Original CC image courtesy of Marc Smith
If you've been reading the blog for awhile, then you know that I've been talking about our road trip to New Orleans for weeks now. And if you know me personally, then you can imagine that I did pretty much anything I could think of to scrimp and scrounge for a few extra cents to put away for the trip. Now, combine my aforementioned wanderlust and frugality, and of course we're left with this incredibly helpful money-saving road-tripping guide! Read on for ten great ways to save!
1. Pack a lunch! First and foremost, consider the one thing that you need more than anything else - and the one thing that you're going to consistently be tempted to buy along the way - your food. I know it's more convenient to just not worry about it, to make a quick drive-through detour along the way, to pick up a bottle of soda to drink here and there as you make bathroom breaks, but in all seriousness, don't. Think about how long your drive is, and prepare any meals, snacks, and drinks that you know you'll be eating ahead of time.
2. Don't stay at a hotel. The next thing your body will need is sleep! As someone who has stayed in a lot of crappy hotels to save a little money (albeit often company money), I can honestly say that you're better off not opting for the cheapest deal you can find at a nearby motel. Instead, save money by camping out at the local grounds, on the beach, or in your car. Even staying at a cozy bed & breakfast typically costs less than a cheap motel, and is much more comfortable.
CC image courtesy of Vidya Crawley
3. Plan ahead. Okay, maybe this should have been the first bullet on the list. Depending on your interests, you may want to stop at a roadside attraction, make a several-hour amusement park detour (not that I have ever done this, *ahem*), or have a fancy dinner date before settling in for the night. You can save some time and money by doing a little research and pre-planning. For example, printing relevant coupons, finding the cheapest lunch menu in a town you'll be driving through, or researching national or state parks at which to stop and enjoy a nice picnic. A great resource to find stops along your trip's route is Roadtrippers.com.
4. Set your budget. I couldn't imagine stepping out the door without knowing how much I'll need to cover gas for the trip's duration! For longer trips with planned stops such as parks or roadside attractions, figure out how much admission costs will add up to, as well as average meal prices at nearby restaurants. By having your budget laid out ahead of time, you'll know immediately whether or not you can afford the opportunity to do something spontaneous.
5. Sign up for AAA. I have to admit that Brad and I are currently not members of AAA, but have experienced their benefits in the past. If you know you're going to be leaving for a vacation, it may be a good time to consider signing up! It's always great to know that someone is there to help you if you get into vehicular trouble, but you'll also have opportunities for membership discounts at certain hotels, airlines, amusement parks, and other businesses and services.
6. Take your pets with you. As much of a hassle as it can be to take an animal on a long road-trip, it's so much cheaper than boarding your pet, and probably easier than finding a friend that's willing to stay with them 24/7 and give them all the excessive attention that they're used to because you work at home and just snuggle the crap out of them all day.
CC image courtesy of dagnyg
7. Pool your resources. If you're going to be traveling with friends or family, then consider carpooling, splitting the hotel bill, or have each adult pack part of a meal, for a sort of pot-luck dinner on the go. With larger parties, you even have the option to look for restaurants or hotels with special group prices.
8. Be prepared for emergencies. If you don't have an emergency kit in your car, then this is the best time to get one together! Consider what you would need in a worst-case scenario: jumper cables, jack, tire iron, spare tire, as well as some personal emergency items, such as a flashlight, blanket, or toilet paper. You'll be glad to have these items with you if you have car troubles in the middle of nowhere, and it will be much less expensive if you can deal with them yourself.
9. Watch gas prices. This isn't as complicated as it sounds! Just figure out your vehicle's MPG and gas tank capacity to find out approximately how often you'll need to stop for gas along your trip. Now place your trip parameters in Google Maps to find the areas along your route that you'll be in when you need a refill, and pair it with a site like GasBuddy.com, which allows you to search for the lowest gas prices within a certain search criteria.
CC image courtesy of Jacob Enos
10. Buy travel supplies ahead of time. There are plenty of convenience stores and rest stops along the way if you've forgotten sunscreen, phone chargers, sandals, or personal hygiene items, but they're often over-priced because of their attainability. You can save a few more dollars by bringing these items from home or buying them at a grocery or discount store.