July 27 2011 by Amy Graff
We covered some 800 miles, ate nearly a dozen bowls of chili between all for of us, and hiked, canoed, and fished in the state's prettiest areas.
We never saw a moose, but we did stick to our budget of under $200 a day. It was close--so darn close. There were times when we couldn't resist experiences--such as a bluegrass music festival in Livingston that cost $30 for us all to get in. And then there was the irresistible Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. We spent $29 (with the AAA discount) to see one of the world's best collections of dinosaur bones. It was worth it.
Best Western's summer promotion really saved us. We're members of the rewards program and registered for the promotion. If you stay three separate times, you get a free night. You can sign up for the promotion here.
How else did we cut costs?
Here's a quick rundown:
1) We left the SUV at home. We cruised Montana in an economy compact car (Nissan Sentra) that got 35 miles to the gallon. We spent under $100 on gas. If we had taken an SUV, we would have spent about a third more on gas.
2) We lightened our load. We packed light--bringing only a few changes of clothes and doing wash along the way. Carrying 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel efficiency by 1 to 2 percent. If you do have cargo to haul, use the trunk instead of a roof rack or carrier, as using these can decrease mileage by as much as 5 percent.
3) We drank water only. No iced tea, no apple juice, no beers, no way! At restaurants we were allowed to order water only (with a few exceptions--we had to sample Montana beer at Summer Fest in Livingston).
4) We split entrees. We always started by ordering one entree for two adults and one children's meal for two kids. If we ate everything and were still hungry, we ordered more. We never wasted food.
5) We carried refillable water bottles. A family of four can easily spend $20 a day buying water in plastic bottles. We purchased eco-friendly Klean Kanteens, which don't leach chemicals, toxins, or funky flavors. We refilled them at hotels, restaurants, and public restrooms.
6) We found free and cheap fun. We walked to the top of Mount Sentinel in Missoula--a fun, free activity. We road the carousel in Helena--only $1.50. We caught some free live music at Music on Main in Bozeman. We discovered fun, off-the-beaten-path things to do on the Montana Get Lost website.
7) We went for hotel freebies. We bedded down at Best Westerns that offer great value: free breakfast, Wi-Fi, and parking.
8) We dove into the hotel pool. Who needs amusement parks and shopping malls, when you can hang out at the pool, where you don't have to pay admission or buy anything. Ninety percent of Best Western properties have swimming pools.
9) We loaded our iPhone with apps. We used CheapGas to pinpoint the lowest priced gas stations and AAA Discounts to alert us of money-saving opportunities. You can download both applications for free on iTunes.