How to Save Money on a Road Trip

Published on: May 20, 2021fb-roundtwitter-roundemail-round
Car filled with money

The Story

COVID-19 restrictions are starting to fade, and Americans are ready to "revenge travel." According to one survey, more than half plan to hit the road for their next trip.

Brb, packing the car.

A little extra planning can make for a smoother ride. First, see what the CDC has to say about current travel guidelines. Like waiting until you’re fully vaxxed. And knowing when to wear a mask. Then look up your route. Because when it comes to restrictions and conditions, every state’s got its own rules. AAA maps it out in an interactive tool.

Next up: put the pedal to the budgeting metal. (Sorry.) Road trips tend to be easier on the wallet than other types of vacations. Planning your food, fuel, and sleep stops ahead of time can help you save even more – especially when some places may be closed or operating on special hours. Some ideas:

  • Stock the glovebox. Your GPS can help you avoid tolls, but that could tack on more miles. Instead, consider investing in a transponder (EZ-Pass, FasTrak, SunPass, etc.) for the area you’re driving through. Some roads and bridges shave some off the price if you use one.

  • Book ahead. These days, calling directly might be your best option. Pro tip: score hotel discounts with an AARP card. It’s currently $12 for your first year (and then $16 a year), and not just for retirees. And search Groupon and Tripadvisor for deals at your destinations. (Psst...if you’re hitting up more than three national parks, an annual pass is probably the way to go. Or go on fee-free days.) Bonus points for spots with free parking.

Anything else I should take care of before I go?

A few last minute moves can help you avoid on-the-go expenses.

  • Visit your mechanic. Getting your car serviced can prevent expensive breakdowns and repairs along the way. Kinda obvious...but key to staying on the right track.

  • BYOS. As in, your own sanitizer. Don’t forget to add protective gear like cleaning supplies and masks to your packing list to avoid paying inflated convenience store prices.

  • BYOS2. As in, your own snacks, too. You’re probably looking forward to sit-down meals *indoors* again, but limiting going to restaurants will help save on food costs. Hit the grocery store and pack a cooler. 

  • Save the data. If you aren’t on an unlimited plan, downloading offline Google Maps and picking a few playlists and audiobooks now means no extra charges on your phone bill later. This also means you won’t be SOL (or tunes) when you drive through patchy service areas.

theSkimm

Road tripping can be a fun way to use your summer PTO days. And with the right pre-departure planning, your savings can stay the course, too.

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Skimm'd by: Ivana Pino, Casey Bond, Stacy Rapacon, and Elyse Steinhaus