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.
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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.
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.
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.
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