Millions of Americans are hitting the road for their annual summer road trips. Overall, almost 80% of American vacations involve driving rather than flying, according to the U.S. Travel Association. A survey by AAA found that 52% of people said they were more likely to take a long road trip in 2015 because of lower gas prices.
But driving to your next vacation destination comes with costs of its own, including gas, lodging, and wear and tear on your car. While the upfront cost is smaller when getting behind the wheel, minor expenses can add up.
Whether you’re planning a coast-to-coast journey or a quick weekend getaway, you’re probably looking for ways to save on your next road trip. We’ve gathered seven tips that will help you save money on travel this summer so that you can get the most bang for your vacation buck.
1. Get a tune-up
Before you hit the road, make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition. Popular Mechanics advises checking filters, fluid levels, brake linings, coolant, and tire pressure. Properly inflating your tires can improve fuel economy by 3%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, while using the manufacturer-recommended grade of motor oil can improve gas mileage by up to 2%.
2. Pack light
Loading up your car with a lot of baggage means you’ll spend more on gas. Your fuel efficiency falls by 1% for every extra 100 pounds you carry in your car. Putting a cargo box on your car’s roof reduces fuel economy by 6% to 17% when driving on the highway. If you must carry extra cargo, haul it behind your car rather than putting it on the roof.
3. Watch the speedometer
Having a lead foot will cost you. Fuel economy decreases dramatically at speeds above 50 miles per hour, says the U.S. Department of Energy; you’ll pay an extra 17 cents per gallon for every five miles you drive above that speed. Rapid acceleration and braking also reduces your car’s fuel efficiency.
4. Skip the tolls
Tolls are collected on 4,630 miles of highway in 25 states, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. And they won’t just cost you pocket change. Driving 356 miles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, from the Ohio border to the Delaware River Bridge, will set you back $46.10 if you have a regular passenger car, and more if you’re driving a bigger vehicle like an RV. Picking an alternate route could mean more money in your pocket.
Going far out of your way to skip tolls could end up costing you more in gas and lost time. But for cost-conscious travelers who aren’t in a hurry, it may make sense to choose the scenic route, opting for small back roads rather than major highways.
5. Get a deal on lodging
Everyone has a different strategy when it comes to finding a place to stay on a road trip. Some people create strict itineraries, so they know exactly where they’re going to stay every night. Other people have a more laissez-faire strategy, letting the rhythm of the road dictate where they bed down for the night.
If you prefer the former approach, you have time to shop around and get the best deal on a room. Seat-of-their-pants travelers can use sites like Priceline and Hotwire to get last-minute deals. A membership with AAA can score you big discounts at many hotels, and hotel loyalty programs may earn you discounts and upgrades on rooms. Camping rather than staying in hotels is another way to save.
6. Stock up on snacks
The average American individual or family spends $27.16 per day on food at restaurants when traveling, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Make multiple trips through the drive-through a day, and you could quickly blow your travel budget.
Before you leave, stock up on affordable, healthy snacks so that you’re not tempted to hit McDonald’s. Then, look for parks and nature preserves on your route where you can stop for a picnic, and turn your lunch break into a fun part of the trip. And if you’re staying in hotels, don’t forget to fill up at the free breakfast, if one is offered.
7. Track gas prices
Gas prices have fallen over the past year, which is good news for summer travelers. But a little advance planning can save you even more. Apps like GasBuddy can help you find the cheapest gas station when it’s time to fill up.
Also, remember that gas prices can vary significantly from state to state. If you’re driving through Chicago, fill up in neighboring states like Wisconsin and Indiana, where gas can be 10 or 20 cents cheaper per gallon because of lower local taxes, according to a report by Illinois Policy. On your way to California, top off the tank in Arizona, where the average price of gas is currently 76 cents less than in the Golden State.