School is out. It's time to hit the road. If your family summer traditions include piling the children in the car to visit the wonders of the American landscape, then you're probably already a pro at packing coolers and booking value hotels. There are, however, a few additional road warrior hacks that can help you save time, money and probably more than a little aggravation this travel season.
Road Trip Tip #1: Use a checklist to avoid expenses for things you're likely to forget.
Glamorous, no, but the checklist is still your very best tool when it comes to traveling well and taking the time to create one prevents the Clark Griswold packing madness that can rule departure day for the family road trip. Depending on how detailed you like to get with planning, you can go beyond just listing your stuff and include packing plans that ensure you can get to what you need when you need it.
Kid-friendly checklists help your junior travelers learn how to pack. Admit it: Your 8-year-old is more likely to pack a bag filled with her favorite stuffed friends than with socks and toothpaste. Turn the packing process into an opportunity to earn points toward the souvenirs you will wind up collecting along the way.
Keep updating your list from year to year. The checklist you created to be sure you have car seats and baby gear will quickly become outdated. Take a copy along on the trip to revise and improve for the next adventure.
Road Trip Tip #2: Plan your gas stops.
Fuel to get you to your destination and back is usually your biggest expense for the whole trip. One of the best tools for choosing when and where to fill up is a simple gas finder app for your smartphone. Gas Guru and Fuel Buddy are just a couple of the options that help you find the cheapest places to stop for gas before your tank gets too low.
Did you know that gas prices can vary as much as 20 to 30 cents per gallon just in the state of Florida? If a beach is all that matters, you might want to choose a spot in northern Florida rather than trekking all the way to places like Naples and Ft. Lauderdale. Take the time to do a little research on current gas prices as you're determining this summer's vacation spot. That little bit of extra knowledge could save you some serious cash.
Road Trip Tip #3: Don't let the kids leave valuables behind.
Carelessness, especially with cell phones and other electronics, can cost you time and money. On a recent road trip, my daughter left her iPhone in the hotel room. The hotel contacted us fairly quickly, but we still lost an hour of drive time and a quarter of a tank of gas to turn around and claim it. A quick visual check of the room before check out really isn't sufficient. Kids tend to take mp3 players, games and e-readers to bed with them. Make the extra effort to pull back the sheets, check the piles of towels and open the drawers every time.
Road Trip Tip #4: Always eat the free breakfast.
There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but breakfast is usually included. While budget hotels may not serve a full breakfast or offer an omelet station, most make sure to provide a selection of beverages, fruit, yogurt and muffins. You'll get much further down the road before hearing, "Are we there yet?" if the kids start the day with some kind of breakfast, and you're far less likely to stop for that expensive latte if you've already gotten your caffeine fix. Your stock of snacks in the cooler will also go much further when supplemented by the breakfast included with your hotel stay.
Bonus Road Trip Tip
There are apps for everything. Taking the time to check in on Foursquare can earn you all kinds of perks from percentage discounts to free appetizers. You have permission to give into the tech-induced urge to maximize the savings on everything you plan to do.
So, upgrade your frugal road trip skills and enjoy the thrill of the highway this summer.
Michelle Stinson Ross is the social marketing manager at Offers.com. She's a working mother of three teens and a digital diva who loves a great deal.
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