How to prepare for summer road trips so you save money

Couple on summer road trip
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The COVID-19 pandemic made it nearly impossible for many people to take vacations. Now that everyone is itching to travel again, prices have skyrocketed on everything from hotel rooms and cruises to airfare and restaurants.

That doesn’t mean summer vacations are entirely on hold. According to Hotels.com, searches for properties with free parking are up 43% this year compared with last year (and 2021 was already a record year for road trips). The hotel booking company says this is a strong indicator that travelers are still planning summer road trips.

The List,” a daily TV show that covers pop culture and lifestyle topics, took a closer look at how car travel can be an affordable alternative to flying. (Check “The List”’s website to find out when the show airs in your area.) But this method of travel can still be pricey, especially when you don’t plan ahead. So, “The List” spoke with Mamie Wheaten, certified financial planner for Learnlux Financial Wellbeing, to get some tips on road tripping this summer.

Prepare Your Ride

“I think that this is something that people a lot of times overlook — they pack their car, and they go,” Wheaten told “The List” in the interview, which you can watch in full in the video below. “So, get that oil change, check your air filters, maybe check your tire pressure. I think that’s a huge one.”

She also recommends checking to see whether your insurance covers roadside assistance. If it does, or you have a roadside service subscription, clarify what’s covered.

“Sometimes they’ll only tow you to the nearest town, which may be in the opposite direction of your destination,” Wheaten told “The List.” “Or maybe they won’t cover a rental car.”

Expedia recommends booking in advance to avoid any surprises if you plan to rent a car rather than drive your own. On apps and sites like Expedia, search and filter for options with free cancellation that allow you to book now and pay when you pick up the vehicle.

The travel site recommends looking beyond the airport when searching for car rentals.

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“Depending on your plans, search wide and compare rates at off-airport locations (i.e., in a neighborhood) as they generally offer better pricing due to lower operation costs,” Expedia told Don’t Waste Your Money.

“Pick up at major drop-off points. Start your trip at a big drop-off location, as there are often deals for travelers that pick up at major endpoints where car rentals are in high demand.”

Save On Gas

Wheaten recommends planning stops for gas to avoid small towns or middle-of-nowhere fill-ups.

“Those small towns, especially if there aren’t any other services around, they are going to charge exponentially for gas,” she told “The List.” “They know people are going to stop, and they know people are going to pay for it.”

She suggests using apps like Gas Buddy to find stations on your route with the lowest prices.

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Driving conservatively and watching your speed can also help you save on gas. According to AAA, most cars’ fuel economy peaks at around 50 mph. Rapid acceleration and hard braking can reduce fuel economy by 15% to 30% on the highway and up to 40% in stop-and-go traffic.

Maintaining proper tire inflation, removing excess weight from the vehicle and keeping your windows rolled up on the highway are other ways to improve gas mileage.

Base Your Itinerary On Your Budget

Rather than deciding where you want to go and then trying to figure out how to pay for it, establish a budget and look for a destination that fits.

“Preparation is key to staying within your budget on a road trip. It’s important you plan a rough estimate of the costs that are included and stay on top of your spending when you’re on the road,” Naveen Dittakavi, founder and CEO of Next Vacay, told Don’t Waste Your Money.

“If you can, I’d recommend skipping traveling to popular destinations over the busy season as there is a chance prices will be much higher than usual due to being inflated. You’re better traveling to places unknown and being wary of heavily touristed areas in order to keep costs down.”

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Camping is a popular and budget-friendly option. But if you have to buy all the gear, it can get costly. Wheaten suggests renting big-ticket items.

“You can do something like RV share. Renting vans has become something that’s really popular,” she told “The List.”

She also recommends buying a national park pass that gives you access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. An annual pass costs $80, compared to the average $30 fee it costs for entrance to most national parks.

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If you prefer to sleep indoors, Hotels.com recommends looking for “free” when searching for lodging. Amenities like complimentary breakfast and free parking can save you money.

Establishing your plans well in advance is another effective way to save on a summer road trip vacation.

“Preparation is key to staying within your budget on a road trip,” Dittakavi told Don’t Waste Your Money. “It’s important you plan a rough estimate of the costs that are included and stay on top of your spending when you’re on the road.”

“Booking activities, accommodation and restaurants close to your arrival date may mean those prices tick up, or worse, they might sell out. Anything last-minute may cause you to panic and overspend, which can result in you losing money quickly.”

Simplemost and “The List” share a parent company, The EW Scripps Company.

About the Author

Tricia Goss

Tricia is a professional writer and editor who lives in North Texas with her family and one smelly dog. She is a wannabe problem solver, junk food maven professional coffee practitioner, web guru and general communicator. Learn More.