Summer’s coming and that means vacation time! With gas prices lower than they have been in the last few years and with airlines gouging you for everything from extra bags to nuts, many people are hitting the highways this year. While road trips are typically less expensive than other forms of travel, there are some ways to lower those costs even further.
Don’t overpack: You may not have to pay for every bag you bring with you, as you would on an airline, but extra and overweight luggage can still cost you if you drive. That’s because extra weight in your car decreases your fuel efficiency. The heavier the load, the harder the engine has to work so more fuel is required. The lighter the load, the higher your MPG. So leave the extras at home and take only what you need.
Give your car a checkup before you leave: Make sure tires are properly inflated to prevent blowouts, flats, and loss of fuel economy. Do an oil and filter change to make certain you’re operating at peak efficiency. Dirty oil and filters make the engine work harder, costing you in fuel. Check the brakes, wipers, and wiper fluid. You don’t want to find out on a rainy day that your wipers don’t work and your brakes are worn out. Check belts and hoses and replace as needed. Repairs on the road can be costly; it’s often cheaper to do these things yourself before you leave home. Basic maintenance is a matter of both cost cutting and personal safety.
Use the cruise control: Keeping a constant speed increases your MPG and reduces your risk of a costly ticket.
Look into the benefits of a roadside assistance program like AAA: If you have a breakdown, towing or repair service can be very expensive. Programs like AAA will defray the cost of towing, flat repair, and gasoline (should you run out). AAA also offers hotel, merchandise and ticket discounts that may offset your cost of membership.
Pack a cooler of snacks: It’s cheaper to buy drinks and snacks ahead of time and pack them than it is to stop at gas stations and convenience stores. If your trip involves multiple nights, simply get more ice for the cooler from your hotel’s vending machine before you head out the next morning. If you can’t take a cooler, stop for snacks at a grocery store rather than a gas station or mini-mart. Grocery prices are much cheaper than convenience stores.
Avoid rush hour: Nothing wastes fuel faster (and frays tempers) than sitting in rush hour traffic. If your route takes you through major cities, plan to avoid rush hour. If you don’t make it, pull over at a rest area or restaurant, eat, nap, and wait it out.
Eat at a grocery store: Fast food can get expensive but many grocery stores now offer salads, “fill a box” type meals from the deli, or even hot cooked meals with sides for a lot less than restaurants charge.
Look for cheap gas: Sites like Gasbuddy.com are great at showing you where the cheapest gas is to be found along your route. No sense paying more than you have to.
Plan your route ahead of time: Take some time to put your trip into MapQuest or look at an atlas to determine the fastest, most economical route. If you belong to AAA, their TripTik service is great at finding the shortest distance and advising you of construction delays. Also, visit the DOT sites of the states you’ll be traveling through. Most have up to date information on road closures and construction projects.
Look for coupons: Most rest areas have coupon books for the local area. You can find some great deals on food and hotels. Some welcome centers even have booking services that can save you some money on overnight accommodations. This is also a great place to score discounts on local attractions.
Know about toll roads: If your trip takes you along toll roads, either plan to avoid those roads or save up some change ahead of time. Nothing is more frustrating than being surprised by miles of tolls and watching your vacation money disappear into the change slot.
Pack entertainment from home: Bring along the portable DVD player and movies, as well as books or audio books (these are also good on overnights in hotels when there’s nothing on TV). If the kids have portable game stations, pack