Many people prefer to take a driving vacation rather than dealing with the costs and hassles of flying. But driving long distances can get pricey! Luckily, there are many ways to save on your travel expenses
Saving Money On Gas Prices
Unless you’re still driving a horse-drawn carriage, it should come as no shock that gas prices and fuel prices are getting out of control. This will be one of your biggest expenses during a driving vacation and it’s important to plan ahead. Lucky for you, your homework is already done.
Check out Bloomberg’s website to get an idea of the current gas prices from around the world. Be sure to zoom in on the areas you plan to stop so you can see current prices at specific stations. You can also search for gas prices by city, state, or zip code here. After checking the site, make sure you plan where you’ll fuel at. By filling up at the cheapest locations, you’ll save a decent chunk of money on your next driving vacation.
Choose how much gas to put in the tank
You don’t necessarily need to wait until your tank is empty to fill up. If you’re going through an area with very low gas prices, you might as well stop, stretch your legs, and get some gas. On the other hand, you don’t always have to fill up, either. Sometimes, you should only put in enough gas so that you can make it to a location with lower gas prices. The more ways you can minimize your fuel costs, the better. So planning where you’ll stop on your driving vacation becomes very important if you want to save money.
Get freebies and rewards
Many gas stations are now offering free stuff, as long as you buy a certain amount of gas (usually 10 gallons or more). Take advantage! A free coffee, hot dog, or car wash might not seem like much, but why turn down a freebie! Pay attention to the signs around the gas pumps. These freebies are usually advertised.
Use truck stops and travel centers
On your next driving vacation, try stopping at one of the truck stop or travel center chains. Most truck stops these days cater to drivers of all kinds. That’s why most of the time, they are called “travel centers” instead of “truck stops.” Gas prices tend to be a little bit cheaper at these locations. Some common names to look for include:
Those are the larger chain travel centers, and the places that will probably have the cheapest gas prices. They usually offer gas from major gas companies such as Shell, Amoco, BP, etc., but at a slightly discounted price. Most of these travel centers also have all the amenities you could want.
Use cash or rewards cards
Be very careful when using credit cards on your driving vacation. Many times, gas stations will charge extra if you’re using a credit card. Sometimes the difference is substantial. The price on the pump should tell you if there is a price difference for cash or credit.
You might also want to secure a credit card from a major gas station chain. Usually, these gas cards give you discounts at the pump. Many of them also come with promotional periods that offer substantial discounts for the first 30 to 90 days after signing up for the card.
Drive for maximum gas mileage
This part you’re not going to want to hear. But to achieve the best gas mileage possible, you’ll need to slow it down! Gas mileage will be much better on the highways if you can stick to them. But gas mileage will also begin to rapidly decline when you go over 55mph. Unfortunately, 55mph is sort of a magic number when it comes to fuel mileage. If you drive 65mph, you are burning 10% more fuel than if you drive 55. The faster you drive after 55mph, the more your losses in miles per gallon will be. So drive as close to 55mph as you can safely and sanely handle.
Check your tire pressure
Keeping your tires properly inflated will not only reduce the risk of a blowout. It’ll also save on wear and tear, and better yet, it will increase your gas mileage. Studies have found that keeping your tires properly inflated can increase your miles per gallon by a little more than 3%. It doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of hundreds or even thousands of miles, those saving will add up! If you don’t have an air gauge, most gas stations will loan you one. Using an air machine is usually no more than a quarter, and some stations allow you to use them for free.
Use cruise control
Some people aren’t comfortable using cruise control. But when driving down a highway, using cruise control can increase your MPG substantially. It’s important to keep the RPM’s on your car as even and steady as possible. Cruise control will obtain this better than any human foot. An exception to this rule is when you’re mountain driving or driving in hilly terrain. But most of the time, using cruise control is your best option to maximize gas mileage. Of course, never use cruise control in adverse weather conditions, especially when snow and ice is present.
Saving money on food and beverages
The cost of food and beverages can really add up fast on the road, especially if you’re bringing your family with you. The best option for a driving vacation is to pack an ice filled (spill proof) cooler and keep it in the trunk or somewhere out of the way – maybe on the floor near the back seat if there’s room, or in the rear of an SUV or van. Put some drinks, sandwiches, and snacks in it. It isn’t uncommon for a single bottle of pop at a gas station to cost nearly the price of a 12pk at the supermarket. This is especially true if you plan on driving through rural areas.
