For many families, summer is vacation season. It’s the time to visit grandparents, travel to a theme park or explore major landmarks. But with sky-high airfare prices, your family may plan a staycation this year. Rather than let the cost of airfare put a kink in your summer vacation ritual, drive to your destination.
Sure, it will take longer to reach your destination by car. And yes, you may have to deal with higher prices at the pump. But when you factor in the cost of airfare for four or five people, a road trip is by far a cost-effective alternative.
Thinking about hitting the open road this summer? Here are a few ways to save money on your road trip.
1. Use a gas rewards credit card
If you’re bringing along a credit card, don’t choose any random card from your wallet. Use a cash back rewards gas card and you can put 3% to 5% back in your pocket each time you refuel.
But the perks don’t stop here. Not only do you receive cash back on fuel, these reward credit cards let you earn 1% cash back on all other purchases. Use this credit card when booking your hotel, dining out or paying for entertainment and the cash you earn can jumpstart your savings and help pay for next year’s trip.
2. Avoid peak travel days
Some people plan their family road trips around July 4th, Labor Day and the weekends, as these are convenient days to travel. Unfortunately, these aren’t always the best times to hit the road. Not only will you deal with congestion on the roadways, gas stations and hotels typically increase their rates around the holidays and weekends.
Summer is the biggest travel season, therefore you won’t find dirt cheap rates this time of the year. Nonetheless, you can save a pretty penny on your summer road trip by scheduling your trip mid-week and before or after the holidays.
3. Check your car
Always inspect your car before hitting the road. A road trip can save you money, but only if your car is in good condition. If you take a chance and ignore any warning lights, you might run into problems on the road – costly problems – which can eat at any savings. It’s relatively inexpensive to have a mechanic check the overall condition of your vehicle, such as your brakes, tires, fluids and engine.
Also, it’s advantageous to enroll in a nationwide motor club before leaving on your road trip. Even if your car is in good condition when you leave home, anything can happen on the road. You may have a flat tire, lock your keys in the car or need a tow truck. These services can cut into your spending money. But if you join a motor club, most services are covered under your plan.
4. Improve you gas mileage
No matter where you travel – gas is expensive. There are, however, ways to improve your gas mileage and save money on your summer road trip. It’s all in how you pack and drive.
Bring few suitcases and pack your car as light as possible. The more weight in the car, the more gas the car needs to reach your destination. And since gas mileage decreases at speeds greater than 50 mph, stick to the posted speed limit. Use cruise control to maintain a reasonable speed.
Additionally, make sure that your tires are properly inflated, and limit quick accelerations and rapid braking, as both reduce gas mileage.
5. Bring a cooler
Loading up on snacks at every rest stop, plus three meals a day while traveling can add up quickly, and you might spend a lot of your vacation money before reaching your destination. If your family tends to snack when bored, make sure that there’s plenty of entertainment in the car. Bring puzzles, car games, books, movies and plenty of music. Keeping busy can take the mind off food.
Not that you shouldn’t eat on the road. But rather than stop at restaurants every three hours, bring a cooler and pack your own sandwiches, drinks and snacks. I know, this isn’t as exciting as stopping at a burger joint. However, the more you save on the road, the more cash you’ll have for entertainment and other fun.
6. Book a hotel with perks
If you’re booking a hotel while in route to your final destination, do your homework in advance. Some people don’t think about hotels until they’re on the road, and they simply choose any hotel off the highway. This is one way to find a place to lie your head, but it isn’t going to save you money.
Book online in advance and compare rates among different hotels. Some hotels feature their best rates online. Plus, when you comparison shop, you can find hotels with additional perks – free continental or hot breakfast, free Wi-Fi and free parking – which keeps cash in your pocket.