Summer is the perfect time to go on vacation. The weather is great, the kids are out of school, and if you’re like millions of families across the nation, you’ll load up the old family truckster and hit the open road, because taking a road trip is a great way to spend quality time with family and friends.
It can be expensive, however, so we’ve put together a list of five things you should do before you leave that could save you some money.
1. Take Your Car in for a Pre-trip Tune-up
Don’t end up like Chevy Chase in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” when he asks a mechanic how much his vehicle repairs will cost and is asked: “How much you got?” Get your vehicle serviced and road-ready before you pull out of the driveway. Have a trusted mechanic take care of the essentials – brakes, oil change, fluid checks and tire alignment, rotation and inflation – at least a week before you start packing for your trip. If your vehicle has been making any strange noises, be sure to let your mechanic know because it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Most owner’s manuals recommend oil changes between 3,000 and 5,000 miles, and it’s important to follow these guidelines to keep your vehicle running smoothly. Oil lubricates the moving parts of the engine and dirty oil – or a lack of clean oil – can cause significant damage to the engine…and that can mean expensive repairs.
Improperly inflated tires reduce gas mileage. Ensure your tires are filled to the proper psi, which can increase your gas mileage by an average of 0.6 percent as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drivers with underinflated tires waste 3.5 million gallons of gas a day, according to Schrader International.
2. Don’t Overpay for Gas
Unfortunately, fuel prices increase the most after Memorial Day when road trips and family vacations are on the rise. Researching gas prices when you’re mapping out a route can help keep costs down. And when you do need to stop for gas while you’re travelling, select an exit with multiple gas stations and avoid pulling into the first one off of the exit ramp
Consulting an app like GasBuddy is a great way to find the best prices when on the road. If you’re traveling across state lines, remember to check the price of gas because the difference can add up fast. California has the highest gas prices in the U.S., with an average price per gallon of $2.89, according to GasBuddy, but gassing up in Arizona can shave 66 cents off the price per gallon. If you have an 18 gallon tank, this translates to $11.88 in savings.
3. Pack Your Meals
Another great way to save money is to pack meals, choosing grocery stores and farmers’ markets over fast food. Making meals is cheaper than dining out at a restaurant, so keep a cooler with sandwich fixings, fruit and yogurt, and bring easy snacks like trail mix and jerky. Making your own sandwich can save you up to $4 over what you might pay in a typical deli, depending on what you top it with.
Bringing food will also minimize snack pit stops, and you’ll probably end up eating healthier on your road trip, too.
4. Slow Down
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that aggressive driving behaviors like speeding, rapid acceleration and slamming on the brakes can dramatically affect fuel conservation, lowering gas mileage by as much as 33 percent on the highway. Aggressive driving costs you money and is extremely unsafe.
Conservative drivers can save up to 24 cents per gallon (and, with the typical gas tank holding 18 gallons, a savings of $4.32 per tank), according to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
5. Avoid Expensive Lodging
No matter what kind of vacation you intend to take – whether you’re camping in National Parks or choosing 5-star hotel accommodations – you can keep lodging costs down by planning ahead. The typical 4-star hotel room in the U.S. costs an average of $100 a night, and five-star accommodations can run upwards of $200 a night, according to Trivago.
If you’re staying in hotels, try using an online reservation site to book accommodations in advance. Travel websites like Travelocity, Expedia and Priceline can help you find the best price. Another option is to book directly through the hotel. Marriot, for example, guarantees rewards program members the lowest rates available. And if you find rates lower than those on their site then they will match it and give you an additional 25 percent off. Many hotels and independent companies offer similar savings through member rewards programs. Remember to keep your eyes peeled for promotions, special rates and coupons to keep costs as low as possible.
Camping along your route can reduce lodging costs as well. Primitive camp sites – those without bathroom facilities and running water – are often free or low cost. You can view free and low cost camping sites through freecampsites.net. Camping in State and National Parks at established campgrounds is another great option, especially if you’re planning on exploring. According to the National Park Service, site costs range from $15 to $26 per night. Be sure to reserve these sites in advance, especially for the more popular parks, because availability is limited. If you’re planning to visit multiple parks, consider investing in a National Park Pass.
Remember, you don’t have to break the bank to make life-long memories with family and friends.