Americans have always loved road trips ever since the car was made popular in the beginning of the 20th century. Just fill up the gas tank and go. Are you itching to see the lights of New York City’s Time Square? The Washington Memorial? The Golden Gate Bridge? No matter what your fancy, a road trip allows you to travel at your own speed and enjoy exploring little towns along the way.
With gas prices lurching upwards, however, the road trip is taking a toll on our wallets. Most families aren’t going to trade in their minivan for a hybrid car. Yet in spite of rising fuel costs, car travel is still by far the most economical and efficient ways to get around.
So, how can you make sure a road trip fits your budget this year? Here are some tips:
1. Check Your Tire Pressure
Before you go, check your tire pressure to make sure it is at the manufacturer’s recommended PSI. This little tip will save you on MPG over distances.
2. Remove Excess Weight
Baggage is essential. But sometimes pulling the extra seats out of a minivan or getting rid of non-essentials saves you money on the road. Clear out anything not truly needed from your car.
3. Visit a Mechanic (not just an oil change)
Get an oil change and a tune-up. Ask a mechanic to take an overview of your vehicle before you head out. This can avoid costly repairs at shops along the way. Make sure your mechanic tops off your antifreeze, brake fluid and power steering fluid. He can also check your hoses, belts, and brakes for sign of wear. If you’re headed somewhere warm, ask him to take a look at the a.c. system. Since you’ll be staring out those windows for a long time, make sure your windshield wipers are good. Taking time to do this before you leave can save you immeasurable headache later.
4. Be Ready for a Breakdown
Do you have a spare tire? Make sure one is in your trunk for the unfortunate flat that may come along the way. Also, don’t forget to ensure that your spare tire is actually inflated. Do you have a jack in your trunk? Consider grabbing a rain poncho in case you’re stuck changing a tire in inclement weather.
Roadside assistance programs aren’t expensive, but they can prove invaluable. AAA offers such assistance as jump starts, free tows, and lost key assistance. Your car insurance company may be able to add this service to your auto insurance for just a few extra dollars a month. Look into this before you head out on your road trip.
5. Buy the Cheapest Fuel
Using an app like Fuelzee saves you money by finding you the cheapest fuel. When your fuel gauge gets low, make sure to search Fuelzee and find out where the nearest station is with the best price. Planning ahead for this can save you hundreds of dollars across a long trip. Fuelzee can even search for cheap fuel in any location, so you can check to see if you should get a fill up now, or in 200 miles. Find the cheapest gas stations from San Diego to Sarasota with this little app.
6. Don’t Speed
Each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed, but on average gas mileage decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph. What does this mean? You can safely assume that for each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph you will pay an additional $0.25 per gallon for gas. Try to not speed. (It’s also safer and avoids the risk of paying big bucks for a ticket.)
Paying attention to fuel economy will only save you so much, however. Here are a couple of other great ways to save money on road trips.
7. Use Cruise Control
Turning on the cruise control helps you maintain a constant speed on the highway and, usually, will save you money on fuel. It also helps you feel more relaxed as you travel long distances.
8. Avoid Toll Roads
Use a GPS app like Google Maps, which lets you chose a route without tolls. Sometimes two routes are almost parallel and take nearly the same time, but can save you big bucks by avoiding tolls and turnpike charges.
9. Visit Free Attractions
There are tons of free attractions and great places to visit in America. Take the time to get a guidebook and research places to visit with free or low-cost entrance fees. Spend a day at your local library looking at guidebooks, and check out a couple for the trip. Museums, the beach, free music festivals, parks and historic sites are great options. Many museums offer free admission on select days. For instance, you can see works of art (from Van Gogh paintings to Egyptian tombs artifacts) for free at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
10. Save on Food
Pack a cooler before you go. Along your road trip, you may want to stop a local grocery store and grab sandwich stuff for lunches, long drive days, or day trips. Make sure to pack a cooler.
11. Stay for Free
Do you know someone along the way you could crash with? If you are open to crashing on a couch, let friends and relatives know where you’d like to go on your trip and ask for suggestions. Camping is also inexpensive or free. And if you’re up for an adventure, try staying with a free spirit host with Couchsurfing’s website.
Perhaps some of the most famous free stops you can make involve the streets themselves. Fromthe Pacific Coast Highway in California to the beautiful Grand Canyon, the sights along these iconic roadways range from historic to breathtaking. As you drive, explore the little towns along the way — each with its own memorable history, and special attractions. So, are you ready to go? Pick and date, and get started planning your next road trip now!