If you’re thinking about taking a long road trip with the family, there’s a good chance you’re thinking about winging it. While other forms of travel take some planning, a road trip has an aura of spontaneity about it — just get in the car, and put the pedal to the metal.
While that’s all well and good, a road trip (especially a long one) that hasn’t been properly planned can wind up costing more than it needs to. Here are a few ways you can save money the next time you and your family hit the open road.
Better Safe than Sorry
One commonly-overlooked way you can potentially save yourself a lot of money and trouble is to protect your valuables while you’re away — starting with your home. Although installing a full home security system probably isn’t in your road trip budget, you can purchase home security cameras that you can access from your smartphone really inexpensively. Even with a security camera, hiring a house sitter (or asking a neighbor to watch your home in exchange for a bottle of wine or a souvenir from your trip) is a great idea. It’s also a small investment, but it will be a lot less expensive than paying an insurance deductible or repairing damage from a burglary.
Consider Leaving Your Car at Home
A road trip without your car? You’ll need an automobile, just maybe not your own. You could consider buying a cheaper used car if you plan to put in a lot of miles during this road trip. This will help you avoid excess wear and tear on your everyday family car, which will save you money in the long run. Another option is to look online for an RV or camper trailer. If you go this route, you may pay more money up front, but you will ultimately save on accommodations (most RVs and campers allow you to sleep and/or cook on the road). Owning your own small RV will save you up to 70 percent on traditional lodging (renting may cost more, so beware).
Know How to Get Cheaper Gas
Paying a few cents extra at the pump doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re road-tripping, those cents add up. That’s why it’s vital that you formulate a multi-pronged strategy to save on gas. First, consider getting a fuel rewards card. Some credit cards offer rewards, as do many grocery chains. You should also look into gas-specific gift cards (in which you pay $90 for $100 worth of gas, for example). Finally, download a few apps. There are plenty for your smartphone that can help you find the cheapest place to fill up while on the road.
The more you bring with you on the trip, the less you’ll have to buy on the road. Bring as much as you can from home, and find solid deals on the stuff you need before you start your trip. Everything is more expensive on the road. Pack smart or waste money — it’s that simple. This applies to all of your supplies, but it’s absolutely paramount when it comes to food. Pack plenty of non-perishables, and make sure you spend the majority of your food budget at grocery stores rather than restaurants.
Don’t Be Afraid of Alternative Lodging
As Bankrate notes, the later you book a hotel, the more expensive it’s going to be, so book early for better deals. If you must book on the fly, remember to be flexible. Try online deal sites that have a “find me the cheapest room” option. However, hotels aren’t always the best way to go, so don’t be afraid to find alternative lodging. In certain scenarios, Airbnb will be a much cheaper option. Cheaper still is camping — an activity that can be a lot of fun for the whole family if you bring the right gear with you on the road.
A family road trip is a wonderful way to spend a vacation. It’s a great way to spend quality time with your loved ones, and you can make the experience even more enjoyable by saving money while you’re on the road.
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