How To

Tips to Planning a Road Trip on a Budget

road trip

The summer season is starting to wind down and if you haven’t had a chance to get away yet, don’t fret — there is still time to sneak in a last-minute trip. While gas prices are sky high, driving is still considered an efficient and affordable way to travel.

Here are some tips to keeping costs low during a summer road trip.

Plan Ahead

Some people like to take meandering road trips. However, this is the least cost-effective way of traveling by car. The more you plan, the more you can save. For example, a little planning ahead allows you to reserve an inexpensive hotel room in advance. You can even research the cheapest gas prices by using apps like GasBuddy and GasBag. Or, if you have a membership to a wholesale club, you can plan your fill-ups around the nearest locations.

Road trip tip: If you’re driving a rental, don’t fill up the tank near the drop off or airport when you return it — gas prices are generally higher in those areas.

Drive Smart

Saving on gas means more than just getting the right price. It also means driving smart. Inflate your tires to the proper pressure for optimum gas mileage. Sudden stops and starts also cuts down on fuel economy. I know these summer months can be hot, but if you can avoid using the air conditioning or driving with all the windows down you’ll get far better mileage. Don’t idle unless you absolutely have to. Put these all together for significant cost savings.

Road trip tip: Look for places that have three or more gas stations. Prices are usually lower when there is more competition.

Don’t Get Lost

Getting lost is frustrating, time-consuming and a waste of gas. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll also be spending extra money on food and lodging if you can’t find your destination. If you don’t own a GPS or have one on your phone, borrow one from a friend.

No matter what, always have an atlas in the car. While this might seem out of date in a world of GPS devices and smart phones, you’ll really kick yourself if your phone runs out of batteries or you find yourself in a GPS dead zone.

Road trip tip: It can be easier to find a route around construction or other calamity using an atlas instead of a GPS.

Take Your Car In

While taking your car to the mechanic for a tune up costs money, it’s usually far cheaper than breaking down by the side of the road. Have a mechanic you trust look at your car to make sure it’s fit enough for a road trip.

If your car isn’t reliable enough to make the trip, consider a rental. It’s another expense, but it’s a far better one than having to fix your car and there are plenty of car rental deals to take advantage of.

Road trip tip: Don’t forget to continuously check your oil and fluids throughout the duration of your trip.

Eat In

Fast food isn’t just bad for you — it can also be expensive. Traveling with your own food shortens your driving time, saves money, and allows you to eat healthier. Stock up on the basics and enjoy meals on the go or stop off for a picnic.

Road trip tip: Check out Frugal Foodie’s must-haves for the on-the-go foodie. 

Roadside Assistance

Roadside assistance is a must if you’re going on a long car ride. If you don’t have roadside assistance and your car breaks down on the side of the road or runs out of gas, get ready to pay through the nose for someone to come help you. Having roadside assistance also prepares you for everything from flat tires to busted radiators. You’ll still have to pay for the associated repairs to your car, but the little bit that you pay for roadside assistance pales in comparison to the cost of a tow truck — especially if you break down in the middle of nowhere.

Road trip tip: If you breakdown on the side of the road and don’t have roadside assistance, it’s possible to sign up for coverage over the phone and have assistance sent to you right away.

Keep Lodging Costs Low

There are two ways to keep lodging costs low. First, you can camp out. Not only does this save money, but it’s also a lot of fun for those who appreciate the great outdoors. And if you have access to a truck or a van, you don’t have to spend money on camping equipment. Just throw some bedding in the back and get ready to sleep underneath the stars.

You can also plan your trip around staying with friends and family. A road trip is a great opportunity to see some sights and sneak in a visit with your old college roommate, the “fun side” of your family, or that one long-lost childhood friend who somehow managed to get it together enough to buy a place big enough to house you and your family for an entire week.

Road trip tip: Use social networking sites for recommendations on the best local eateries and off-the-beaten-path activities.

Nicholas Pell is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, CA. He always stays with friends and family when he travels.