Save Money on a Road Trip Without Giving Up the Fun

Road trip funAdmit it: A staycation is just not going to cut it this year.

After three years of pinching pennies, if you're getting frustrated staying home instead of hitting the road, you're not alone: Almost half of all consumers surveyed for a recently released report from Deloitte said they plan to take a trip this summer even with gas prices hovering at $4 a gallon.

"Although industry data show overall levels of leisure travel are still below levels seen prior to the recession, our latest survey indicates that in 2011, consumers are more willing to spend on summer trips than last year," Adam Weissenberg, Deloitte's vice chairman, said in a statement. "However, with spiking gas prices, airfare costs and hotel rates, as well as ongoing financial concerns, summer vacationers may tweak their travel plans."

And trim costs where they can. Weissenberg pointed out consumers surveyed said they would be staying closer to home or cutting back on food and activity expenses during their vacations.

If you plan on hitting the road this summer, here are a few tips that can help you save money and, in some cases, your sanity, too:
  • Plan your route to avoid wasting gas. Do your homework ahead of time to find the quickest route and avoid road work. A well-planned route will help you avoid getting stuck in traffic -- idling is a big waste of gas. A handy website that lists ongoing road projects is AccuTraffic, a site with a clickable map that lists traffic conditions nationwide. Motorola's Android Marketplace and Apple's store also have a variety of helpful apps to check current traffic conditions.
  • Use your smart phone to help save on gas prices. Speaking of apps and saving on gas prices, AAA's TripTik program is now available for download to both the iPhone and smart phones that use the Android operating system. This free download plots your route and gives you the option to see and compare current gas prices at stations along your route as well as AAA recommendations for lodging, restaurants and activities. Travelers can also check GasPriceWatch and GasBuddy for the latest pump prices.
  • Avoid unrealistic vacation packages. When planning your vacation, be cautious and take a skeptical look at any advertised vacation that just sound too good to be true. If they sound too good to true, they probably are, and it's best to avoid them and scammers out to get your money.
  • Make hotel reservations before you hit the road. TravelSense, a website run by the American Society of Travel Agents, recommends making lodging reservations on road trips as a way to save money and ensure you get a room. This is especially important if you have special needs or travel with pets.
  • See what Uncle Sam has to offer. Want to take in some activities at a national park or museum? You can plan activities and, in some cases, lodging options through, a comprehensive site that offers information on everything you can visit that's owned by the federal government. The site also allows you to make ticket reservations -- even for free admission attractions -- to save time and avoid lines.
The financial site also has tips for a frugal road trip including these clever bits:
  • Plan out your finances and your trip with a detailed budget that lists lodging, meals, gas, tolls and activities. Then add 10 percent to the bottom line to cover unexpected expenses like car repairs.
  • Get the car ready by checking tire pressure, fluid levels and make sure things like the horn work.
  • Be sure you take the right stuff with you, including an emergency kit, maps and a GPS. And bring something for the kids to do -- like video games or a DVD player -- to keep them entertained as the miles roll by.
  • Look for deals on lodging, meals and activities. Check the local newspaper or visitors' bureau website of whatever towns or cities you'll be visiting for coupons, and check Facebook or Twitter for deals on local restaurants.
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