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. Here are 10 easy tips for a thrifty trip.
1. Avoid peak travel times.
Gas and hotel prices surge during holiday weekends, so plan another time to travel if possible. Try to avoid driving during avoid rush hour, too—idling in a traffic jam is both maddening and a waste of gas.
2. Consider renting.
If your everyday car is a gas-guzzler, think about renting a hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Depending on how far you plan to drive, the gas savings may offset the rental fees, not to mention saving wear and tear on your vehicle. If you do rent a car, check out the five companies that offer a discount to NEA members.
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.
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 alert you if their recommended routes include toll roads.
5. Don’t leave lodging to the last minute.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find the best combination of amenities and price after arriving at your destination. Instead, research your options online well before you leave. 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.
6. Fill up your cooler.
Roadside restaurants are convenient, but they can be expensive (not to mention unhealthy). Consider packing snacks that will stand a road trip—think cut-up veggies, pre-made sandwiches and string cheese. That’ll be better for your wallet—and your blood sugar.
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 2 pounds with each 10-degree drop.
8. Let your phone find your gas station.
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 Gas Buddy can help shave a few bucks off each tankful.
9. 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.
10. 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.