5 Tips for Traveling the Pacific Coast Highway on a Budget

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The pandemic finally seems to be running out of steam. Vaccinations are on the rise across the country, infections are down and the travel virus is rampant.

After a year and a few months spent in the shelter at home with minimal interaction, it makes sense that we are craving fresh air and new experiences. But as people prepare to travel, prices are skyrocketing. Demand for hotels, rental cars, and airline tickets means post-pandemic travel plans may come at additional costs.

Fortunately, there are still ways to travel on a budget. I was recently able to take one of my trips on the to-do list – a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway in sunny California.

If you are planning to explore the California coastline, here are some tips for doing so without completely disrupting your personal finances.

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1. Plan your trip as far in advance as possible

If you plan to take a trip in the next few weeks, you will likely be paying top dollar for your flights and hotels. But by planning a getaway now several months into the future, you will find that the prices are much easier to bear.

Keep in mind that for a trip like this you may be planning flights and accommodation in multiple cities. For example, we chose to fly to San Diego and spend five nights in different cities going up the coast. We then flew home from San Francisco.

Your travel plans may also involve flights to and from one airport. And you’ll likely need to find accommodation in several cities along the way. Having everything planned well in advance will give you peace of mind while you are traveling.

2. Collect rewards by credit card for flights and hotels

If you’ve got rewards credit cards, now’s the time to splurge. Redeem your airline miles for a few coach tickets. With the right rewards program, you might find that the air portion of your trip costs you next to nothing!

And don’t forget to use all the points and miles you have accumulated on your travel credit card. Likewise, if you have a hotel credit card with a lot of hidden points, you may find qualifying hotels along your route where you can redeem those points for free nights.

Or, instead of hotels, check out Airbnb. Because of the plethora of affordable options – including private apartments, entire homes, or just a room in an otherwise occupied house – Airbnb can save you a ton of money no matter where your travels take you.

3. Travel on weekdays rather than weekends for cheaper bookings

You’ve probably noticed that airline and hotel price schedules go down on weekdays and soar on weekends. Use this knowledge to your advantage and plan to do most of your travel during the week.

There are a few advantages here: First, you get cheaper prices. You’ll also find that the attractions are much less crowded during the week, with working adults and children in school (depending on the time of year).

You could plan to leave on a Sunday and return home on a Friday night, for example. This type of schedule saves you from having to pay the bloated accommodation and travel costs for Friday and Saturday.

4. Look for the best deal on a rental car

To go up the Pacific Coast Highway, you will need a vehicle. This is another time when booking well in advance – and traveling on weekdays – is going to be your friend.

Due to the rising costs, budget more for a rental car. To help you keep your expenses under control:

  • Use a website that compares the prices of several rental companies to quickly determine what your most affordable options are.
  • Try a carsharing service like Turo.

My advice? You don’t need anything as extravagant as a convertible or a sports car. The ride itself will offer abundant scenery, and you will only be distracted if you can’t see the wind whipping your hair.

Another thing: don’t be afraid of car rental companies that aren’t among the big names. Sometimes these companies only operate at the regional level. But just because they’re not in your part of the country doesn’t mean they’re not a good option for your travels. If they look legitimate and the price is the best in the market, give it a try!

And if you have a credit card that rewards gas spending, make sure you take it with you. You might as well reap the rewards of all the necessary expenses.

5. Don’t spend a lot on activities

There is no way to spend money on flights, hotels and gas. But where you can choosing to go cheap is with your activities.

The Pacific Coast Highway has a lot to offer for anyone traveling on a budget. You will find many towns and landmarks to visit including La Jolla Cove in San Diego which is a must see.

The many famous beaches and tourist areas near LA, such as Santa Monica and Venice Beach, allow you to explore at your leisure. And there are plenty of inexpensive souvenir shops and tasty street food to try!

And if you have a golf enthusiast in your life, I highly recommend a visit to Pebble Beach.

You can even get by on a budget in some notoriously expensive cities like San Francisco:

  • Visit Baker Beach – the view of the Golden Gate Bridge is breathtaking.
  • Explore Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Walk down Lombard Street.
  • Take in the city and bay views from Coit Tower.

You might be surprised at how much you can see and do without emptying your wallet. So forgo the day passes to Disneyland and focus on all the beautiful sights the Pacific Coast Highway has to offer. It might be a once in a lifetime trip, but you don’t have to be in debt.


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