How To Save Money on Road Trips

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Stretch Your Dollar on the Road
How to Save Money on Road Trips

by Laurel Smith (Road Trip Mom)

Got a long stretch of road to travel?  Stretch your dollar too! 

For many families, one of the main reasons for taking a road trip to their destination (in lieu of flying) is to save money. With gas prices growing, it makes sense to look for ways to stretch that dollar even more. Pre-trip budgeting will be in order.

Here are some tips to get your show on the road more affordably:

Plan Ahead for Meals and Snacks
Instead of buying fast food on the road, take a few extra minutes and grocery shop at home. Pack lunch and bring it along. Or, just bring a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a squeezable container of  jelly, and raid your kitchen junk drawer for plastic utensils so you can make lunch on the road. Get out and stretch your legs at a rest stop instead of at a fast food restaurant and enjoy a picnic.

Also, bring snacks purchased from the grocery store, instead of buying them on the road. Try these road trip food ideas for your family like trail mix, cereal mix, string cheese, and fruit such as apples which travel great in the car. Pack snacks in individual plastic bags for each passenger.

Instead of eating at restaurants while staying at hotels, my friend Barb likes to pack kid-friendly foods to make in the hotel. She packs easy mac, soup, and microwave popcorn since many hotels now have microwaves. When on your vacation, she also recommends going to the Early bird dinners or eating out for just one meal per day, and eat-in for the others. She says, "We usually eat a late lunch after a breakfast of fruit, and then dinner is fruit and crackers. One big meal and small snacks are easier."

Drink water instead of soda in the car (much healthier, much cheaper, and doesn't make such a mess). Pack frozen water bottles in the cooler. It will act as ice for the other items in the cooler, and you can drink the water when it melts.

Plan Free Entertainment for the Kids for the Road
While there are lots of activities, books and games available to purchase to keep the kiddies entertained (and parents sane), there is just as much available for free if you know where to look.

Start with Printable Car Travel Games from like Road Trip Bingo, Lines and Dots, coloring pages, and lyrics to songs the family can sing to pass the time. Spend a few minutes printing these activities and save money as well as your sanity.

Also, play some games in the car that don't require any materials at all like traditional car games such as Counting Cows, The License Plate Game, I Spy, and Twenty Questions. Other activities require minimal expense such as "Aluminum Foil Art" (you just need a roll of aluminum foil), card games (you just need a deck of cards to play Crazy 8's or Old Maid),  and string game figures (you just need a piece of string). There are instructions on how to play these activities and many more like them in my articles on Car Games for Kids or for Toddlers

My good friend and frequent road tripper, Devra, also recommends planning ahead for free media entertainment as well. She writes, "We go to the library and check out DVDs and music instead of buying them."

Adopt Good Driving Habits that Save Gas
Ease on down the road -- Harsh accelerating and braking use up much more fuel according to  "Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town."

Slow down!  Drive at a constant speed and observe posted limits.  Excessive speed wastes gas, and speeding tickets waste money. recommends, "As a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas." 

Cruise control is your friend - it can help save gas by keeping your driving speed more steady on long stretches of road. 

Look ahead in order to anticipate a slow down in traffic.  You don't need to continue accelerating all the way up to a light you can see is red. If you are approaching a light, take your foot off the gas and coast up to the light. Don't press so hard when accelerating again. Going downhill doesn't require as much pressure on the accelerator either. 

Avoid Excessive idling.  Turn off the engine if you are going to stop somewhere for longer than a few minutes.

Other things you can do to improve your gas mileage include making sure your tire pressure is at right level, don't haul excess weight in the car, and avoid carrying racks and boxes on the roof which can cause more drag. 

Use  to calculate the estimated fuel cost of your trip.

Call Ahead for Overnights On The Road
If it will take more than one day to get to your destination, think about who you know on the route. Are there friends or family with whom you'd like to reconnect? Call ahead and let them know you are going to be passing through their city overnight on your trip. They may offer to let you stay with them.

If you do stay at a hotel, call ahead or go online and make a reservation in advance. You can get a much better rate making a reservation than you can walking in and asking if they have any rooms while you are on the road.   Also, if you call the hotel directly, you can often get a better rate. Be sure to ask about special discounts such as AAA, Government, and Student discounts.  My friend Jennifer also adds, "When we choose a hotel we try to pick one with additional amenities that are free (internet access, free breakfast, pool)." 

There are lots of phone apps that offer personalized travel information for Interstate travel, exit by exit.  You can use it to find out what hotels and restaurants are at every single exit along your route.

Consider a campground instead of a hotel for bigger savings too.

Plan Your Route
Plan your route and print maps with directions so you don't get lost and waste gas driving out of your way. 

Also, try to plan the trip so that you can travel through major cities during off-peak hours to avoid sitting in traffic which wastes gas.  And once you are at your destination, if you have errands to run, try to do them all at once instead of making multiple trips. 

Save Money At Home While You are Away
Trade pet sitting with neighbors or friends instead of paying for a kennel while you are away.

Remember to set your air conditioner or heater when you leave so that you are not wasting money excessively cooling/heating the house when no one is home.

Call your newspaper delivery and have them temporarily stop your paper while you are away. They will usually credit those days to your account.

Above all, try to plan ahead to avoid last minute or impulse purchases.  A little bit of planning along with other small changes that you make, can really add up to big savings during a long road trip. With your wallet a little fuller, you can relax more and feel even better about spending this time with your family. 

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