5 Tips for Money-Saving on a Road Trip

All over the country the weather is finally starting to warm up, and with melted snow and the shining sun comes the idea of a road trip. Yes, summer is coming, and many of us will be taking time off to hit the road, hopefully with gas prices lowering before then in our favor. Road trips have the potential to save a lot of money, particularly if you are traveling to a destination that would require the purchase of airline tickets for several people.

Still, road trips can be expensive if you don’t plan ahead, and even if you do, the costs can still add up quickly. There are several ways you can save money on a road trip, so read on to learn them. Hopefully saving money will be the positive start to your trip that you need to make it through the many hours in a small, cramped car with your friends or the other people you love.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

1. Pick the right time to plan and to travel

Many people travel over Memorial Day weekend and and the fourth of July weekend, and road trips are particularly popular those weekends because of the added day off work. In 2013 the expected spending on Memorial Day was $659, which is a hefty price for just a weekend getaway. If you plan to travel during the summer months, try to avoid the holiday weekends because hotels will often be booked, and the available rooms will be more expensive.

There are benefits to planning early, but there are also great deals to be found if you can book hotels last minute. It’s best to plan the dates for your trip ahead of time if your trip involves several people. You also can guarantee more consistent hotel prices, and you might find better deals on activity packages. However, some hotels will lower prices at the last minute if they have rooms to fill, which can save you money if you are willing to take the risk. Traveling off-season will help you save money in general, but especially if you have to stay overnight in a hotel.

2. Find affordable activities

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

If you’re traveling alone or with an adult friend, you may not have trouble agreeing on affordable activities. However, if you are traveling with kids, your best bet is to plan ahead of time. Pack as many toys and activities as possible to keep your kids entertained so that you don’t have to make frequent “fun” stops. If you are planning a very long road trip, you probably will want to stop for at least a few hours each day, but if you do your research ahead of time, you can find affordable places to stop. Most kids will enjoy any park if it’s new, so look for free parks; state parks can have interesting sights for both kids and adults.

If you’re looking to provide your kids with a higher level of entertainment (say, an amusement park), check out websites or call different locations to see if they offer discounts during off-seasons or less popular days. Although on a road trip you may get off-schedule, and you should expect this, the more you plan in advance, the less you will spend on spur-of-the-moment stops that can get expensive.

3. Save on food

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

In addition to stopping for fun activities, stopping for food is another huge waste of money. Although you might want to budget for some eating out, you shouldn’t expect to save much money if you eat out at every meal. When budgeting for food on your trip, you should consider things you enjoy eating (splurges), what you plan to eat, and how much it will all cost based on how long your trip will be. You can save a lot of money by packing snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated. Also, if you do need to stay in hotels, you can spend just a little extra money to get a kitchen, where you can cook your own food from a supermarket instead of eating out each night.

4. Have your car checked

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

While the idea of paying someone to check your car for you seems counterintuitive to saving money, if you don’t know enough about cars to check your own, you should have someone else look at. Knowing that your car is all set will give you peace of mind, but it will also save you money in the long run because cars that are well maintained run better. In addition, if your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you will probably face an expensive bill to have it fixed. When you have your car checked, make sure to have any necessary maintenance done, as well as services like an oil change, have your battery checked, and have someone (or do it yourself) inspect your tires and check your break pads.

5. Make a budget and stick to it

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

It’s true whenever you are trying to save money, and it is equally necessary to make a budget when you are saving for a vacation. Although setting a budget and sticking to it won’t literally save you money like bringing your own food or scoring a last-minute deal will, if you really stick to your budget, you will spend less than if you go on your trip with no financial spending goal in mind. You will save more money if you breakdown your budget into food, activities, gas, and accommodations.

You can help your savings along by setting monthly goals (or even weekly, if your vacation is coming up fast). Set aside money into a separate account if possible. Although you can use a credit card during your vacation for security reasons if you are uncomfortable caring cash with you, you’re better off only spending what you can quickly pay off.

There are many other ways you can save money during a road trip. Consider using a gas rewards card if you are going to clock a lot of miles. Also, you may enjoy camping; try to do that for a few nights, or utilize other affordable overnight options rather than staying in hotels. Although it’s tempting to drive fast when you have to drive a long distance, you can also save money by staying at a reasonable speed (not to mention you avoid a speeding ticket), and also by turning the air conditioner off as much as possible.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: