There are many ways to travel on a budget. One such way is to drive to your destination. Driving is especially cost-effective if you are traveling with 2 or more people. One, you can share expenses… something you wouldn’t do if you were flying. And two, if you’re vacationing with your partner and/or children, driving will save you from having to buy 2 or more airplane tickets. The best part about driving is the sense of freedom and adventure you get as one scene after another passes by.
If you are planning a road trip, here are few tips on how to keep costs down…
- Use interstate highways. Interstate highways in America are great for two reasons. One: they are faster than local streets and will therefor save you tons of gas money when driving long distances. Two: they provide drivers rest-areas that have clean restrooms, picnic tables, and vending machines. Some rest areas also offer nature trails, BBQ grills, gazebos, mini-museums, and automated windshield rinses. If you use smaller highways or local roads, you will be forced to stop at convenience stores and restaurants for restroom breaks. Some establishments require or encourage a purchase in exchange for the use of their restrooms.
- Visit state welcome centers and town visitor information centers. These stops are a fun way to grab a car break. The centers are usually big, clean, and air-conditioned with a lot more amenities than regular rest-areas. Depending on the center, you can find free maps, tourist brochures, coupon booklets, staffed information desks, WiFi service, microwaves, indoor sitting areas, media rooms, and exhibits. You’ll also find restrooms and a larger choice of vending machines. If you plan to travel throughout that state, I recommend picking up a free map of the state and of various cities within that state as well as hotel/motel coupon books and tourist brochures.
- Pack food. Bring whole meals that can be eaten along the way. This will keep you from spending unnecessary money at a convenience store or restaurant. Stopping 3 times a day to buy food will add up. I recommend packing food in a cooler and stopping at various locations throughout the day to picnic. This way you can relax, digest your food, cool down your vehicle, diminish the chance of food-related mishaps, and spend time enjoying your road trip. Breathe in country air, take a short stroll, find something to laugh about… Why not begin your vacation on the road.
- Pack snacks. Resisting a bag of chips or sweets can be very difficult even for health food nuts on a long road trip. So, just in case you have a weak moment, stock up on snacks and sodas ahead of time at your local grocery store or warehouse club. Vending machines are notorious for overpricing their goods. If you don’t eat them on your way up, don’t forgot your return trip.
- Plan your route. To save yourself time, gas, and aggravation, plan your route ahead of time carefully. Even if you have a GPS, bring a map and detailed directions. Compare your directions to a map before leaving. Sometimes, directions on internet sites differ from what you’ll see on map. And sometimes, GPS systems breakdown. Jotting down key intersections and businesses also helps. For example, writing: “Turn right on Flanger Road. Pass King Street. Pass KFC on right. Go 5 streets. Pass Walmart on left. Two streets after Tucker Ave, make a left onto Toledo Lane” is much more useful than: “Right on Flanger Road. Left on Toledo Lane.”
- Choose public highways over private, and free highways over toll. When planning out your route, pay attention to toll highways. Private highways usually come at a cost. However, over the past few years, states around the US have either implemented toll systems or increased toll fees on public highways to build state revenue. In some cases, you are better off paying the requested amount. But if you find that you can get to your destination in the same amount of time and with a similar amount of mileage without taking a pricey toll highway, go for it. If you go this route, make sure to plan this carefully. And if paying tolls is not an issue, I still recommend you research toll prices, so that you won’t be hit by surprised with $12.00 toll fees. Toll fees can quickly add up.
- Purchase inexpensive gas. You can save yourself a bit of money, if you stay on the look-out for cheaper gas. Gas prices can change from one highway exit to the next and from one state to the next. But remember to be reasonable. Don’t wait until the last minute to compare prices. While driving in the country, you’ll find that several exits don’t have gas stations or open gas stations at night. In trying to get a better price, you may run out of gas.
- Rest when you feel tired or drowsy. Resting when your body tells you will save your life, the life of others, and your vehicle.
- Fix your vehicle before leaving. Get your vehicle checked by a reputable mechanic no more than a month before you leave. If you are going on a long road trip, get your tires and brakes checked, have an oil change and top-off all fluids. Replace whatever needs to be replaced. Having your vehicle breakdown in an unfamiliar area will be stressful, may require a tow-truck, and will cost you more money to fix.
- Rest your vehicle often when driving in high temperatures. Driving in hot weather can accelerate tire rubber deterioration which can lead to a tire burst. When a tire burst occurs at a high driving speed, it can cause a roll-over, collision and other accidents.
- Plan free sleep-overs. A long road trip can cost 2 to 4 times more if nightly hotel stays are added. Fortunately, if you want to travel on a budget, the US does offer several options…
- Use interstate highway rest-areas for sleeping. If you are doing a long road trip, stopping at different rest-areas along the way to sleep can save you hundreds of dollars in hotel costs. Most interstate highway rest-areas allow drivers to sleep up to one night. But make sure this is permitted before doing so. Also, make sure you are in a safe area. Many rest-areas have patrolling security. But if you are uncomfortable or suspect dangerous activity, leave immediately. If you are driving an RV, sleeping over in rest-areas will save you RV resort and campground costs until you reach your destination. Please remember to show rest-area courtesy when sleeping in your RV.
- Sleep-over in a free camp site. If you already own a tent and/or sleeping bag, stop at a free campsite and sleep under the stars. Not only will this save you money, it will also be a memorable experience. Waking up to the sounds of nature and view of trees can be a wondrous thing. Check out Freecampsites.net for a list of free campsites in the US and Canada. When going this route, please remember to verify that camping at your chosen site is permitted. Use good judgement. If the campsite does not look or feel safe, leave immediately. If you are driving an RV, check out this site for a list of free campgrounds in the US: FreeCampgrounds.com. Also, if you drive an RV, many Walmarts outside large cities allow free overnight docking.
- Couch surf. Couch surfing is very interesting in that it offers travelers from around the world couches to sleep on free, around the world. It’s a way to unite travelers and make it possible for anyone to travel and meet diverse people. This a great option not only for your road trip, but also for when you reach your destination. If you want more information on this program, please check out this site: CouchSurfing.org.
- Make reservations. If camping out in your vehicle or on the ground is not your thing, you can also save money by making hotel reservations a few weeks ahead of time. All you need to do is look at a map and calculate how long it will take you to get from one city to another. You can plan your nightly stops this way.
Wishing you a safe and happy journey!!!