Now is the Time to Save on a Summer Road Trip

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Summer’s always a great time for a road trip, but with rising gas prices and the cost of other necessities, it can get expensive. Here are a few easy tips to help you plan your trip, and stretch your dollars.

Before you hit the road, always give your car a good tune up to avoid breakdowns and increase gas mileage. Check all the fluids, inspect belts and hoses for cracks and excessive wear, and make sure your tires are aligned, properly inflated and have adequate tread.

Food is expensive on the road, so always pack your own meals if possible. But if you have to dine out, always try to do lunch instead of dinner. Lunch menus are typically cheaper and if you stick with counter service only, you won’t have to spend an extra 15 to 20 percent more on tips.

If you’re going to be driving cross-country, consider getting a AAA membership if you haven’t got one already. The last thing you want is to be stranded in an unfamiliar place due to car trouble. With AAA you’ll get roadside assistance, hotel discounts and even towing services, depending on your membership level. It’s an investment, but it could potentially save you hundreds of dollars, not to mention precious time on your trip.

Lastly, if you’re going to be staying at hotels, try to book them at least 30 days in advance. Rates can fluctuate, and sales typically occur about one month before their high-traffic periods.

These are just a few savings tips to get you started — with a little planning and preparation, you’ll be hitting the open road, without the big spending.

Related: Ultimate Cheapskate’s 10 ways to save money on travel

In the spring and fall, many cruise ship companies “reposition” their fleets to different parts of the world to meet seasonal market demands. For example, ships that have been cruising during the winter months off the coast of Central and South America might head north for the summer cruising season in Alaska.

That means flexible travelers can go along on a one-way ride for a fraction of the cost per day compared to most regular cruises. Of course, you’ll have to find your own way home — or maybe just hang out at the terminus point for six months and catch a repositioning cruise in the opposite direction in the fall.

If you’re going to drive a long distance in a relatively short period of time, in the long run the most cost-effective option might be to rent a car rather drive your own. Since most rental car companies offer unlimited mileage, when you factor in the cost of wear and tear on your own car (i.e. “reduced lifespan”), renting a car is usually the best option for trips where you’ll drive, say, a thousand or more miles during a week.

Plus, you might be able to rent a car that’s more fuel-efficient than your own, saving even more. And remember that the insurance coverage you carry on your own car probably covers you when you rent a car for non-business use, so you can skip the expensive insurance offered by the rental company (but check your insurance policy first, just to make sure).

When I travel by car, I often take my own bicycle with me, and when I fly someplace where I plan to stay for at least a few days, one of my first stops is at a local thrift store to pick up an inexpensive used bike. I can’t even begin to calculate how much this has saved me in taxi fares, car rentals, and even public transportation over the years. Plus, it’s a great way to get to see and know a place, while squeezing in a little workout at the same time.

And when it’s time to fly home, you can either donate the bike back to the thrift store for a tax deduction, or maybe make some kid’s day by asking him if he wants a free bike.

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