Ah, there may be no better way to explore America than taking a summer road trip. For some, road trips are often just as exciting as the final destination. Yet, cutting costs without sacrificing the quality of your vacation can be challenging. Before you back the car out of the driveway, here are eight money-saving tips for your summer road trip:
Budget first. Before you start setting that navigation device, be sure a road trip is something you can actually afford. Personal finance apps allow you to budget for the cost of gas, accommodations and food, and set savings goals. A little contribution from each paycheck will add up over time, leaving you a nice financial cushion that you can apply toward the trip.
Timing is everything. If you plan to travel during the summer months, try to avoid the holiday weekends because gas prices will skyrocket, hotels will often be booked and the available rooms will be more expensive. It's best to plan the dates for your trip ahead of time. You should also consider waking up early. Believe it or not, leaving early can save you money. You'll have the road to yourself (who wants to sit in traffic?), your trip will be quick and you'll save money on fuel costs.
Factor in fuel. Fluctuating gas prices can put the brakes on a road trip. Take advantage of fuel cost calculator mobile apps such as GasBuddy or Fuel Smart that will help you determine the cost of your trip based on average regional gas prices and the details of your trip, including starting city, destination and your vehicle's make, year and model. Once you're on the road, use mobile apps that identify the nearest gas station with the lowest price per gallon.
Tune it up. Perform a maintenance check to make sure your car is in good condition before you hit the open road. This includes checking the tires and fluids, and scheduling a tuneup, which will help you avoid breakdowns that could result in costly repairs with unfamiliar mechanics. There's nothing worse than cutting your road trip short with a car repair that could have been prevented.
Pack a cooler. Pit stops are a road trip must, but loading up on convenience store snacks can eat away at your budget. Bring a full cooler along for the ride for convenience and to save money. In addition to plenty of water, pack sandwich ingredients, containers with cut up vegetables and fruit that doesn't require refrigeration (like apples). If you're traveling with kids, crackers are a great go-to snack that can also temper car sick tummies.
Nab an inexpensive place to stay. There are plenty of budget-friendly alternatives to hotels. If you don't mind roughing it, consider sleeping under the stars. If you prefer the comfort of a warm bed or couch, rent a house or room through Airbnb, or align your overnight stops with places where you have friends and family. A road trip can be a great opportunity to sneak in a visit with an aunt, an old college roommate or a childhood friend. Bring flowers, or treat your hosts to breakfast as a thank you for their hospitality.
Rethink entertainment. Parks and roadside attractions generally won't put a dent in your budget. Create a plan to do and see all you can along the way, but make sure to set aside a little time and money for unpredictable opportunities. You don't want to be out of cash for that must-have meal or souvenir.
Pack smart. It's tempting (and easy) to overpack when you're taking your own car and don't have to worry about airline baggage fees. But keep in mind, that extra weight will slow down your vehicle and negatively impact your gas mileage.
What are you waiting for? Start saving today, and you'll be financially worry-free and on the road in no time. Safe travels!
More From US News & World Report