This blog post was updated on October 22, 2018.
With summer travel on the horizon, there is no better time to take a classic, American road trip. And while this is a right of passage for many travelers, it can also be a costly one. Don’t cancel your dreams of hitting the open road this summer if you think you lack the funds. Here are just a few ways this traveler has saved on countless U.S. road trips, making the journey a more affordable vacation.
Don’t Be A Lead Foot: If you enjoy tailgating, stopping suddenly and accelerating quickly, you are eating up your gas budget and probably annoying me on the road. An easy way to save on a road trip is simply by being mindful of how you drive. Speeding wastes both gas and money, and thus makes the great American road trip less affordable. It’s not a race after all so sit back and watch your driving style save you money.
Pick a Hotel Chain and Stick To It: One of the easiest ways to save on a road trip is simply by sticking with one hotel chain across America. Most U.S. hotel chains offer hotel reward programs where the more often you stay, the more points you acquire to use on free nights. Depending on the length of your road trip, you could score a few extra nights on the road, ones you wouldn’t have had if you weren’t loyal to one chain or even part of a reward program. Also, U.S. hotel chains tend to wow the road tripper with free amenities. Make sure your chain of choice offers free Wi-Fi and free breakfast so you can save on food and technology.
Join AAA: To join AAA’s membership for a year, you can pay as little as $75. The rate includes many services in case of car trouble along with discounts on hotels, restaurants and stores. U.S. hotels often have AAA rates you can either book online or ask for when making a reservation. The price is generally cheaper than the rate advertised for non-members. If you are planning on taking several road trips this year, the investment will pay in the long run when you can get that flat tire changed for free or an extra $20 off your hotel room each night. AAA has an entire list on its website of stores, restaurants and lodging services that offer discounts for members.
Seek Out the Quirky and Free Roadside Attractions: Bored on the road? Rather than shelling out $20 for some museum, do a bit of Internet research to find America’s quirky roadside attractions along your route. Surprisingly, there is no charge at the world’s largest easel or coffee pot. These are fun stops on the road that won’t set you back on your attraction budget when you reach your destination.
Save Your Cents and Use Gas Apps: There are several different apps now you can download to your phone or tablet that will find the cheapest gas along your route. A popular app for this service is Gas Buddy. While it might just seem like a few cents you could be saving, those cents add up, especially with current U.S. gas prices.
Always pack a cooler with drinks: A soda at the gas station can set you back a few dollars each time you make a stop. That trip through the drive-thru window for drinks will also put a dent in your wallet. Before you hit the road, head to your supermarket and buy drinks. You can stock up on snacks too, but drinks are the easiest cost in the food and beverage department you can avoid altogether on your road trip.
The More the Merrier: A U.S. road trip is not just a fine way to avoid the TSA or escalating airline ticket prices. It can also be an extremely affordable way to travel if you are popular. The more people you can convince to join your cross-country adventure, the easier it will be on your wallet. For example, on a recent road trip from Arkansas to New Orleans, I joined forces with a friend and split gas costs. My contribution cost far less than a plane ticket down to Nola would have. Splitting doesn’t just benefit the road trip funds in terms of gas, but also with accommodations and food.
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