From wine to wildlife: 10 cheap themed US road trips

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Traveling the California Coast

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans take summer road trips, according to a 2015 survey by the tire maker Bridgestone. With gas prices low this year, taking a car trip is an even more appealing way to get away. While many road trips are about taking to the open road and taking in the scenery, another way to plan a trip is to choose something you love and string together destinations related to that theme. Whether it's wine or whiskey tasting or food-related fun, these 10 themed road trip ideas include stops that are free or cheap.

SEE ALSO: 11 Tips for Taking a Road Trip on the Cheap

Blackhawk Chocolate Trail

Chocolate lovers in the Midwest can head for the Blackhawk Chocolate Trail in northwest Illinois. A self-guided tour takes chocoholics through stops at cafés, candy stores, bakeries, and more. There are itineraries of different lengths, some requiring stopovers at local hotels. While it's free to stop into any location on the trail and browse, offerings of free samples vary, so expect to pay for a few treats along the way.

Wisconsin Cheese Tour

Cheeseheads know Wisconsin is the place for all the best cheesy concoctions. The state is home to at least 60 artisan cheesemakers, who create everything from organic to one-of-a-kind handmade batches of cheese. The Wisconsin Department of Tourism has put together cheese tour itineraries to give hungry travelers a chance to see the process and enjoy samples, both of which are usually free. The routes wind through the state and hit a number of cheesemakers, restaurants, and wineries that feature local cheese samples.

Check out the slideshow below for how to save money on a road trip:

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From wine to wildlife: 10 cheap themed US road trips

1. Calculate your expected fuel cost before your trip. It’s always wise to get an accurate estimation of how much to budget for gas beforehand. GasBuddy's fuel calculator is an excellent tool to get an expected price point. Just enter your vehicle information, startpoint and endpoint, and the app will calculate how much you’ll spend.

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2. Don’t fuel up near popular areas. You’ll find inflated gas prices near popular tourist destinations and metropolitan areas, so it’s worth venturing to the town over for more affordable prices. For example, gas costs on the scenic Pacific Coast Highway in California are considerably higher than the stations a few miles off the main highway.

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3. Fill up your tank at truck stops. You'll often find the cheapest gas prices here. 

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4. Download gas apps. Apps like GasBuddy and GasGuru come in handy by computing the cheapest station in relation to your current location.

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5. Drive efficiently to save gas costs. These 5 fuel-efficient tips are proven to maintain a full tank longer:

           1. Turn off your AC

2. Engage cruise control in low-traffic areas

3. Avoid rapid acceleration and braking

4. Inflate tires close to maximum

5. Avoid speeding

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6. Travel with friends. Traveling with a few buddies is an efficient (and fun) way to save cash by splitting the cost of a tank.

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7. Grocery shop in advance. Pack water and snacks beforehand in a cooler -- inflated convenience store prices will eat away at your budget.

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8. Bring reusable water bottles. Filling up a water bottle is cheaper than buying a Poland Spring at every stop.

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9. Buy fountain drinks over bottled drinks. If you’re craving a Mountain Dew, fountain drinks give you a better bang for your buck over bottled soda.

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Use Yelp: Download Yelp on your phone to see the best restaurant offers in your area.

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11. Take advantage of restaurant deals. Chances are there will be tons of chain restaurants along the way, so use sites like Groupon and GiftCardGranny to get a deal on the road.

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12. Load up on free coffee and breakfast from hotels for the road. Take advantage of a free meal and avoid Starbucks and other expensive coffee shops.

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13. Avoid staying in popular areas. Tourist-driven and metropolitan areas are often paired with inflated prices, so find a place to sleep in surrounding towns.

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14. Check out sites like Airbnb, Tripadvisor, and Kayak to score the best low-cost lodging deals.

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15. Rent a car. If you don’t own your own vehicle, renting a car beforehand for as cheap as $22 a day on sites like ExpediaHotwire, and Travelocity can be a great deal.

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16. Alert your bank. Sometimes banks will deem charges in new cities as fraudulent and cancel your cards.

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17. Stick to budget-friendly activities. Some ideas include hiking national parks, visiting beaches and checking out a town’s culture by walking the streets and venturing into a street fair.

