6 ways to prepare for a Summer road trip on a budget


The summer road trip is an American tradition that's as popular as ever – especially for families on tight travel budgets. If your bank account is a little weak this season, you don't have to forgo this summer's getaway. With a little planning and a little creativity, you can cut the cost of a summer road trip even further.

[See: 12 Frugal Ways to Save on Vacation.]

RELATED: 8 summer travel tips to save you money

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8 summer travel tips to save you money
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8 summer travel tips to save you money

"You're probably thinking that doing an all-inclusive vacay (that's a vacation that includes both your room and food and drink) is just way too expensive, but you would be wrong in almost every case. While it's true that some of the world's great and expensive resorts have an extensive and expensive AI policy, there are many that are very nice and very affordable. All you need is to consider a number of options that can save you money every time."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

"Like the old expression "it's 5 o'clock somewhere", that phrase also applies to peak and off-peak travel as it's always off-peak season somewhere! Traveling off-peak doesn't mean you try and go skiing in in Colorado in July either! But, traveling and saving money going OP is a real money saver."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

"The first question to ask yourself is this: "Do I really need a car on my vacation?" That answer will depend on where you are traveling, when you are traveling, and what you want to do when you get there.

If you are getting away just to relax and sit in the sun, you may not need a car at all. See if your hotel offers free transportation to and from the airport and/or if there are such services publicly available at a low cost."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

"You can get some incredible upgrades if you just ask. One way to do it is when you are flying, ask about an upgrade at the gate when you are celebrating something like an anniversary or birthday trip. Airlines are willing to upgrade you if they have the room in first class as a courtesy, but only if you ask. It's best to do it when you are standing right in front of them at the counter and not on a phone or via an internet message. That's when they will respond positively most often."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

"Checking the net is a huge way to save money on your summer—or any—vacation. Websites like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, and Kayak will do everything from finding you the best deals on air, hotel, and cars to supplying specific venue information and free reservations. You probably already know that these places work well, but they are just a few of the many available, and more are coming all the time. When you have enough lead time for your travel, spend a few hours scanning the best deals and reading real customer reviews online before you reserve. It gives you a much better idea of what you can expect."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

"One of the most annoying things that can happen to you is to find out that you will have to pay extra on you baggage when you are checking in at the airport. How are you going to avoid that? Here are a few tips that have worked for me: Pack lighter than you think you may need... Weigh you bags at home... Try "wearing" your luggage like a backpack... Leave room for souvenirs."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

"When you can, try scheduling your flights, hotel stays, and car rentals on the less travelled days of the week. That's generally Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But the best way to take advantage of your flexibility is to select the flexible dates option on your travel site so you can find the least expensive choices. Or try a site like Fareness which is based on date flexibility."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

"If you are fortunate enough to have choices in your airport departure and arrival sites, check them out online. Because there are usually some differences in those airfares, check out your options. Here in New Jersey, we can fly from Newark, Trenton, or Atlantic City, or from NYC at LaGuardia or JFK. There are even the choices of Allentown PA and Westchester NY that are also close enough to make the air savings worth it. Sometimes it's worth a few hours' drive to get a significantly better airfare."

Credit: Super Saving Tips

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1. Shop the internet for last-minute rentals. Unless you plan on staying overnight at campsites, you'll need to secure places to stay at every stop on your trip. Shop around for last-minute rentals and deals on sites such as Airbnb, Flipkey.com or HomeAway. You'll find a mix of single rooms, apartments and furnished homes available during your travel dates – many managed by locals. Booking last minute means you need to be flexible, but it also means the property owner will often be flexible with rates. Plus, your host will have lots of ideas on places to visit, things to do and other insider information about the area when you get in touch with him or her.

[See: 12 Habits of Phenomenally Frugal Families.]

2. Find the best deals on gas. Gasoline prices recently reached their highest levels since 2015, according to AAA, so it pays to shop around for the best prices – especially if you're filling up a larger vehicle, such as a recreational vehicle, or RV, or multiple vehicles for a group trip. Take some time to check out local gas prices using a site such as GasBuddy.com. In addition, many local TV news websites feature gas price trackers that are frequently updated. Finally, try MapQuest's gas station and gas prices layering feature to locate the best prices nearest you.

3. Plan meal stops ahead of time. Everyone needs a break from the road, especially when hunger strikes, but don't let that steer you into making unplanned stops at crowded chain eateries along the highway. Instead, plan your restaurant visits ahead of time. Map out your route and find cheap or low-cost eateries that you know your group will enjoy. You may even decide to visit one or two of those kitschy places that always seem to put up clever signs along the highway. Consider making reservations at busier spots if you know what time you'll be arriving. Mapping all this out can give you a better idea of how much you can expect to spend on eating out, and what meals you can pack in an ice cooler for the road to save on food costs. Plus, you'll have a few extra vacation activities to look forward to as you travel (along with the clever signs).

4. Pack an assortment of snacks. Whether you're hitting the road for a few days or a few weeks, you're going to need sustenance to get through those longer drives. Stay alert and ward off fatigue and sluggishness when you're stuck in the car for several hours by packing healthy and nutritious snacks. Filling snacks, such as granola bars, trail mix, peanut butter sandwiches and protein bars, can hold everyone over until the next sit-down meal. Packing your own meals means you won't have to pay a premium for tasty snacks at convenience stores or grocery stores on the way. Save even more money by making your own.

[See: 10 Fun, Frugal Ways to Spend Your Free Time.]

5. Do a vehicle maintenance check. Properly inflated tires, an engine topped up with fresh oil and an overall smooth-running machine are the necessary basics for a safe and stress-free drive. Taking the time to get your car serviced before you start your adventure will reduce the risk of any maintenance-related mishaps, which can get expensive when you're far from home.

6. Snag deals at visitors centers. Visitors centers aren't just for picking up maps or taking a restroom break. They can also be great places to pick up coupon books and brochures filled with local deals, discounted venue tickets and coupons that can save you money on entertainment, food and local events. Be sure to make your rounds at local visitors centers when you're staying in a new town or city for more than a day or two. You know what else is usually free at the visitors center? Advice from the staff on local events and attractions you won't often find in the maps and coupons displayed on the racks. Asking is always free.

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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