You have fond memories of a road trip your family took as a kid, so now you’re treating (torturing?) your clan to something similar. Good move: A driving vacation can be significantly cheaper than a trip requiring air travel. However, it’s easy to lose track of money whenever you’re on vacation—even if you’re on your own four wheels. Here are some money-saving tips to keep your upcoming road trip from breaking your budget:
Drive gas-consciously. You’ve heard it before, but speeding can really cost you in terms of gas. Once you exceed 60 mph, you can lose up to 10 percent in gas mileage. That means you’ll pay significantly more for gas over the course of your trip. In addition, make sure your vehicle’s tires are properly inflated, as under-filled tires can also decrease your gas mileage.
An app like GasBuddy can help you to get the best gas prices along your route, and a map (or GPS app/device) can be of assistance when you’re in unfamiliar territory. By using both, you can avoid getting lost and wasting both gas and precious vacation time.
Consider renting a car. If you’re driving a long distance, a rental car can save the wear and tear on your own car. Search online for the best car rental deal you can find, reserve your car, then consider re-shopping a week or so before your vacation in case rates have dropped.
You can also register at Autoslash.com, a website that will continually check car rental rates and notify you of changes until your trip date. Try to avoid picking up a rental at an airport location; their fees are usually the highest.
Factor in unexpected costs. You know to budget for obvious things like your hotel, food, gas, or car rental. But don’t forget the new swimsuits and sandals several family members may require, the cost of boarding your pet (if you have one), and so on. Plan ahead so you’re not surprised when you get home and tally your receipts.
Look for discounts. If you’re an AAA member, check to see if you can get discounts for attractions in the area you’re visiting. And buy an Entertainment Book for your main vacation destination—you can often score 50 percent off on hotels, meals, museums, and more.
Research your vacation spot at CitiesontheCheap.com or the website of your destination’s visitor center. You’ll learn about inexpensive entertainment, free festivals, and other cheap ways to have fun while you’re traveling.
Pack your own snacks. Carry a cooler with bottled water, fruit, nuts, and other healthy snacks you can share in the car. Throw in a few treats, too—after all, it’s vacation! Consider booking a hotel room that has a kitchenette—or a vacation home with a full kitchen—so you can cook a few of your own meals or at least microwave some store-bought frozen dinners. You’ll save a bundle if you don’t hit restaurants for every meal of the day.
Plan for the in-car whine factor. Face it: Today’s kids aren’t used to long drives without entertainment. Load some fresh games or new movies on your iPad or bring along a portable DVD player. If you’ve got multiple backseat passengers, pack headphones and buy an inexpensive headphone splitter so two people can listen to music, movies, and audio books without bothering the driver.
Stash a few fun car games and toys ahead of time and pull new ones out every few days. That way, you won’t feel as pressured to buy unplanned doo-dads along the way.
With some creative planning, you can make your family’s summer road trip a memorable—and money-saving—vacation.