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18. Take advantage of student discounts. If you’re currently a student, bring your student ID for maximum discounts.

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19. Download road trip planning apps. Apps like Roadtrippers are a great way to help plan and finance your new excursion.

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American Wine Trails

There are 289 wine trails across the country, according to the site America's Wine Trails which means there are hundreds of opportunities to hit the road to drink free or cheap wine samples (just be sure to designate a driver). Visit the site to find wine trails in nearly every state and itineraries of various lengths. The options include maps and contact information for wineries.

America's Beer Trail

Wine isn't the only drink-related theme -- beer lovers can also get their kicks by visiting some of America's many craft breweries. The site Brew Trail lists breweries by state and provides suggested itineraries with ideas for where to stop in for a cold one. A number of breweries offer free tours or tastings; call ahead to confirm.

EXPLORE MORE: 10 Chocolate Meccas Across America

Texas BBQ Trail

There are few places better to visit than Texas for authentic barbecue. For meat lovers, a road trip to some of Texas' best barbecue is a tasty way to see some of the state. The Texas BBQ Trail runs near the city of Austin and includes five stops at family-owned barbecue joints. Keep the trip cheap by sharing meals at each stop -- after all, Texas is known for large portions.

Arizona Salsa Trail

There's a food tour for nearly everything, it seems, including fans of Mexican food. The Arizona Salsa Trail is a path that guides hungry visitors along the Old West Highway to more than 10 restaurants that feature tasty Mexican eats. Keep the calories and spending in check by focusing on salsa and chips rather than full meals.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Bourbon isn't just a drink -- to Kentuckians, it's an art form. Kentucky has been crafting bourbon since the 1700s, and the name comes from the state's Bourbon County. For those who love both history and hard liquor, a road trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a must. Visit nine distilleries across Kentucky to sample craft bourbon, usually for free, and learn about the history of the spirit.

Wyoming Wildlife

Nature lovers who prefer to see wildlife from the safety of a car can take a road trip on U.S. 191 linking Jackson, Wyoming, with Yellowstone National Park. Once inside the park ($30 a vehicle for a seven-day pass), everything from moose to bears to wolves may make an appearance, but animals are also abundant on the way there and free to see if you catch them. Jackson Lake and Grand Teton also offer the potential for amazing animal viewing.

Theme Park Theme Trip

Fun-loving families and groups of roller-coaster-crazed thrill seekers can plan a trip around theme parks. How to do it less expensively? Stick with smaller parks. Pennsylvania, for example, has five amusement parks along a 325-mile expanse of interstates and state highways, running from east of Pittsburgh to just northeast of Philadelphia. The route includes Kennywood, Idlewild, Lakemont Park, Hersheypark, and Dorney Park, and features some of America's oldest roller coasters. Admission starts at about $40 a person per day, but discounts are available.

Lewis and Clark Trail

History buffs will enjoy following the path that explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took at the start of the 19th century. While their journey was two years long, road trippers can do the entire route from Philadelphia to the Pacific Northwest in a matter of weeks (or choose part of it for a shorter trip). The journey allows for plenty of time at free and cheap historical sites such as Tillamook Head in Oregon, where Lewis and Clark spent time ($3 to park). Visit the Lewis and Clark Trail website for travel ideas.

View more classic US road trips below:

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Classic US Road Trips
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From wine to wildlife: 10 cheap themed US road trips

1. California State Route 1: San Francisco to Los Angeles

Photo via Shutterstock

2. Route 66: Chicago to Santa Monica, CA

Photo via Vvillamon/Flickr

3. Amish Country Byway: Holmes County, Ohio

Photo via Alamy

4. Blue Ridge Parkway: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Photo via Shutterstock

5. Upstate New York: Albany to the Finger Lakes

Photo via Alamy

6. Overseas Highway: Florida mainland to Key West

Photo via Alamy

7. Lewis and Clark Historic Trail: Illinois to Oregon

Photo via Alamy

8. Going to the Sun Road: Glacier National Park, Montana

Photo via Shutterstock

9. U.S. Route 1: Massachusetts to Maine

Photo via Alamy

10. Red Rock Scenic Byway: Sedona, Arizona

Photo via Alamy

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