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Tips to enjoy the open road without an open wallet

  • Story Highlights
  • High gas prices and increasing hotel rates spur some travelers to get creative
  • Bypassing national hotel chains may save you some money
  • Smaller parks or attractions may leave a smaller dent in your wallet, too
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By Marnie Hunter
CNN
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(CNN) -- Get off the interstate, get online and get creative if you want to keep your summer road trip from becoming derailed by rising travel costs, the experts say.

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There are plenty of ways to compensate for rising fuel costs during your summer road trip this year, experts say.

Gas prices have reached record highs. In addition, hotel rates are expected to be up by about 6 percent from last summer, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Not great news if you're yearning for the open road, but there are plenty of ways to trim your vacation spending.

Online tools
AAA sees a big spike in online trip planning when gas prices start climbing, said spokesman Mike Pina.

Knowing what to expect in fuel costs and how to get the best deals gives travelers an idea of what kinds of sacrifices they might need to make in other spending categories.

"Last year we saw nearly a 1,000 percent increase in the number of people using the Fuel Cost Calculator," he said. The free tool allows users to calculate the gas costs of a trip based on car make and model. (More gas-saving tips from AAA)

Online maps and AAA's Fuel Finder come in handy when prices rise, and Web sites like GasPriceWatch.com and GasBuddy.com may also lead motorists to the best prices in their area.

Local motels, loyalty
Locally owned lodgings are usually about 20 percent cheaper than national chains and give visitors a better feel for the region, said Jamie Jensen, author of "Road Trip USA" (Avalon Travel Publishing).

"My whole premise is life is better and cheaper off the interstates," Jensen said.

To shave more off your lodging costs, consider the great outdoors. "The cheapest way to stay on a road trip is to camp," said Pauline Frommer, author of Pauline Frommer's Travel Guides.

On a long road trip, alternating between camping and cheap motel rooms yields big savings. "If that's too hard-core for you, consider being loyal. Often these roadside motel chains have very good loyalty programs," Frommer said.

Eating on the cheap
Bringing a cooler and a cook stove can help to cut down on restaurant meals, Frommer said.

"You stop in at local grocery stores rather than getting in off the interstate and getting overpriced, fatty food."

Eating larger meals at breakfast and lunchtime is a better value than paying for dinners out.

"So often people save dinner for the meal when they're having this memorable experience," Jensen said.

"I love local diners for breakfast where you actually get a sense of what local people are doing."

Jensen also suggests stopping at fruit and vegetable stands along byways that are conducive to roadside picnicking.

Deals, distance
Look at whether annual national park and amusement park passes make sense with your travel plans and take advantage of organization- and age-related discounts, Frommer said.

After Memorial Day, AAA's Pina predicted, travel providers and attractions will offer more perks and incentives such as free gas cards to lure vacationers.

Traveling a long distance doesn't guarantee a great trip, so Jensen urged that road trippers slow down and enjoy the journey.

"Sometimes people get a little bit too achievement-oriented with their vacation planning and they want to do so many things. Sometimes that's a recipe for disaster, especially when you get home and see your credit card statements," Jensen said.

Consider smaller amusement parks instead of heavily hyped attractions like Disney World, Jensen suggested. Explore state parks instead of national parks and check out minor league ball games instead of spending big bucks at the majors.

"To go to a minor league baseball game it costs $5 rather than $50 to get a good seat," Jensen said. "Beer costs a couple dollars instead of $7.50." Scale back on the distance you plan to cover, and enjoy your freedom without setting exhausting objectives.

"There is something about being far from home that I think gets people out of their rut, but I think you can do that without traveling thousands of miles," Jensen said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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