Save on Summer Road Trips
Hit the highway and drive down the cost of family travel.
Summer is high season for family road trips. And with airfare and its attendant fees up in the stratosphere, driving remains the most cost-effective way to get from point A to point “wheee, we’re on vacation.”
With that said: Caution, road-trippers. Gas prices are still high, and hotel stays, restaurant meals and attraction-hopping for even a few days away add up fast. Before you put a stop on your mail, pack the trunk and roll down the driveway, map out a road-trip budget with the following money-saving tips in mind.
Map everything out. Research routes, destinations, places to visit and popular eateries (consult Foodnetwork.com for recommendations). Pre-book accommodations to avoid a no-vacancy nightmare. Use Tripit.com to keep all details organized in one place, but bring a map in case your GPS goes down.
Get a tuneup. Before you leave, schedule a tuneup and get your tires checked to help you avoid breakdowns that could result in costly repairs by unfamiliar mechanics in faraway towns.
Save on gas. At press time, gas was averaging an annoying $3.56 per gallon. Apps like GasBuddy will direct you to the most inexpensive fuel available on any route. Also, consider using a credit card that provides travel points or cash back on gas purchases (find suggestions at Gift Card Granny).
Save on dining out. Chain restaurants abound roadside, making it easy to stop for a quick meal you know your kids will like. Gift Card Granny offers discount restaurant gift cards; options allow you to save up to 30 percent at Chili's, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse and other suburban family faves.
Pack wisely. Avoid paying premium prices for trip essentials by bringing what you need with you. Beach staples like towels, flip-flops and sunscreen cost much more when purchased on the boardwalk; ditto, travel-related gadgets like phone chargers and camera batteries bought at roadside stores.
Make snacks. Pit stops are a road-trip must, but loading up on convenience-store fare will quickly eat into your budget. Pack your own snacks, soft drinks and bottled water in a cooler you can refill with cheap ice from the gas station.
Bring your own movies. Instead of paying through the nose to watch a flick via the hotel’s in-room movie service, slide a DVD into your laptop or take advantage when there’s free WiFi and tap your Netflix, Hulu or cable iPad app.
Tell your bank. Alert your credit card company about your upcoming trip and give them destination details so you don't temporarily lose access to needed funds. Most banks and credit card companies tag frequent, out-of-state charges as fraudulent, and you don’t want to risk having a hold put on your account.
Stay within the speed limit. Studies show that fuel efficiency decreases as speed increases, making road trips more expensive for those with lead feet. Since speeding also ups the potential for being pulled over and given a pricey ticket, it pays to slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally recognized consumer expert. Follow her here for daily savings advice and tips.