If your plans call for taking to the road this summer on a family vacation, you’re in good company. A recent Harris poll found that a vast majority of Americans, 84 percent, who plan to take vacations this year say they’ll travel primarily by car, racking up an average 1,172 miles for their summer leisure travel.
But value is important to family travelers, whether it’s for a single-night stay or a vacation of a week or longer. The Harris poll showed that nine in 10 Americans planning to travel and stay in a hotel want value for their money.
With this in mind, here are some tips for a more budget-friendly summer road trip vacation.
Look for accommodations with lots of freebies. – No, this doesn’t mean you’re looking for free towels to take home with you. Value here means free Internet access and Wi-Fi hotspots, complimentary full breakfasts (some big hotel and motel chains offer this), free parking, free kid-zone areas (with videogames, etc.), and, of course, a low-price or best-rate guarantee.
Search out cheap gas prices en route. – Use apps available through the AAA or go on GasBuddy.com or similar sites to locate the stations offering the lowest gas prices along your route of travel.
Map it out ahead of time. – Instead of just heading out on the highway without a plan, even if you’re going to a location you’ve been to before, it makes a lot of sense—and can save you money in the long run—if you map your route out in advance. Use AAA for TripTiks and maps or guidance. Program your destination into your car’s navigation system. Be sure to include points of interest for stops along the way. That way, the kids are happy, because they have something to look forward to instead of just an endless car ride, and everyone gets a chance to get out and stretch.
Pack light. – While the tendency is to bring everything you can think of, just in case you might need it, all that extra baggage and carry-on items adds unnecessary weight in the car. That not only affects handling but it eats up gas. Pack light. You really don’t need all that stuff with you, anyway.
Fill up when the car is cool, not at the end of the day. – You’ll get more gas for your money when you fill the tank in the early morning, before the day heats up. If you have to fill up at night, do so after several hours, so the air has a chance to cool down.
Use a gas card or credit card that gives you more points for gas purchases. – Getting more value for your money means using a gas card or a credit card, such as American Express, that gives you more percentage points for gasoline purchases. This adds up over the course of a year, and it’s smart to get 3 or 4 percent back on each gas purchase than to just pay the cost of the gas and get nothing back.
Use a single credit card for all expenditures. – As long as you get a percentage of your money back on a specific card, it may be wise to use that same card for all your road trip summer vacation expense, if at all possible. This includes hotel and motel accommodations, gas, food, entertainment, even any necessary repairs.
Bring snacks and refreshments to cut down on meal costs. – If you need to travel any great distance, feeding the family in cafes and restaurants can really put a dent in your wallet. That’s money you could put to better use on family entertainment and souvenirs, for example. So, buy snacks and refreshments to carry in the car that will tide you over until dinner. And, if you’ve selected a place to stay that provides free breakfast, you’ll only really need to figure in maybe one and a half meals on the road per day.