7 Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip
By: Deb Hipp
You don’t have to sideswipe your budget every time you hit the highway.
I’ve taken many long road trips in my life and wasted hundreds of dollars on gas station snacks, stale coffee and overpriced hotels. However, in the last few years, I’ve learned that a little planning saves a lot of money when the drive is long and funds are low.
If you’re traveling for a holiday, weekend getaway or cross-country vacation, here are my top 7 tips for spending less.
- Bring your own meals
Even though I hate to admit it, I’ll always stop at McDonald’s for an Egg McMuffin®, hash browns and semi-decent coffee when driving to a distant destination. The rest of the time, I raid my pre-packed cooler for the trip. You can bring enough meals, soup, fruit and sandwiches for one day or several. Depending on how long the trip, you’ll save lots of money. That means you’ll have more to spend dining out once you arrive.
- Pack snacks and drinks
Don’t pay $20 for a bag of chips, a jar of overpriced dip, a handful of cashews, three beef jerky sticks and an industrial-sized drink. And don’t buy one little bottle of soda for $2 at a gas station when you could buy a 12-pack for $4 or $5 on sale at the grocery store. If you’re going to spend twenty bucks, shop at a discount grocer to stock up on a roundtrip assortment of snacks.
- Study up on fuel economy
The average driver can improve fuel economy by roughly 10% by driving sensibly, using cruise control, removing excess weight and other simple measures, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Gas Saving Tips. In some cases, just keeping your tires properly inflated can improve gas mileage up to 3 percent.
- Rethink hotel standards
You already splurged on an oceanfront room at your destination. Do you really have to spend $100 to $200 a night for a road trip room that you’ll occupy for less than 12 hours? You can find clean, safe hotel rooms for under $100 if you do your research. After you arrive, use the money you save on sightseeing, shopping or going out to eat.
- Use coupons
Even if you’re not a meals-in-the-cooler person, you can still save money if you bring along newspaper and other coupons. I receive plenty of coupons for Wendy’s, Subway and any number of greasy chicken chains in my mail box.
- Get primitive
A campsite rental at a national park or other public campground typically runs between $10-$20 a night, according to Trip Savvy. Usually, you’ll have access to hot showers, picnic tables and restrooms. Private campgrounds are more expensive. However, don’t go the campsite route unless you already have a tent and camping equipment. Otherwise, you’ll cancel out any savings with a pre-camping shopping spree. If you have friends who camp, ask to borrow their gear instead.
- Don’t get a speeding ticket
You don’t want to save a bunch of money on snacks and meals, only to get busted with a $300 speeding ticket the next time Born to Be Wild plays. A traffic ticket can also raise your car insurance premiums.
With a little planning and restraint, you’ll always have more for dining, shopping and all-around fun after the engine cools and the bags are unpacked.
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