Part I of this series introduced the 6,000-mile driving tour to the Canadian Rockies that my wife, Barbara, and I took in the van driven by my brother, Avi, and our sister-in-law, Martha. It detailed the challenge of obtaining kosher food on a driving tour. Parts II and III discussed the hospitality we received in several communities.
A very interesting aspect of our month-long journey was how we learned to save money on accommodations and attractions. We quickly learned that every motel offers various discounts from what they call the “rack rate” (the basic rate) – if you ask for them.
We usually chose the “Choice Motel” chain because we found good beds, quite a few kosher items for breakfast, clean, well-kept premises and good rates. Reservations can be made via an 800 number or by calling the motel directly. We often called both and, surprisingly, often found that we could get a better deal via the 800 number. We also found that sometimes the motel said they were fully booked, but the 800 number got us two rooms at that same motel with no hassle.
We also found that the AARP and AAA rates were higher than the “senior” (over 60) rate. Motels also offer “corporate” rates (and never ask for the corporate card), and local business rates, among others. And you can ask for the lowest rate available, if you are not shy. The rates sometimes differed when we called for reservations on different dates.
As we entered each state, we stopped at the visitor’s information center found at the first rest stop on the highway (usually only open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.), and asked for “discount” booklets. Not only did the information service have the best information and free maps but, in addition, these discount booklets had significantly lower “coupon” rates at select motels (even some “Choice” motels) and discount entry coupons for many attractions. Remember, if you are more than one couple traveling, you need to request more than one discount booklet or ticket.
If you are retired, almost every attraction – from Gondolas to boat rides, museums to parks – offers a senior rate (and a children’s rate). It certainly pays to ask for these rates. Even some shopping outlets offer senior rates. (Rockport at Woodbury Common, for example, gave us a 20% discount on our entire purchase when I “jokingly” asked the sales clerk for a senior discount.) When we purchased the Canadian Park ticket – at the senior rate – we purchased the annual ticket because it was cheaper than the daily rate for the number of days we planned to stay. And we may yet come again. On a previous trip to a military museum, my service in the Israeli army resulted in a free “courtesy” pass.
In these times of rising gas prices, it might pay to check gasoline prices through the AAA trip site to check if it pays to fill up before leaving a particular state (or after entering a state) because some states charge significantly more than others. Of course, it pays to fill up in the U.S. before entering Canada. In Canada gas is sold by the liter, and the weak American dollar made the U.S. prices significantly more reasonable.
Kosher food was also significantly cheaper in both New York City and Florida than it was in Canada and states without very large Jewish populations. It might pay to stock up on any foods that can be stored and preserved before the trip. An uncooked kosher chicken, for example, cost $15 in Calgary. (Luckily we had a cooler with food.) Please remember that transporting certain foods between countries is restricted.
Many rural areas in the northern United States and southern Canada had no cell phone service, especially on the roads between cities. We also noticed that in the northern U.S., our phones incurred roaming charges even though we were still in the U.S. but within several miles of the Canadian border. If you plan to leave your home community, check with the phone company about the phone rates. We often used the computer to make phone calls. Most motels advertise “free wireless” but their systems are very weak. You might consider sitting in your car in the parking lot of a better motel or driving around and looking for “open” wireless networks.