Whether it’s to avoid the cost of airfare or to get “on the road again,” the American road trip remains one of the most popular vacations. Without planning and some thrifty thinking, however, even a weekend getaway can turn into a major expense.
To keep the good times rolling, here’s how to make the most of your family road trips and still save money.
Don’t Play it By Ear: Plan Your Trip
Plan a route and chart your mileage. This will help you determine where you’ll likely be eating dinner and spending the night, for example, and it makes it much easier to save money.
Check Restaurant.com and LivingSocial.com for deals on dining, hotels, and activities; it works for both local “staycations” and getaway travel deals. If you’re a member of AAA, head to a local branch and obtain a custom AAA TripTik planner with a map and tour guide; not only do they give you free maps with directions, but they also provide you with the best fuel prices on your trip route!
One great resource for trip planning is Recreation.gov, where you can explore national parks across America. I love the Explore Go Lists of suggested adventures… everything from diving historical underwater wreck sites to fossil hunts!
Set a Budget and Stick to It
Figure out how much you want to spend for meals, gas, hotels, park admission, and souvenirs. Give yourself some padding for unexpected costs, and try to stick to your budget.
One good way to limit impulse spending is to purchase pre-paid credit cards (sometimes, you can get great deals on these, saving money before you even hit the road!). With a pre-determined limit already set, you avoid racking up credit card debt while splurging on those unexpected treasures you’ll find on your adventure. Keep your eye out for deals on pre-paid gas cards, too.
Decide Whether a Rental is the Best Option
Is your car in good repair — and is it up for a long road trip? Does it get good gas mileage? How comfortable will it be for hours at a time? It might make more sense for you to rent a car than use your own family vehicle. Shop around for the best deals, and be sure to check with your insurance company. You may qualify for rental car discounts.
Look into Incentive Programs and Cash Rewards
Your credit card may have a cash reward incentive tied to it. If you don’t use these rewards within a certain time frame, the rewards often expire (speaking here from personal experience, it’s like flushing money down the toilet). Check to see if you have accumulated sufficient rewards to exchange for gift cards and discounts on car rentals or hotels.
Pack Your Own Snacks
My mother and I have a tradition when we drive to South Florida: we pack a cooler and make a picnic meal one of the highlights of the trip. We stop at a favorite German deli, buy a loaf of fresh rye bread and our favorite lunchmeat, and find fresh tomatoes at a nearby market. Then we stop for sandwiches and a rest. We also pack bottled water, chips, granola… everything you need for snacking. It’s a simple way to save money and make some memories.
With a little bit of planning, your next road trip is sure to be both thrifty and enjoyable… and with the money you save, you can start planning your next adventure!