5 Money-Saving Tips for the Summer Road Trip

By Chris Birk on 16 June 2011 (Updated 10 September 2014) 1 comment

Vacation season is upon us. Unfortunately, U.S. consumers aren't catching a break from exorbitant fuel costs.

Still, high gas prices and the rising cost of other consumer goods aren't enough to keep most people from hitting the road this summer. Nearly 60% of Americans will take a trip during the next three months, up from 51% in 2010, according to a survey by American Express. (Disclaimer: American Express is an advertiser on Wise Bread.)

The majority will be traveling in a car. (AAA estimates that 88% of the 35 million people who traveled during Memorial Day weekend did so by car.)

Although road trips are generally less expensive than flying a family of four to a tropical vacation spot, they can just as easily break a family’s budget if not carefully monitored.

Here are five simple steps to help curb expenses and maximize the family budget on a summer road trip. (See also: How to Survive a Road Trip)

1. Tune Up Your Car

With the rising price of gas, a summer road trip can quickly become expensive.To make sure that each tank of gas takes you as far as possible, have your car tuned up prior to departure. Have all the fluids checked, change the oil and air filter, and make sure that your tires are properly inflated. Doing so can greatly increase your miles per gallon, which can leave plenty of money in your pocket for souvenirs or even an extra day on the road.

2. Stay With Friends and Relatives

If your cross-country journey will take you through a few towns where family and friends reside, see if they have a spare bedroom you could stay in for a night. Not only will staying with friends or family save you money, but it will also give you an excuse to catch up and spend some quality time together.

3. Book in Advance

If you know which cities you will be staying at during your road trip, book hotels online and in advance. Doing so will save you money and prevent you from having to drive from hotel to hotel each night looking for a vacancy. If that fails, you can always try to negotiate directly with a hotel clerk.

4. Keep an Itinerary

Part of the fun of a road trip is the spontaneity it provides. But allowing the open road to completely rule your day-to-day adventures can quickly cause you to go over budget. To stay within budget without losing the wonder of the open road, consider creating a basic itinerary. Determine which cities you will be driving through and try to find fun-yet-inexpensive places to eat at and visit. Doing so will give you a good reason to occasionally stretch your legs, provide great memories and entertainment, and help you save a few extra dollars.

5. Look for Discounts

If you have a specific theme park or attraction in mind for your ultimate destination, look online for any discounts you can take to the front gate. Many attractions offer discounts or coupons online that can dramatically decrease entrance fees — some as much as 50%. Prior to leaving for your road trip, research the attraction online and see if you can’t find discounted entrance fees for it or for other shows and attractions along the way.

Choosing to road trip is a great way for families to see a lot of new landscape for a relatively low price. There are many stops along the way that individuals and families alike can find wonder in, and many roadside attractions can provide long-lasting laughs and memories. So when your family chooses to go on a road trip this summer, simply plan ahead so that you will be able to optimize your vacation time without breaking the bank.

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Meg Favreau's picture

When I drove across the country earlier this year, staying with friends and relatives was definitely key -- I got to catch up with people I hadn't seen in a while and cut my number of hotel stays in half.

Does anybody else have any advice for keeping costs down on road trips?