Summertime is nearly here, which can only mean one thing: It’s time to take a vacation. And not just any vacation. It’s time to take a family road trip.
Seriously, now is the time to hit the open road for a trip as you’ll have plenty of good company along the way. According to MMGY Global’s 2017 to 2018 Portrait of American Travelers study , 39% of U.S. leisure travel in 2016 included a road trip.
The spike in roadtrips isn’t just rooted in love for the open road. The MMGY study reveals it’s mostly a matter of convenience; it’s nice to be in control of the route, and that’s never more true than when you’re in the driver’s seat.
And of course, the fact that it often costs less than an international trip is a perk, too. Because here’s the thing: You really don’t have to spend a fortune on your road trip this summer. It can be tempting to splurge, splurge, splurge because you’re saving money by not buying plane tickets.
But there are plenty of ways to have a memorable road trip without breaking the bank or taking out a family planning loan. Here’s how a list of a few road trip essentials can help you save a little dough as you put the pedal to the metal.
Planning the Road Trip Route of Your Dreams
The first step in planning one glorious road trip is picking your route. Ask your family for their feelings on driving coast-to-coast, road tripping along the entire west coast, or something in-between. If you need a few road trip ideas for some of the best drives in America, Road Trip USA has you covered.
You could also consider picking a theme instead of a route like seeing all the state capitals, visiting your favorite ballparks for a few games, or snapping a photo in every national park in Utah. It’s your trip, so you’re in control!
Once you pick a route, you can then figure out the right time to depart. For example, if you’re taking a southern route from east-to-west across the country, you may want to head out in late spring or early summer as July in Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, and the rest of the southern border can be quite unforgiving with the heat and humidity.
And once you finalize your path, you can also start picking out all the roadside attractions you absolutely must see, along with hotels to stay at, and places to eat. This way, you can then start tallying your daily budget for entertainment, accommodations, food, and gas.
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Making a Gas Station Plan
Since you’ve already planned your route, you can also plan your gas station stops as well. To help you calculate the fuel cost of your trip, head over to The U.S. Department of Energy’s website and plug your information into its nifty calculator .
From there, you could try tracking down the cheapest gas on your route by using sites and apps like
GasBuddy . On the app, pop in a location and it will tell you the closest—and cheapest—fill-up locations.
Picking the Perfect Car for Your Road Trip
Here’s one of the best parts of going on a road trip: You can drive any car you’d like, so long as you’re willing to pay for it. For a road trip, drivers either have the option of renting a car or driving their own. Driving a rental could be a good option because you won’t be liable for general wear and tear on the vehicle during the journey.
AARP broke down just how much you’d be saving by taking rental vs. driving your own car this way: The IRS allows people to claim 58 cents per mile for business miles driven in their own car as a deduction. This accounts for wear and tear and more. That means, according to the IRS, your car depreciates in value at 58 cents per mile driven.
So, at the end of a 1,000-mile road trip, your car is now worth $580 less than it was before. And if you drive the 2,789 miles from New York to Los Angeles that means your car will be worth $1,617 less than when your journey began.
Furthermore, with a rental you may be able to save by choosing a car with better fuel efficiency than your own, so you can save at the pump and preserve your own car’s current value at the same time.
Creating a Food Menu and Budget
One thing that can quickly eat into your road trip budget is food. Because you’re on the road, and likely far away from a kitchen, prepared foods will likely become your mainstay. But, just because you’re dining out a lot doesn’t mean you can’t stick to a budget.
One of the easiest ways to save on food is to try and build meals in with your hotel stays along the way. Some chains offer complimentary continental breakfasts and snacks with your stay.
If you aren’t staying somewhere that includes breakfast, you can instead head to the grocery store for a loaf of bread and some orange juice to keep meal costs down.
Beyond free breakfast, try to create a per-meal budget and stick to it for the entire trip. According to Value Penguin , which analyzed data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey , Americans spend an average of $33 per day on food when on a vacation within the U.S. That breaks down to $11 per person per meal.
As it found, vacationers spend about $27 at restaurants each day of their vacation and about $6 on food they prepare themselves. So, if you can, try to pack as much food as possible to save. You could even consider limiting yourself to one meal out per day.
Having a Road Trip Emergency Plan
A roadside emergency can be a huge setback on a road trip. Be it a flat tire, an overheating engine, or a set of keys getting locked inside the car, having to pull over and call a tow truck could cost big bucks. This is why it could be a good idea to invest in AAA membership prior to your departure.
A membership at AAA starts at around $60 per year . This makes you eligible for 24/7 roadside assistance, and could even save you money along the way thanks to its exclusive discounts for hotels, dining, entertainment, and more.
Don’t Forget to Have Some Fun
There are a few other things you should do before a road trip that have nothing to do with money but could still prove to be invaluable. That includes creating the perfect road trip playlist, picking out a few road trip games to play along the way, and ensuring your camera is fully charged to capture all the stops along the way. This is a vacation after all.
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