A classic road trip is one of the best ways to get a real feel for the character and beauty of America. Exploring by car gives you a chance to observe the wide-open spaces, amazing national parks and quirky small towns that make the country so unique and interesting. Of course road trips aren’t always the cheapest way to get from point A to point B, but there are a lot of things you can do before and during your trip to help keep costs down.
Plan Your Route Carefully
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The thing that trips up most would-be road warriors is the sheer size of the United States. It’s understandable to want to visit as many places as possible, but you will have a much more enjoyable trip if you plan your route strategically to avoid long stretches in the car and using massive amounts of gas. If you’re on a budget, you may be better served by planning a trip with many close together stops: driving California’s Coastal Highway instead of driving from California to New York. Use Google Maps or a good old fashioned road atlas to plan the most efficient route and to possibly avoid toll roads.
High gas prices have been the death of many a budget road trip. You can try comparison shopping when you stop for gas–often stations a little further from the main highway have better deals. Additionally, there are a few small things you can do to help conserve gas and reduce your overall costs. Don’t speed (this will also save you the added cost of having to pay for a ticket) and avoid using cruise control. Make sure your tires are well inflated. Avoid using the AC and keep the windows open instead.
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Next to gas, accommodation expenses are some of the biggest when it comes to a road trip. Hotels located in city centers can add up fast. Instead, do your research beforehand and discover quirky, independently owned hotels and motels along your route. The US is full of colorful roadside motels, which often have rooms available for under $100 a night. To increase your chances of finding rooms at affordable rates, use the trivago comparison tool and avoid peak times like Labor Day weekend, Memorial Day weekend and Independence Day.
Don’t Fall for Fast Food
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When you’ve been driving for hours and your stomach starts rumbling, it’s tempting to just pull over to the most convenient McDonalds or Taco Bell. While fast food can be cheap, there are better ways to sustain yourself on the road and stay somewhat healthy. The best way to save money is to carry a cooler with cold drinks and snacks that you can dip into when your hunger pains start. This will eliminate that desperate must-eat-wherever-is-next feeling. If you have time to get off the highway, many small towns have interesting local food options that won’t break the bank and will probably be tastier and more interesting than that overly processed burger.
Buy a National Parks Pass
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National parks are the heart of many American road trips. If you’re planning to visit more than one or two, it is well worth it to invest in a National Parks Pass. The pass is good for an entire year and includes admittance to more than 2,000 federal land areas. The cost is $80 and covers everyone in your vehicle. With many park admissions at $25 a vehicle, this pays off quickly and allows you to concentrate on what’s important: enjoying the beautiful scenery.
What other road trip tips would you add?