Our top travel secret isn’t really a secret at all, but it takes a while for some of us to learn and apply it. Here it is: Slow down. Slowing down and spending more time in each location is not only a secret of cheap travel, but in our experience, it means more fun.

Slowing Down For Cheap Travel

We returned yesterday (August 13, 2007) from a ten-day road trip, and I can report that going slower saved us money, as it usually does. This isn’t just about driving less, though when we started driving 200 miles in a day instead of 600 we certainly saved on gas. However, we also found that with time on our hands, we could do a better job shopping for a place to stay or to eat.

Make the big mile days the ones that pass through the boring stretches. Then when you come to an interesting place, find nice, affordable lodging and stick around a while. Once, while driving around the country camping in our van, we discovered hot springs in a wild part of Arizona, with picnic tables and bathrooms and desert hills to explore – everything we needed at the time. It cost just $3 per night, so it was easy to stay a while.

In fact, we stayed for eight days, enjoying the hot pools even during an unusual snowy day in the desert. We took daily hikes and hunted for antiquities and rocks in the surrounding hills, but more on that in a moment. Just once, we drove into the nearest town for groceries and water, so the entire eight days might have cost us $80 or so. That’s cheap travel.

Five years back we stumbled into a great mountain town where we wanted to stay a while. We were in town early, instead of our usual driving until evening and scrambling to find a hotel, so we had time to check things out without rushing. We asked around and heard about a hotel above a pub. The rest of the hotel rooms in town were generally $60 per night and up, but we got a room above the pub for $120 – for an entire week. It had a stove and refrigerator, so we could cook our own meals if we wanted to save more.

Slowing Down Means Better Travel Experiences

More important than the fact that slowing down means cheap travel is the fact that when you go slower you discover things you would have missed. While at the hot springs mentioned above, for example, we befriended a Mayan Indian who brought us to an old Pony Express station in the desert hills. It still had parts of the old walls remaining.

He showed us areas where we could find old arrowheads, and we found some. Out in the middle of the desert, he showed us perfectly round holes that had been drilled into the rocks hundreds of years earlier. They were used for water storage. In our van, we followed him to an area where ancient pottery littered the desert, and where gemstones could be found as well.

We wouldn’t have found these things on our own. The experiences were also only possible because we didn’t rush from one park to another, trying to fit as many “sights” into a trip as possible. It may not be a secret that a slow trip can be more interesting, but not many people seem to want to try this more relaxing, slower pace.

Where we stayed a week for $120 in that mountain town, we discovered area waterfalls and secret mountain lakes that only the locals knew about. The town was our base as we made trips into the surrounding area. Talking to people in local bars lead us to a well-preserved ghost town that wasn’t on our map. Its streets were still full of buildings and foundations, but no tourists – one other car pulled in while we were there.

Our travel secret number one: slow down to save money and enjoy the trip more.