The appeal of a road trip is always there as the possibility of just getting in your car and driving aimlessly is romanticized by many stories and movies. When it is planned well, road trips can be great fun and economical. Otherwise, you may be rushing from one place to another and driving almost all day wondering why and how racking up costs. Unplanned nature of it can take control of your wallet and cost you a lot of money as you start paying for gas, food, accommodation, entries and extravaganzas.
Here are a few key points to watch out to have maximum enjoyment with minimum spending;
- Make sure your car Is ready for the journey
Spending a few bucks to get it properly serviced and all the small issues attended before you start is a smart move. The best way of avoiding mechanical breakdowns ruining the holiday is to make sure it is in great shape. A car with clean filters, engine oil and tuned up engine is going to burn less fuel in a journey stretching thousands of miles. Here are a few tips about getting your affairs in order before you start;
- Make sure all documents are in order and you take them with you. You need the license, vehicle registration and insurance documents and they need to be valid until you return home.
- Remember to keep a note of all the important numbers like the auto insurance claim department and recovery service.
- It is best to have a reliable Roadside Recovery Plan in place, just in case you need recovery due to mechanical issues.
- Check the first aid kits, spare tire and get the auto nicely cleaned before you start.
- Download all the apps you need
Although it is a good idea to have maps in the car, the age of paper maps is over. Download apps to help you avoid congestion areas, accidents, speed cameras and find alternative routes. Also, there are apps that can help you find cheap petrol, hotels, restaurants and other services.
- Find cheap gas
Obviously one of the main expenses for the journey will be gas. You will fill the tank up several times and saving a few bucks each time can help reduce overall costs. You can use a good app to find petrol stations on the route. There are apps that tell you how you are driving and how you can improve fuel efficiency by being more fuel conscious. Here are a few of tips to get you started;
- Check tire pressure as properly inflated tires save gas.
- Don’t load heavy staff to avoid burning more petrol.
- Avoid aggressive driving; stepping on accelerator and braking often. Keep a consistent pace.
- Avoid rush hour traffic and city centers where possible.
- Try to avoid gas stations on the highways by filling before you hit them.
- It is a good idea to determine the cheapest gas station chain and sign up for a gas card.
- Avoid excessive air conditioning as they run down the gas tank quickly.
- Don’t forget to enjoy the countryside
Don’t be obsessed with the highways. It is a fast and easy route but you will miss a lot of the country if you do that. Quite a few maps come with “scenic routes” marked. Generally, they are quite reliable and it is a great way to see all the natural beauty, parks and nice little towns. You should study the scenic routes along the way and try to take them if you can. The whole point of taking a road trip is to see more of the country. Here are a few tips to use this strategy effectively;
- Try to avoid winding roads, mountainous areas and large cities (unless you want to see them) on the way. They can be murderous to pass and boring for the kids. Know when to get back to highways and cover some ground and when to enjoy the scenery.
- Try to anticipate trouble ahead. For example, plan ahead and pass city traffic when it is less congested.
- Try to avoid “blue highways”; back roads that are nothing but an endless strip of malls.
- Spare time to soak up the atmosphere and have fun
You are not on a tourist bus that makes quick stops for photos. However, you cannot see every little place and try every adventure along the way. Select what you want to do and see and spend time enjoying those activities. These stops would make the journey a lot more memorable. If you keep traveling all day without having any fun and no adventure to look forward to you will quickly hear that children want to go back home. Here are a few suggestions to make these stops more fun;
- Check that the activities, museums, parks and amusement parks are open on the day you want to visit to avoid major disappointment.
- Wherever possible, book in advance and get “express passes” to avoid wasting all day in theme park lines and other queues.
- Always pack swimsuits. Pools and swimming opportunities will keep coming up and you need to be ready.
- Be inquiring, ask questions and find out about the place you are visiting as much as possible from information desks. Always ask what is the “one thing you shouldn’t miss” in that region.
- Often split up the family so that everyone can enjoy the things they like. But always set up a meeting place and time, just in case the cell phone doesn’t work.
