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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.

Takealongs to Keep the Kids Fed, Watered and Entertained
Avoid the "Are we there yet?"barrage with these smart takealongs. 

• The Fisher-Price Kid Tough Portable DVD Player, in pink or blue, has a hard, protective shell and won't break when it's jostled.
• The Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote is a hard case that comes with several activity books and washable markers.
• ToySmith's Go Play Magnetic Games keep pieces for backgammon, Sudoku, hangman, checkers, crosswords and more safe on the board.
• Melissa and Doug's Family Road Trip Box of Questions contains 45 conversation starts, 25 quiz q's and instructions for 10 classic road trip games.
• Stick loose toys, books and art supplies in the Alex Car Valet, which hooks onto the back of the front seat and folds down like a desktop.
• The jingle's annoying, but SeatPets do an important job – keeping small kids snug and safe within a shoulder seat belt – in a fun way. They come in a variety of stuffed animal types – dog, lion, ladybug, monkey, even a monster.
• Drink Squeezies
– reusable, 10-ounce drink bottles that fold flat when empty – will help cut down on juice-box detritus.
• Finally, keep potty training going on the road with the 2 in 1 Potette Plus, a foldable, eco-friendly full-size potty and trainer seat.

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.

Road Trip Routes

Sites like Roadtrippers help you plan a custom route when you type in where you want to end up. From our area, here are three family-geared suggestions, heading north, south and west.

To the North
Destination: A classic New England beach, Olgonquit, ME
Possible stops: New York City (take your pick of gotta-see hot spots); Coney Island; Mystic, CT (Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport); Boston (ride the Swan Boats, walk the Freedom Trail or visit the stellar Boston Children's Museum)

To the South
Destination: Another favorite beach, Virginia Beach, VA
Possible stops: Snow Hill, MD (go kayaking or canoeing with a rental from the Pocomoke River Canoe Company); historic Virginia-based sites like George Washington's Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg (while you're in the area, might as well hit Busch Gardens, too)

To the West
Destination:
Cedar Point Amusement Park, Sandusky, OH
Possible stops: Pittsburgh (Carnegie Science Center, Phipps Conservatory); Cleveland (Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Rain Forest, Lakefront Nature Preserve and State Park); Sandusky itself (for the African-themed waterpark resort Kalahari and the haunted "thrill center" Ghostly Manor)

 

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