I love the road trip. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy flying quite a bit as well. However, there is something freeing about a road trip. You can stop when you see something interesting, and there is a little more flexibility involved. The road trip I took recently with my son only reinforced my love of road trips.
Unfortunately, with rising gas prices, many families are concerned that they can’t afford to go on a road trip. While rising gas prices can cause some difficulty, it is still possible to take an affordable vacation. As you plan your road trip, here are some tips for keeping some of your costs down while you are away from home:
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Before you leave, make sure your car is in good shape. Have the oil changed. Make sure all of the maintenance is up to date on your car before you go. Paying a little bit to have your car checked out now can save money on tows and repairs later, when you’re 300 miles away from home. Plus, a car that is properly cared for is more fuel efficient.
It’s true that one of the joys of road trips is that you can go a little off the beaten path. But you still want to have a general idea of where you’re going, and how far it is. Plot out your trip online, using tools from TripIt to Google Maps to Yahoo Trip Planner. Look to see what attractions are nearby, and recognize that you might make stops. Be realistic about how far you are going. Planning your route can help you save gas, and it can help you book ahead for discounts at different hotels.
It also helps to know your route so that you don’t get lost. If you are uncomfortable with a map, or worried about unfamiliar landscapes, bring a GPS. Personally, I prefer a good map, but my husband likes to use the GPS. And, it can be helpful. My parents once wasted the better part of a tank of gas driving around after getting lost.
Find out about discounts and promotions in the towns you will be visiting. Find out from the hotel if they offer coupons to local attractions and activities. Usually, you can find discounts on stays, as well as activities, and even coupons to local restaurants if you plan ahead of time.
When I was growing up, my parents loaded up a cooler with deli meat, sliced cheese, condiments, drinks, fruit, and other food items when we went on a road trip. It’s much cheaper to stop and eat a picnic using sandwich stuff you bring yourself than it is to pay for meals at a restaurant. You can keep the cooler stocked with ice from the hotel, or buy a relatively inexpensive bag of it when you stop for gas. Bring some of your own food, and your dollars will stretch further.
Depending on the make-up of your family, it’s possible to save on accommodations by camping some of the time. Instead of staying at hotels, bring along tents that you can pitch at campgrounds. A $10 or $20 nightly camping fee is much cheaper than $75 to stay the night in a hotel. Some campgrounds even offer shower facilities. Consider this option to save money on a few of your nights during the road trip.
One of the habits I got into during my travels was buying an inexpensive postcard of places visited. My husband and I like to buy small, inexpensive magnets as well. These magnets are great because they are small, and don’t take up much room — and they don’t cost much. You don’t need to buy $20 souvenirs on your trip. You should have plenty of pictures, and small mementos, costing $3 to $7 apiece, will save you a great deal of money.
My last road trip was only five days, so I didn’t need to do more than pack a bag and go. However, for longer trips, it can get expensive, inconvenient, and heavy (reducing your fuel efficiency) to pack a lot of clothes. Instead, choose a few clothing items appropriate for the climate and plan to do a little laundry. If you are staying with relatives and friends for part of the time, it’s usually not a problem to do a couple loads of laundry.
What are your tips for saving money on a road trip?