Sneaky ways to save money on your next road trip

  • Rose Kennedy
  • For the AJC
12:34 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018 Community

You hop in the car with a few friends or the family and a mere 1,000 miles later you're down $400 when you only intended to spend $150. What happened?

Probably just a few overruns on the road trip budget.

With a little effort, you'll find it's just as simple and sometimes even more pleasant to take a road trip that will save you hundreds.

»RELATED: 7 last-minute ways to save money on your next vacation

Credit Donkey shared the secret to saving money on road trips. "A big dose of planning," the consumer website said. "Okay, that might not be much of a secret, but everything from those junk food indulgences to the stomach-churning cash spent at the pump can be managed, and often minimized, with a little advance planning."

Add a few apps and some tried-and-true strategies for coping with unexpected hitches in the plan and you've got yourself a less expensive road trip. Here are some tips from Credit Donkey and other frugal travel experts:

Before you leave, these steps will save you money on your road trip.

Pick the right car: Sure, an SUV is going to offer more leg room. But it's also going to cost.

"On a 1,000-mile road trip, taking the car that gets 25 mpg instead of the one with 30 mpg will result in 20 percent savings on fuel," noted Credit Donkey. The Department of Energy provides a calculator to compare the fuel economy of any car you're considering taking. 

Prep the vehicle: Be sure to look for cracks or looseness in engine belts, since broken belts are a major cause of roadside breakdowns, according to AAA. Also check the owner's manual and make sure all tires are at the recommended tire pressure. Low pressure reduces fuel economy and can damage tires, which is particularly nasty on longer trips. 

Plan your route: Don't leave all the trip planning to the GPS along the way. If you map out your route in advance, you can settle on where you'll buy gas, eat a reasonably priced lunch, possibly using a Groupo, and when you'll stop to stretch your legs. Travel and Leisure recommends the customizable AAA TripTik road-trip routers, that come with gas station locations and date-stamped fuel prices along the route.

Plan your gas buys: When you're taking a trip that runs through more than one state, you can save as much as $1 per gallon just by filling up at the right time. If you buy while you're still in Ohio instead of driving into Pennsylvania, for example, you'll save about 30 cents per gallon. Track average national gas prices and state-by-state estimations at the AAA website.

And once you hit the, here’s how to save money on the road:

Conserve fuel: There are numerous ways to save money on gas. First up, if it's the season, use the air conditioning, recommended AAA. Today's air conditioners create less drag on the engine than driving with the windows open. Tips from Travel & Leisure include using cruise control, driving when it's cooler outside and watching when you fill your tank.                                                                                       "If you overfill the tank, gas can slosh around and escape." You can also save money by buying discounted gift cards for gas stations at sites such as Cardpool, CardCash and Gift Card Granny, according to Kiplinger

Drive slower: Driving near the speed limit will always help with your fuel economy. It can also help you avoid speeding tickets, which are a major drag on a road trip budget. Although the cost varies by state, the average speeding ticket is $150, according to Esurance, and violations might end up increasing your insurance rates.

Use two GPS devices: This tip from Travel & Leisure is based on the idea of avoiding the traffic that can drive up fuel costs (and test tempers). Two GPS devices can vary wildly on the routes they suggest. Having two can help you avoid any snags that arise. 

Stop stopping all the time: Every time you stop, you risk expensive treat and souvenir buying. You also end up wrecking your plans for gas buying, inexpensive meals and even making it to an affordable hotel. Instead, buy all your snacks and drinks ahead of time and keep them in a cooler. Stick to your planned restaurant and gas purchase stops. And since you can't plan when someone will need to use the bathroom, use a clean bathroom finder app like Charmin's Sit or Squat.