better yet, bring a 12-volt travel refrigerator that can either plug into a regular electrical outlet or into your car's dashboard power adapter (while your engine is running, of course, so you don't drain the car battery).

Of course, most people consider restaurant dining one of the vital vacation experiences. As do I, but I don't want to fritter away my vacation-restaurant budget on the same fast food I can get at home.

The winter-emergency blanket you keep in your car in case you find yourself stranded in cold weather does double-duty as a picnic blanket in summertime.

Take advantage of freebies

Despite the old saying “The best things in life are free,” it's a sad truth that on vacation, many of the best attractions charge entry fees. Even so, most areas have fun free things to do, though they might not be as well-advertised as the for-profit stuff.

Do an ahead-of-time online search for any interesting state parks in the area you're visiting (national parks are even nicer, of course, but not only do most of them charge entry fees; on holiday weekends they fall into the “Nobody goes there/too crowded” category).

If your destination region has a “visitor center,” whether run by a local tourism bureau or the state-government centers attached to certain highway rest stops, you definitely want to stop there not just to stretch your legs, but also because there's a good chance you'll find discounted coupons to attractions you'd hoped to visit. (I've found that visitor centers run by actual tourism bureaus tend to offer more and better discounts — understandable, since such centers are established specifically to cater to tourists, rather than motorists in general.)


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