Easy Ways To Save Money On a Road Trip

Discover 10 simple money-saving tips for your next road trip.

by NEA Member Benefits

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Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel. And, while now isn’t the time for unnecessary trips, we’re here to help you plan future vacations with helpful travel guides and tips. That way, when the novel coronavirus is under control, you’ll have everything you need to get back on track and plan memorable trips for your family.

Road trips are a blast—there’s nothing like opening your car windows, singing along to your favorite songs and taking the scenic route. But seasoned road warriors know they can also be economical, especially if you’re strategic. And, gas prices have dropped in recently months. According to AAA, the average cost of a gallon of gas in the United States is $2.022 as opposed to $2.783 a year ago. That means right now may be the perfect time to plan a cost-effective a road trip.

Here are 9 easy tips for a thrifty trip.

1. Let your phone find your gas station

Fuel may be cheap right now but it’s not cost-effective to drive miles out of your way to find the cheapest gas. Instead, use your phone to find a nearby station that offers low prices. Apps such as Gas Guru and GasBuddy can help shave a few bucks off of each tankful. Tip to avoid pathogens: Wear disposable gloves so you don’t have to wipe down the nozzle or your car handle afterward.

2. Rent a car

If your everyday car is a gas-guzzler, think about renting a hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Renting a car is a great way to reduce wear and tear on your vehicle. If you do rent, check out NEA Travel’s car rental discounts for NEA members. And, don't worry if your plans change. Car rental companies have loosened their cancellation policies in light of coronavirus. Hertz, for instance, allows you to change your reservations without any change fees.

3. Scope out your route

Getting lost is frustrating and a waste of gas (and money). Review your route before you head out. This simple step can reduce the odds of missing a turn or taking a wrong exit. In addition, check with state or local authorities at your planned destination and along your route to learn about any restrictions they might have in place due to coronavirus. That may mean wearing face coverings in public in some places or avoiding areas with mandatory self-quarantine rules in place.

4. Beware of toll roads

Sometimes the shortest route to your destination involves driving on pricey toll roads. Research whether there’s an alternate route that allows you to skip the tolls without taking you too far out of your way. Google Maps and other navigation apps such as Waze alert you if their recommended routes include toll roads. You can also download a road trip calculator app such as Toll Calculator GPS Navigation from InfoTalk that calculates the tolls along your road trip route.

5. Don’t leave lodging to the last minute

Booking websites often feature money-saving offers, but it can also pay to check hotel sites directly. Reserving ahead of time locks in savings and provides some peace of mind. Lower-than-normal occupancy at hotels due to coronavirus fears have reduced nightly rates in many places. If you like to book ahead of time, check pricing with hotels directly, via your member discount at NEA Travel or use an online booking agency like Hotels.com. If you prefer making last-minute reservations, try HotelTonight app.

6. Fill up your cooler

At this time, some roadside restaurants in certain locations may still be closed or offering limited curbside pickup to help flatten the curve of coronavirus. Consider packing snacks that will stand a road trip—think cut-up veggies, premade sandwiches and string cheese. That’ll be better for your wallet—and your blood sugar. If traveling a long distance, stock up on more nonperishable foods and water.

7. Check your tires

Before every long car ride—and at regular intervals during a marathon trip—take a few minutes to check your tire pressure. Underinflated tires lower your car’s gas mileage significantly. Cold temperatures compound the problem—tire pressure can dip by around two pounds with each 10 degree drop. These days, you can even have an app monitor the pressure in your tires via Bluetooth and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System like the one sold by FOBO.

8. Pack light

One advantage of driving over flying is you don’t have to make as many tough packing decisions. But don’t be tempted to drag along tons of extra stuff. The heavier your car, the worse gas mileage you’ll get.

9. Don’t rush

Most cars are at their most fuel-efficient at a steady 55 miles per hour. If you speed up to, say, 80 miles per hour, you’re operating at 28% below optimal fuel efficiency—not to mention risking the cost of a ticket if you get caught. Take it slow.

Save on your next car rental