If you’re one of the fifty-three percent of Americans who are planning a road trip this summer, you’re likely focused on mapping your route (here's where you should go!) and figuring out how to keep your kids from squabbling over who chooses the radio station.
One area you may be overlooking? Sneaky costs that can make your trip get pricey quick. But all it takes is a little preparation, and you can avoid these money traps and focus on having fun with the family. See our tips below:
Find Cheap Gas
Perhaps the number-one cost, outside lodging, when taking a road trip is gas. This summer, a gallon is expected to average $2.70. If you’re traveling 750 miles, and your car gets 20 miles per gallon, you’re looking at just over $100 each way.
The good news is, there are simple ways to trim that number. First, download any number of apps to find the cheapest gas. Since the cost of fuel can differ across state lines, handy apps, like Gasbuddy and Waze, will zero in on the best price per gallon near you. Waze will even map your route and help you avoid tolls.
“For directions, I like to use Waze, which can help you avoid traffic,” says Jodi Grundig, editor of Family Travel Magazine. “Use the navigation preferences to avoid toll roads, unpaved roads, difficult intersections, and ferries.” However, it’s important to remember to “balance the savings of avoiding toll roads with the extra gas cost. It may not be worth skipping the tolls.”
Another rule of thumb: don’t wait until your tank is just about empty to refill as you’ll be under the gun and have less choice. You also want to avoid gas stations right off the highway or at rest stops as they tend to be the most expensive.
Be More Fuel-Efficient
In addition to opting for cheap gas, improving your vehicle’s fuel-efficiency will make those gallons last longer. “I always recommend getting a car tune up before your trip," says Grundig. Not only can you prevent potential problems, you’ll also get more fuel efficiency by having properly inflated tires."
It's also a good idea to reduce the extra weight in your car. If you’ve got extras in the trunk that you don’t need, remove them before you begin your trip. A heavier car needs more fuel to get from A to B. Finallym be sure to check your gas cap seal. As your car ages, the seal can break down. This lets oxygen into your tank which pulls gasoline out.
Boredom is inevitable on even the most-anticipated road trip. But you can keep both you and your kids entertained by pre-loading your phone with the following audio-based apps:
TuneIn — Oftentimes it’s hard to find something worth listening to when you’re passing from state to state. Forget incessantly turning the dial. Instead, open TuneIn which contains live-streams for 100,000 global radio stations from around the world.
Overdrive — If you’re a member of your local public library, you can download any number of audiobooks free then play them when its storytime.
Of course, sometimes emergencies arise. Grundi says to stay prepared by “keeping your smartphone loaded with great apps to help you on your trip.”
These might include:
SitOrSquat — This app is directs drivers to more than 100,000 public restrooms and can identify those that are nearest.
OpenBay — Sometimes cracked windshields happen. When it does, log on to this app to find an affordable nearby mechanic.
You may be tempted to stop for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but those meals can add up. When on the road, travel advisor Suzette Mack avoids this by focusing on the first meal of the day. “Our strategy is to have a really big breakfast,” she says. “Then we just need light snacks for a quick picnic lunch, then we plan for an early dinner. That also saves time when you have to stop for one less restaurant meal.”
Soft coolers allow you to pack drinks and snacks, and are pliable enough to fit into cramped spaces. Focus on protein- and fiber-filled munchies which will keep you more full than processed foods like chips. Best bets include hummus and veggies, peanut butter on whole-wheat bread, low-sugar protein bars, nuts and raisins, and Greek yogurt with fresh fruit.
If you’re staying in a hotel before hitting the road in the am, “call ahead to ask if the minibar in the fridge can be emptied to store your food, or if there is room for a second one,” says Mack. That way your snacks can carry over to the next day.