Planning to take a road trip soon to visit prospective colleges, for spring break, or summer vacation? Driving down America’s highways past some of our nation’s biggest monuments or most scenic routes is a great way to pass the time. But if you’re not careful, expenses can easily add up.
Nearly eight in 10 leisure trips in 2012 were by car, according to the latest data from the U.S. Travel Association. And 48 percent of business trips were by vehicle.
With so many Americans traveling by car, it’s a good time to review ways you can save on a road trip. Before you even hit the road, make sure to set a budget. Doing so will help keep your spending in check when it comes to putting money away for lodging and food. Here are more tips to help you save on the costs of a road trip:
Don’t hit the road during peak travel times
Sure, it’s nice to travel during the 4th of July and Labor Day weekends. But be prepared to deal with congestion, lots of people, and more expensive hotel rates. Because summer is the busiest travel season, you’ll likely be dealing with higher rates anyway. But avoiding busy holidays will save you money and make your trip less frustrating. Also, consider hitting the road on a Tuesday or Wednesday instead of a typical Friday or Saturday to avoid crowds and save on costs.
Make sure you pack all the things you need to make your trip as smooth and hassle-free as possible. Are you bringing along friends or family who might be bored spending hours in a car? Be sure to pack some cheap entertainment like hand games or a portable media player. Have a first aid kit handy if you’re traveling with young kids. Bring a couple of power bars if you know you’ve got a tight schedule and might not have time to eat breakfast. Make a packing list to keep everything organized. Mobile apps like TripList or Packing Pro might help you create and maintain a list. Be sure to check off items from your packing list to ensure that you’ve got everything squared away.
Take care of your car and save on gas
Before you leave on your trip, give your car a check-up. The last thing you want to experience on a road trip is car trouble.
Once you’re on the road, consider using an app like GasBuddy or SmartFuel to find the cheapest gas in the areas where you’re traveling. Even if you save only 10 cents per gallon, if you consider the many miles you’ll be traveling, the savings can really add up. Also, check your map or GPS device before hitting the road, so you have a general idea of what your travel route might look like. Note any tolls or road work that might cause a bump in the road. You might consider downloading an app like Waze, to help you determine what the quickest route to your destination might be. The more you familiarize yourself with your traveling route beforehand, the better. Getting lost can waste precious gas as you try to find the right way.
Check your credit card for rewards
The right card can help you save on summer travel costs. If you’ve got a credit card collecting dust in your wallet, it might be time to look into whether you can take advantage of some of the deals or rewards it offers. Check to see if any credit cards you have offer perks on things like gas or points for swiping at certain venues or buying particular products. Some credit cards give you cash back on gas purchases, so consider using one of those cards at the pump while you’re traveling.
[Related: How to Select a Travel Rewards Credit Card]
Save money on snacks and food
Food is one of the biggest budget killers of any road trip. When you’re traveling long distances, it’s tempting to buy chips, beef jerky or candy at each of your stops. But buying little goodies here and there can add up. It’s better to buy cheaper snacks at grocery or wholesale stores in large, economy-sized bags ahead of time. That way you can get more bang for your buck. If you take a cooler along, you can also stock up on beverages — and maybe even snack on something a bit healthier as you make your way to your destination. The more snacks and beverages you can bring from home, the more money you will save. If you must buy something, limit yourself to one snack (and make it a good one).
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, see if there are any deals or discounts for restaurants in the area. Maybe you can get a discount because of the insurance you have or perhaps there’s a good daily deal on a site like Groupon.
Be wise about lodging
Can you camp during one of your stopovers instead of booking a hotel room? Even just one night of camping can save a lot of money. If you prefer to sleep with a roof over your head, look into cheaper lodging options like hostels, motels, or couchsurfing. Remember, you don’t need to book anything fancy if you’re just laying your head down for a few hours of sleep before hitting the road again. If you must sleep in a hotel, make a reservation ahead of time and try to take advantage of any deals the hotel might offer for early booking or for traveling during certain time periods.
Happy travels on the road!