Planning to fill up the car and hit the open road with your family this summer? You're certainly not alone. The summer road trip is as American as apple pie and just as enjoyable. Of course, while traveling the country by car is cheaper than other vacations, there are still plenty of ways you can save money.
If you're looking to go on an exciting, memorable family adventure in the next few months, but want to cut down on costs where you can, consider these six tips for making your road trip as budget friendly as possible:
1. Pack wisely
Cars can be misleading. With so much space to fill, you're tempted to pack too much. But adding clutter doesn't help make a trip more comfortable or fuel economy. You definitely want things like cellphones, chargers, a cooler or two, basic seasonings and ingredients, plates and eating utensils, towels, soap, and a change of clothes. Speaking of clothes, make sure yours are light and breathable. If you know washers and dryers will be few and far between, it's a good idea to bring an empty duffel bag for storing everyone's dirty clothes.
2. Calculate gas expenses ahead of time
Gas prices can fluctuate significantly from state to state. You might put off filling up only to discover gas is $0.20 per gallon more in the next state. That's why it's a good idea to come up with an idea of your gas expenses ahead of time. Use an app like GasBuddy to plan out points on your trip where fueling up will cost you the least money. On a long road trip, you could save hundreds.
3. Draw up a no-toll plan
Road-trippers, particularly those on the East Coast, have long looked at toll roads as a fact of life. But actually, plenty of toll roads can be avoided entirely if you plan in advance. Google Maps makes navigating around tolls easy. And don't worry about going hours out of your way. Most toll-free routes add only a little bit of time to your trip. Of course, if avoiding tolls is too much of a hassle, products like E-ZPass allow you to glide through tolls smoothly and without delay.
4. Make sure your car is in shape
Before you hit the road, you want to be 100% sure your car is in good shape. Take your car to a mechanic to get all the basics (battery, lights, fluid levels, etc.) checked out. The easiest maintenance tip? Fill up your tires to the maximum recommended level. Doing so may substantially improve your fuel economy. Also, if you don't have it already, see if you can purchase roadside assistance from your car insurance provider. It's helpful if your battery dies or a tire goes flat while you're traveling.
5. Plan some affordable entertainment
Families with young children know that finding the right entertainment on a road trip makes everyone else's life easier. Rather than spend a lot of money, there are a number of affordable options you can do. Whether its visiting local museums on free days; hitting up festivals, concerts, and fairs; relaxing in parks or libraries, or just tossing around a Frisbee, you'll find cheap – and fun – activities await you.
6. Take advantage of rest stops
If you're going to take a break from the road and your choices are between a rest stop and a gas station, go with the rest stop. Make no mistake: Rest stops are one of your greatest, most cost-effective resources on a summer road trip. They typically have free Wi-Fi, maps, water, and clean bathrooms. Vending machines offer plenty of small, affordable snacks if you don't want to eat fast food.
If you're looking for more tips and guides this summer, make sure to check out Elephant's Summer Driving Guides.