Fast food can be cheap, but often times the prices are inflated along major expressways. Many fast food locations along major highways won’t have a “value menu” and if you look closely, everything is a dollar or two more than at home. This is usually seen at toll road oasis centers where prices tend to be the highest. So pack everything you’ll need at home and store it in a cooler. If you bring food that needs to be microwaved, pull off at any truck stop. They all have microwaves you can use, and you won’t look weird. Truckers go in and heat up their own food all the time at these locations.
Save on hotel and lodging costs
If your driving vacation is going to take a couple days, you can save big bucks when it comes to lodging costs. I highly recommend you to stay at a chain location. Through my own experiences, the off shoot ma’ and pa’ motels are usually in very poor condition, and sometimes refuse refunds if you’re unsatisfied. At least with a major chain, you can count on some form of customer service.
Stay in rural areas
The best hotel and motel deals can usually be found in unpopulated areas. As you get closer to major cities, not only will the price go up, but so will the taxes (most major cities have lodging taxes). Your best bet is to log onto the website for your favorite hotel chain and check for their locations along your route. That way, you can reserve rooms ahead of time to ensure a room will be available, check for amenities such as internet access or an indoor pool, etc.
Oh, and don’t forget to take advantage of the free breakfast! Most hotels include some kind of breakfast in the morning.
Use free entertainment
A driving vacation doesn’t have to be boring. There are gobs of free things to do along your journey. From scenic overlooks and fancy picnic areas to historical markers and free shows. Keep your eyes open for special roadway signs. Most “historical markers” will be brown signs along the roadway. Blue signs will indicate picnic areas, rest area, and scenic overlooks. Some scenic overlooks are absolutely stunning and they are right off the expressway. You might as well stretch your legs and take a look!
Most states have tourist specific websites that can give you priceless information regarding no cost or low cost entertainment. If you see a rest area that says “Traveler Information” or “Tourist Information” it’s not a bad idea to stop in. They can give you some great ideas for your driving vacation. Most of these rest areas are found at state lines and are staffed by guides. They can direct you to up to date events that are happening, or recommend quick detours for things you might really enjoy. Check out all the pamphlets while you’re at it. You’ll be surprised at how much free, or nearly free entertainment is available.
Be frugal, but have fun on your driving vacation. And as always, drive safely!
Taking your pets on your vacation
When you decide to take your pet along on your driving vacation, there are a few more things to consider. For instance, most hotels / motels are not pet friendly, however, some chains such as Motel 6 will allow pets in any of their motels. A great website to check out before you leave is
PetsWelcome.com. With that website, you can actually plan out your entire trip and receive information about what areas are pet friendly and which aren’t. A great resource.
Don’t forget to keep your pet buckled up! Most pet stores sell humane seat-belts for dogs that still give the dog a lot of freedom of movement. However, in the event of a crash, they will be restrained, preventing injury to your dog or anyone else in the vehicle. Another good idea is to bring along some small training treats. Reward the dog with some treats during calm and good behavior. Make the ride a pleasurable experience for your dog.
Here’s a video with additional tips on traveling with your dog…
Bring the Essentials
Before hitting the road, what do you think should be the first thing that you need to do? That’s right! You’ll need to pack. Taking a driving vacation is very different from just traveling, so there are additional travel essentials that you should never forget to pack, not just for you, but for your car as well. Let’s check out yours and your travel mates first.
- Snacks on the road – We talked about how you can save much on this above.
- GPS or navigation apps – You don’t want to get lost, right?
- Emergency Kit – You should always have one wherever you go.
- Car chargers – This saves me every time my phone runs out of battery!
- Extra clothes and slippers – In case you want to be more comfortable (especially on a long trip)!
- Travel pillow and a cozy blanket – Well, if you’re traveling at night, you can take some time to doze off for extra energy. Just not when you’re driving, of course!
- Candies or Gums – You’ll need a little burst of sugar to give you energy for the long drive ahead.
- Lots of water – You’ll need to be hydrated!
- Flashlights/headlights – For anything that you may need to do when it’s dark.
For your car:
- Proof of insurance – Just in case you meet an undesirable accident that causes damage to your car.
- Jumper cables – You’re on a long drive? You don’t want to be stranded out there hoping someone can help you jumpstart your car if it ever breaks down.
- Car fluids – You need to be hydrated, so does your car. If driving in winter, this can help in unfreezing, too.
- Extra gas – Again, just in case you miscalculated and you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, at least you’re ready!
Spare tire – Should I even remind you this? And don’t forget to bring your jack and lug wrench!