Summer road trips have always been a staple in my life, whether it was going to see family and friends or heading to the mountains for a week, it’s always one of the highlights. I love piling into the car, listening to radio, playing silly games and snacking on the road. I also love all the little towns and sites you’d never see if you weren’t passing through – the ones you miss when you fly. One of my favorite things to do is to just get out and try little road stop diners or pop into the little souvenir shops that dot the sides of exits, but if you’re not careful, it can get expensive.
Below are some of my best tips for saving money while hitting the highways:
Plan your stops ahead of time.
Planning your stops ahead of time on your next road trip can also save you a lot of money. It can be fun to travel spontaneously, or easier to just say that you’ll stop when you feel like it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always give you the opportunity to look for places to eat, affordable hotels to stay at, or any other research that can help you plan and be prepared. Planning where you’ll stop ahead of time lets you make more strategic decisions that can save you time, frustration and money.
Reserve your hotels before you leave.
Reserving your hotel ahead of time saves you a TON of money. Once you have your vacation planned and you know where you’ll be stopping along the way to get some rest, you can start setting up alerts on your phone for hotel deals. This will let you find great prices and reserve them ahead of time. It also gives you a chance to make sure the hotel meets all your needs. If you need a microwave in the room or special accommodations, it’s much easier to plan for it ahead of time then trying to find a hotel when you’re exhausted and everyone’s asking, “Are we there yet?”
If you’re worried about the unexpected coming up, or getting delayed – check the fine print on hotels. Some will let you cancel up to 24 hours in advance, and others will offer a credit for a different day.
Pack Food and Drinks.
You think fast food is cheap, and it can be until you’re eating it for every meal. All those dollar meal items add up when you’re eating it three times a day. Plus, at a certain point you can’t eat another burger and you find yourself making excuses to go into a fancier restaurant which will cost even more. (Not to mention the fact that that much greasy food will leave you feeling less than stellar).
When you’re thirsty on the road, gas stations price gouge you – charging 2 and 3 dollars for a bottle of soda you could buy at a big box store for a fraction of the price.
So, pack as many meals and snacks as you can. You can fill up a cooler with ice, and replace that as you travel along. Most rest areas have picnic spots where you can sit down and spread out a meal and take a break. Granola, fruit snacks, muffins, and other items can also serve as in-between meal snacks while you’re moving from one destination to the next.
Stop at the Visitor Centers
Visitor centers are meant to help drive you to visit sites and eat locally, so they are typically advertising heavy. However, to draw people in many local businesses will put coupons and discounts in the pamphlets they keep stocked at visitor bureaus. This can mean saving a few extra bucks on your next meal or entry ticket. They’re also typically staffed, which usually results in cleaner restrooms and better help if you need someone to point you in the right direction.
Set aside a small envelope of cash for souvenirs.
We’ve all been there. You’re stopped at the gas station filling up, and you go to stretch your legs or use the restroom and the path funnels you past an adorable set of mugs or a clever little keychain with a moose on it. You never knew you needed a moose keychain, but now you do. You’ve got to have it. You turn it over and the price tag is $15. Yikes!
We all like having little mementos of our trips as silly as they might be. The key is making sure you don’t buy too many or spend too much. Setting a little money aside before the trip and designating it as souvenir money allows for a little bit of a fun, but once the cash is gone – it’s gone! So, choose your moose keychains wisely!
Get your car tuned up before the trip.
Not only will this save you the headache of discovering you have a slow leak in your tire somewhere in the middle of Kansas or having smoke pouring out of your engine in the middle of a rainstorm on the side of the highway, it will help your car get better mileage. Make sure your tires are in good shape, at the proper PSI, and properly rotated. Get an oil change. Have a mechanic you trust peer under the hood. You’ll be happier to have things go smoothly on your road trip and not find yourself with a handful of unexpected expenses in the middle of nowhere.
Using points-back credit cards.
One of the most expensive parts of a road trip is gas. Depending on how far you’re going you can rapidly find yourself spending hundreds of dollars. I always try to make a point of using my cards that give me the best cash back or rewards for gas when I’m on a road trip. It might just be pennies here or there, but they add up on a long trip!
Consider renting a vehicle
Extended family road trips usually involve more than an average sedan’s worth of people, and taking multiple cars can double or triple your costs. One of the big cost savers we used to do when our whole family would travel somewhere was to rent a large van. You can split the cost of the rental and gas between family members and end up with a much reasonable bill for everyone involved. (And reduce your carbon footprint in the process!) It also means less wear and tear on your car, and if something goes wrong the car rental places can quickly get you a replacement vehicle so you can be on your way – rather than sitting with your own car in a strange repair shop.