- Have a flexible plan
Surely, you should have a good plan in place but it shouldn’t lock you in and force you to drive even though you are dying to sleep. Remember in the planning stage that you will come across problems on the roads, want to spend more time in some places and just hate one or two attractions. You don’t have to cut the entertainment short or suffer in a boring place. You should be able to make quick changes to plans and replace one activity with another on the spot. Here are a few essential pointers to increase safety and pleasure;
- Allow for short and long breaks. Ideally, you should take a break every 2 hours. It is best to have short breaks and a long break for visiting sites and having lunch.
- Make sure accommodation providers allow cancellation, just in case you cannot make to the next accommodation and stay somewhere else.
- Preparing pack-lunches can give you flexibility and allow you to have a picnic when you find a good spot.
- Determine the places you definitely must go and places you will go if you have spare time. Then you know what you can and cannot give up.
- Have a rainy day (literally) plan.
- Try family restaurants and local cuisine
This is a chance to sample different cuisine, find interesting places to eat. Mom and pop restaurants and cafes offer much larger portions, work out cheaper and they are unique in their own way. Use apps to find those places as well as checking guide books to locate a few popular local eateries or ask locals.
Remember the golden rule of choosing a restaurant; pick the busier one because there is usually a reason why one is busy while the others are like haunted houses.
- Buy favorite snacks and drinks in advance
Don’t start looking for snacks in petrol stations. You waste time, cannot find your favorite snacks and they are much more expensive when you buy one at a time. Buy snacks and drinks using store cards to save money. They are well-spread across the USA. In addition, you cannot stop each time one of the children wants a drink or snack.
- Watch your budget with hotels
If you are not careful you can rack up large accommodation bills. You don’t spend much time in hotels during these journeys. They are generally used for resting and you won’t have time to enjoy all the other facilities offered by expensive hotels. Here are a few accommodation ideas to save money and mix things up.
- Look for cheaper chain hotels. You know what to expect with them and you can find them easily if you have their booklet that shows all the locations.
- Try to get free breakfast and parking with accommodation. Having free breakfast and packed lunch reduces food costs and allows you to spend a little for dinners.
- Consider camping where possible. Generally, camp sites are much closer to nature, economical and have a more laid back atmosphere. You can get cabins in most camping sites if you don’t want tents. Cabins are much more relaxing compared to hotels and they work out cheaper especially for larger families.
- Buying one touch set up tents, cooking utensils, coolers and packing basic condiments can offer all the flexibility you need and save you ton of money. Besides, many people like to cook their own food at least several times even on vacation.
- Don’t leave accommodation to the last minute especially if you have children. You don’t want to be looking for accommodation late at night.
- Always check their pet policies if you are traveling with pets. Not every hotel or campsite accepts pets.
- Make best use of labor in the group. Don’t let a terrible driver get behind the steering wheel and a bad cook to prepare meals. Delegate the work evenly and appropriately.
- Always keep some cash or a spare credit card separately, just in case you lose the ones in your pocket.
10. Find free or affordable entertainment
You will need to budget for several attractions to visit. And you can enhance the trip with a few free activities and attractions as well. First thing you should do is to find a local entertainment guide as soon as you arrive at a new location. There you will see plenty of things to do for free or at affordable prices. Remember that there are plenty of free parks, walks, hikes and sightseeing opportunities wherever you go. Most beaches are free as well. Here are some ways of finding those free activities and entertainments;
- Check the local tourist website or go down to the tourist office to find them.
- See if there are any free museums and free visit days.
- There are plenty of open air concerts, festivals and art shows in the summer to look out for.
- Remember to pack Frisbee or a football that can entertain you and give you some exercise.
- Don’t forget to take student cards to get discounts for most entries.
You can have a memorable road trip on a budget. The best part is that you can decide the length of time and distance to travel based on budget. If you cram too many things into plans, go too far and waste money on the way you will be making it harder for yourself. Have a great time.