When the cost of airfare is higher than you expected, you'll probably ask yourself whether or not it would be cheaper to just drive. A road trip can be a budget-friendly way to get from one place to another and see the sights along the way, but not always. Depending on the price of gas and how many hotel stays you'll have to book along the way, you might end up going over your budget. However, with proper planning, and some money-saving tricks, you can have your road trip and save some money too.
Inspect Your Vehicle Before Rolling Out
Road trips put a lot of strain on a vehicle, so you should always get your oil changed and inspect the vehicle for potential issues before rolling out. Repairs at an unfamiliar auto shop are likely to be more expensive than at your home shop, not to mention any towing fees if you break down in the middle of nowhere. You can scrimp and save all you want, but if your car breaks down in the middle of your trip, you can kiss your budget goodbye.
Buy Snacks in Advance
A few snacks picked up at the rest stop may seem harmless, but all those marked-up bags of chips will add up. There's nothing wrong with indulging in your road trip munchies, but spending money at every refueling stop will quickly eat into your budget. Instead of picking up a new crop of snacks every few miles, buy your snacks at a big box retailer before you hit the road. You can even bring a small cooler to keep things cold and fresh throughout the trip.
Say No to the Drive Through
Snacks can quickly drain your road trip money, but stopping for fast food is even worse. If you pay for three meals per day during your road trip, that can really hike up your spending costs. Instead of a rest stop, find a grocery store and stock up on cold cuts, fruit, and other no-mess meals that are fit for the road. And when you're eating out less, you can justify spending a little more on a nicer meal somewhere else along your trip. If you do eat out, considering ordering something that will be easy to keep in the car if there are any leftovers, so you can make two meals out of one. Ideally, it would be something mess-free that you can eat cold, like a sandwich.
The best road trip moments tend to be the ones that stray from the itinerary, but if you want to save money, you'll need to book your accommodation ahead of time and stick to your plan. Pre-book any RV parks, motels, hotels, or vacation rentals to secure the best rates. You can get creative when searching for accommodations by looking at all options, including campsites or home rentals, which can sometimes be cheaper than hotels.
Camp for Free
It won’t be as luxurious as a hotel or offer as many amenities like a bed and breakfast but if you’re camping or can manage to sleep in your car, there are a few places on federal land where you can score free, or at least low-cost, accommodation. Check out the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) website to find public lands with free camping sites across the United States.
Get the Most Out of Your Miles
Slightly increasing your miles per gallon might not seem like a huge savings boon, but better fuel efficiency can save you big bucks on a long road trip. There are a number of ways to maximize your gas usage like watching your speed, keeping your tires properly inflated, and getting an inspection before you leave. If it's not too hot, you can also try keeping the air-conditioning off or, if you can get a good price for it, a higher quality fuel can also help you maximize efficiency.
Save Your Stops for the Cheapest Gas
How much you pay for gas can make or break your road trip’s budget. You can focus on getting the most out of your miles all you want, but if you’re buying overpriced gas you’ll have nothing to show for your careful driving. Smartphones have made scouting and finding the cheapest gas easier than ever before and free apps like GasBuddy can help you compare prices and find affordable gas no matter where you are.
Know Where You're Going to Park
A few poor parking choices can turn your day in the city into a total budget buster. Big cities are notorious for their hefty parking fees and hawklike meter maids that patrol city parking, but a little research can lead to big savings. You can find online resources listing free and paid spaces around the city and look up the parking restrictions ahead of time. Knowing exactly which parking garage you'll use will also save you time. RV drivers especially need to pre-plan their parking to find accommodating spaces on the cheap.
It's not so long ago that you needed high-tech equipment or a meticulously planned route to dodge the toll booths, but now modern GPS systems can help you steer clear of tolls and paid-use roadways by simply checking off a box. However, before you commit to the no-toll route, make sure that it's not adding too many more miles on to your trip. If you end up paying more in gas to avoid tolls, it's not really worth it. Still, you can save money by purchasing the region-appropriate quick pass which will get you a cheaper rate overall on tolls.
Don't Get a Ticket
Nothing ruins a day like a ticket and getting a traffic citation when you're out of state can create a huge headache for yourself in the future. Use your common sense to avoid tickets by watching your speed and getting your car inspected before you hit the road. Make sure all lights and turn signals are working correctly and your insurance and tags are up to date. It's also a good idea to monitor local traffic laws and regulations to avoid getting a ticket for a law you weren't aware of.