Affordable Road Trips – How to Save Money and Still Have Fun

Summer time is the right time for taking a week off work, packing up your family and heading out on a vacation. Unfortunately, steep airline prices and even steeper hotel costs mean Hawaii, Bali and Tahiti are out of the question. Does that mean you have to settle for a staycation, lounging around on the couch in your finest Tommy Bahama shirt watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island? No way. Instead of flying off to exotic locales, you can hit the highway on an exciting road trip like countless families have done since the first Model Ts rolled out of Detroit.

Although a lot less expensive than air travel, road trips can still end up costing you a fair amount of coin. To keep your interstate trek under budget, follow these penny-pinching tips.

Pack a Tent

Even if you’re willing to brave the germ-infested sheets and crusty comforters at budget motels, they can still end up running $80 a night. That adds up fast. Don’t be lured in by that neon “Vacancy” sign when you can enjoy the great outdoors by camping out. Before you head off, hop online and do a quick survey of your route. Camp grounds are sprinkled all over the place, usually within a few miles of major freeways. You will have to pay a minor fee to use many camp grounds, but the rates are generally under $20 a night and include access to bathrooms and showers (showers are critical…nothing makes for grumpier travels than a car full of gamey passengers).

To enjoy a few creature comforts while you’re roughing it, you can get an SUV tent that connects to your ride’s rear end. Once set up, you can run your heater, watch a movie on your in-cab entertainment system, or just listen to the radio.

Bring Along a Kitchen

If you’re eating out at restaurants three times a day, you’re pouring money down the drain. Even the bountiful selection of cheap fast food found along the way can really take a bite out of your budget…not to mention that all that greasy grub forces you to make more bathroom breaks. Instead of shelling out the bucks for foul food, bring along a cooler full of scrumptious food and a camping stove. Most rest stops have picnic tables that you can use to prepare your feast, and every town along the way has grocery stores for resupplying. If you have a trailer hitch, you can even get a hitch-mounted grill and fire up some serious eats.

Boost Your MPGs

Gas is expensive all year round, but the prices tend to spike in the summer months because more people are out on the roads. But there are a number of tricks you can do to eke out more miles from every gallon in your tank:

  • First, do a quick tune-up before you take off, including changing out your air filter. A clogged air filter limits the amount of air flowing into your motor, so you have to compensate with more fuel.
  • Second, make sure your tires are properly inflated and check them every time you stop for gas.
  • Third, use your air conditioner instead of rolling down your windows. Open windows throw off your ride’s aerodynamics, and the drag this creates is more damaging to your fuel economy than the A/C.