Frugal travel tips on the West Coast

The following is a guest post from Pauline Paquin, a French girl who has recently started to blog over at Reach Financial Independence. Born and raised in Paris, Pauline blogs about how she has been traveling the world for the past 10 years, while trying to build wealth and achieve financial independence, and how you can follow your dreams and reach your goals too. You can follow Pauline on Twitter @RFIndependence. 

We’re guest posting at Reach Financial Independence today, so be sure to stop by and check it out.

Last year I traveled from San Diego to Seattle on a motorcycle with my BF. We were coming from Guatemala and after crossing Mexico, we expected life in the US to be much more expensive. We visited the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone, San Francisco, LA, Portland and Seattle, as well as many little charming town and beautiful coastal places over the course of a month, for a total budget of $80 per day, all included. We were planning on winning a million dollars in Vegas, but that didn’t happen (we won $150 though!), so here are a few tips to make your holiday frugal and enjoyable.



Cheap flights to the West Coast

There are a lot of low cost companies, that will not necessarily appear on travel search engines. JetBlue, Virgin, Spirit are a few of them. Booking your flight in advance or subscribing to their newsletter to enjoy one of their promotion can save you a lot of money. By packing light, your travels will be easier and you can save on the luggage fee which is usually expensive.

Cheap accommodation on the West Coast

We camped a lot. Sometimes in the middle of nowhere and for free, sometimes in national parks for a fee. National Forests and other natural areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management allow you to camp for free, there are a few restrictions such as distance from the road to respect, you can check the list of free camping spots on the BLM website. When we didn’t camp, we tried to use Couchsurfing, which allows you to stay with someone for free, and we would usually make a meal or take our host out for drinks to thank him or her. It was a bit hard to find a host as a couple, because many people want to host only one person, and not knowing our exact arrival date due to the motorcycle travel was not helping. If you have a defined schedule, Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals and experience the real life of the area. We also used Airbnb and stayed with a lovely guy in San Francisco who was renting his extra bedroom for $20 a night, a rate no hotel would be able to compete with over there. It works like Couchsurfing, you just contact a potential host, you can view pictures of the room before, and all amenities like wifi, parking or washing machine. Some people even rent out their whole apartment, which works great if you travel as a family. Lastly, when we resorted to hotels, we usually looked up online where chain hotels were located, and by getting there, we would often find a cheaper family run motel on the way. Regarding chains we used Motel 6 at the beginning then Super 8 which is a bit more expensive but doesn’t charge for wifi or breakfast, so worked out better in the end.

Cheap eats on the West Coast

We got ourselves a Safeway card. Safeway is a chain of supermarkets, and the loyalty card is easy to get on the spot. It will save you a lot of money on groceries since many products are on special offer for card holders. We would eat a good breakfast at the hotel, and then stock non perishable things such as beef jerky, cereal bars or crackers, and eat that for dinner at the hotel. When hosted by people, we had access to a kitchen which saved us a lot on food. For lunch, we became frequent customers of all you can eat Chinese buffets. We had the best and the worst, but usually for $10 with tips, you could enjoy a sushi buffet, a salad bar, peel and eat shrimps and a fruit and desert bar. We almost never went for all the fried noodles and other greasy mains that would stuff us up on empty calories. In Vegas we would hit the incredible buffets for breakfast or lunch, after getting the loyalty card from the casino. I remember one breakfast for under $5, that was huge, and we even got a free t-shirt.

Cheap visits and sightseeing on the West Coast

We had had our fair share of museums and cultural landmarks in Mexico, so we were happy just walking around in most cities. You can get a tourist card in many of them that includes free or discounted entries to a selection of sites, just make sure that you will use it up, since they are quite expensive. One great deal that we took advantage of is the National Parks Pass, a one year pass that costs $80 and grants you entry for a year to all National Parks and other attractions. Since major parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon already cost $25, we got our money back in no time. You can also look out the places you want to visit online before you go, as many have a free day, free entrance after 4pm or some other kind of deal.   Have you ever visited the West Coast? Do you have any frugal tips to add to the list?

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