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Taking a Road Trip? Save Money on These 4 Expenses

Key Takeaways

  • Calculate the total distance of your trip (there and back) and compare that to your car’s miles per gallon to figure out how much you’ll pay for gas.
  • Shop for groceries before and during your trip to cut down on the cost of food.
  • Book tickets for popular attractions ahead of time to reserve a spot; don’t wait until the day-of.

Road trips are all about a sense of adventure and the beautiful unknown of the open roads ahead. It’s why we willfully pack ourselves into a car with our family or friends for days on end instead of simply flying directly to our destination.

Even though driving is generally cheaper than flying, the expenses of a road trip can sneak up on you quickly. So how do you get the most out of this experience without breaking the bank?

Here are some ways to prepare for and save on the cost of a road trip.

1. Gas

Gas is not cheap these days, and the cost of continually filling up your tank on a road trip adds up in a hurry. However, you can estimate the cost by mapping out your trip (there and back), calculating the total miles, and comparing that number to the miles-per-gallon your car gets.

Here are some tips to help manage the cost of gas:

  • Take the most fuel-efficient car that’s available. Just make sure the car is in good enough condition to make the drive.
  • Rotate who pays for gas at each fuel stop.
  • Some apps, like Gas Buddy, help you locate the nearest gas stations and list their prices. Warning: Gas stations at rest stops and directly off the highway tend to be pricier than others.

It’s easy to lose track of your fuel gauge while on a road trip, especially as the roads and miles start to blur together. Do your best to stay on top of your tank so you’re not caught dangerously close to empty in the middle of nowhere.

Nervous Sweating

2. Lodging

Any serious road trip has two types of overnight stops: the special destination stops where you look forward to spending a night or two, and the “crash” stops with the sole purpose of sleeping, showering, and getting back on the road again.

Before you depart on your road trip, outline your destination stops first and book those hotels in advance. This ensures you’re not turned away from all the hotels in town when you’re already sleep deprived and sick of being in a car. In some cases, home sharing services, like Airbnb, can get you a reduced rate on a place to crash without paying for all the amenities of a hotel room.

Or, if you don't want to book ahead, log onto apps like Hotels Tonight to find last-minute deals on hotel rooms.

3. Food

This is where you can really save some money.

Buying groceries periodically during your trip — instead of eating at drive-through restaurants or truck-stop diners the whole time — can save you and your fellow travelers quite a bit of cash.

That doesn’t mean eating boring peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all trip long. At some destination stops, the food is part of the attraction, so you won’t want to miss out on that. However, many times a simple lunch in the car is a better option than splurging on an expensive — but easily forgettable — brunch in Nowhere, America. To keep food costs down, consider eating out only one meal per day while on the road.

Oh, and don’t forget to stock up on snacks. Snacks are essential.

4. Attractions

Are there specific things you must do or see along the way? For some popular attractions, it’s smart to buy tickets to reserve your spot before hitting the road. Otherwise, you could make the long drive, only to find out everything is booked up or closed down and you’re out of luck. Nobody wants that.

Plus, by booking ahead, you’ll know right away the cost of your must-see attractions. That way, there are no surprises.

Do you have a AAA membership? If so, see if you can score some savings on tickets! If not, you could still score savings by booking ahead or buying tickets as a group.

Still, part of the fun of a road trip is being spontaneous. You probably had no intention of stopping at something like The National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. But when you passed the sign on the highway, you couldn’t resist. Build a buffer of money into your budget to account for those spontaneous stops and expenses that turn a road trip into a real road trip.

What to remember

We all would like to save money. However, road trips and vacations are about enjoying yourself and experiencing the world around you. If you really wanted to save money, you’d be staying at home, not spending your vacation in a car.

So don’t let frugality keep you from enjoying your trip. Otherwise, what little money you do spend will have been for nothing. That’s why these subtle cost-cutting measures are ideal — you get the adventure and memories you wanted without wasting money on senseless things.

Other than that, don’t forget to drive safe, wear your seatbelt, and enjoy the highways of America!

More information

Planning a road trip? Learn how opening a separate savings account can make it easier to put aside money for the trip by clicking here, calling 1-877-360-2472, or visiting your nearest Citizens Bank branch.

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