Flying is expensive, so for most families, the way to get to and from their vacation spot is a road trip. Be it long or short, here are some ideas to help you save money during your travel on the highways and byways. First, Identify the big (and little) things that can hurt your budget as you travel. If you know what can usually tempt you to spend unwisely, then a few simple tips and some effort before you hit the road can make a big difference. For most people, the three big culprits are food, fuel, and frills. Before jumping into specific tips for each of those three areas, I want to talk about planning ahead in your mindset and setting expectations.
Plan Ahead to Manage Expectations
Making decisions in ADVANCE of the trip is one of the best cost cutting measures you can have. Maybe your decision is that for each day of vacation or travel you will prepare two of the meals and eat one meal out. Or, maybe the decision is only one souvenir per person for the trip, or that the family will not be buying individual souvenirs but a Christmas ornament for the family tree at each major destination. Whatever your decisions, thinking about it in advance and communicating your decisions to everyone in the family is the key. In this way, the trip is begun with everyone having the same expectations in advance. When everyone is on the same page ahead of time, it is easier to not get derailed. This helps to maintain harmony on your trip.
Have a Plan for Fuel Stops
The typical truck stop is one of the easiest ways to reduce your billfold of cash (or have your credit card bill arrive next month making you wish you had never taken a vacation). If you stop for fuel, or perhaps to use the bathrooms…beware of the “gimmies.” Kids, and even ourselves, can succumb to budget-busting diversions in the gift shop area, the food counters, or the snack aisles. It is no accident that the restrooms are in the back where you have to walk past lots of goodies. So, what can you do?
- Make the most of your stops. Use a gas price finding app
on your smart phone, or visit websites such as gaspricewatch.com, gasbuddy.com, or fueleconomy.gov to check on local gas prices. Some states even have a website devoted to prices in that state. This will help you know if the price difference for driving a couple blocks is worth the extra 5 minutes compared to the price of the station just at the end of the off ramp.
- Make the most of your card swipe. Consider a credit or debit card that offers discounts for using their particular card for gas purchases. We have a “monkey” card, and it saves us quite a bit over all stations in our local region. It even beats prices at the local Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart because it debits the money from our account, and for that we can save up to 10cents a gallon at participating stations.
- Make a different stop. When you need to stop but do not need fuel, consider stopping at a highway rest stop. They are well lit and are typically well maintained in most states, with clean restrooms. Some include freebies like maps and coupon books, and in Florida you get orange juice samples. All rest areas have drinking fountains for refilling your personal water bottles. There are usually open spaces that allow children to run around and get the wiggles out, and if you have a pet, most have areas for pets. They are also nice places to stretch your legs as the driver. You can have one of your meals from the cooler at one of the picnic tables. Remember to pack a bed sheet that can serve as a table cloth since rest area tables often are dirty from the elements, but we enjoy the rest area stops as a great money saving strategy that keeps us away from snack aisles and souvenir shops, while still giving us a few insights into the area.
Knowing what your limits are for the day and where you can go to stay within them will really help minimize not only spending but also frustration. Next, we will look at planning the food for your road trip.