From the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Crystal Coast, North Carolina boasts a full menu of things to see and do. Fortunately for those on a budget, there are plenty of ways to explore the state's attractions and stay within your means.
Determine your priorities
It's helpful to decide early in your vacation planning which trip items are splurge-worthy and where you can save a little money. For example, do you want to spend more on a good hotel room and less on dinners? If so, and you are staying several nights in a location, consider pledging your allegiance to a single hotel or extended stay chain. You can start racking up loyalty points and cash them in later for free nights or room upgrades.
Take a cooler on the road, and fill it with bottled water, fruit and vegetables for snacks and sandwich fixings for meals. If you will be spending all day at an amusement park, find out if the park allows you to bring in a cooler. If not, does it offer multiple choices for food such as food carts as well as restaurants? Also, does it have a designated picnic area with tables you can take advantage of? For example, White Lake Water Park in White Lake allows families to eat in picnic areas adjacent to the park.
Websites and visitors bureaus
Once you plan your itinerary, visit the website of each place you'll be visiting, as well as the location's visitors bureau for information and good deals. Increasingly, amusement parks such as Carowinds in Charlotte offer cheaper tickets online than those bought on site, so be open to buying tickets in advance. Also check to see if your workplace offers discounts to attractions, and whether the motel or hotel you are considering offers free or discounted admission to nearby attractions.
Memberships to attractions
If you have a membership to a major attraction in North Carolina, see if the membership extends to other attractions in the state. For example, if you are a member of the North Carolina Zoo Society, your membership not only gets you in the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro for free, you can also get in free at the Western N.C. Nature Center in Asheville, Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck and the state's three coastal aquariums in Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island.
Boosting your mileage
Before leaving your driveway, make sure your car is well-tuned and the tires are at the correct pressure. Improper tire pressure can decrease gas mileage. You can significantly increase your gas mileage by driving smoothly — rapid acceleration and continual braking use more gas. Avoid idling for long periods of time. Consider adding a combustion-enhancing fuel additive to extend your mileage between fill-ups such as Synergyn Xtra MPG. Some additives are better than others so it pays to research them.
To find the best gas prices locally, visit northcarolinagasprices.com and put in your zip code — the results yield gas station addresses, current prices and direction maps.