There is no better time to take a road trip than after college graduation.
Your schooling responsibilities are behind you (or at the very least, a summer away), and you’re transitioning into a full-time career, which means you likely are between jobs and homes.
Take this time to do something that will only become harder as time goes by: go on an extended road trip!
Here are some practical tips that can help you save money on the road.
The cost of your road trip will be heavily influenced by the duration of the trip, the mileage traveled, the accommodations, and the destinations. It’s recommended that you have at least some idea of the estimated costs before setting out. You may want to take you where the wind blows, but that could end up being a recipe for disaster. Open Google My Maps on your laptop or pull out a good paper map (more satisfying than you may remember), and start planning your route. This will give you a good idea of how long the trip will take, and how much it might cost.
Snack on the Go
Snacking on the move can help lessen the number of meals you need to buy, which can add up to significant savings over the course of your trip. For example, if you skip lunch every day on a 14-day trip, you can easily save $140 or more. That pays for a night in a 3-star hotel, or nearly 40 gallons of gas – just from skipping lunch and eating trail mix instead. And you don’t have to worry that snacking will leave you feeling lethargic and out of sorts, either. There are a wide range of healthy snacking options, from dried fruits and vegetables to almonds and nuts. Skip the Doritos and Twinkies, and you’ll be fine.
Find Last Minute Accommodations for Cheap
If you book your room at the last minute, you can save a significant amount of money. After all, for hotels, any amount of money is preferable to leaving a room unbooked for the night. Use this to your advantage. If you know you will be in a fairly large city for the night, consider holding off on that reservation. Instead, wait to book your room until the day of your stay. Apps like Hotel Tonight make it easy to search for reduced fares. And the app doesn’t just work in the United States either; there are participating hotels in Central and South America, Europe, Australia, and even the Middle East.
Camp, Couch Surf, and AirBnB
Pitching a tent can save you a tremendous amount of money over a two-week trip. If you intend to extend your travels to last the entire summer, this savings could practically cover the entire cost of your trip. If camping isn’t really your thing, other affordable accommodation options include couch surfing and sub-letting from home owners and apartment tenants. Services like Airbnb and Couch Surfing make it easy to do the latter, while Reserve America and Recreation.gov are great tools for finding camping sites. Many paper maps also include camping sites in their key of attractions, which might be more intuitive than trying to find one via Google.
Don’t Pay Roaming Fees
Whatever you do, make certain that you have an unlimited data plan that is free to use in the areas you intend to travel. Using Google Maps on the go, uploading photos to Instagram, and texting home all require data, and you aren’t likely to find an abundance of free Wi-Fi hotspots unless your road trip is centered around your local neighborhood! If you don’t already have an unlimited data plan (or your plan doesn’t include roaming) you may find exorbitant overage fees on your bill when you return to civilization – which we promise will be the last thing that you want to come back to. Consider upgrading to an unlimited plan like T-Mobile One so that you can take your trip with peace of mind.
Take Advantage of Free (and Cheap) Attractions
State parks, national parks, city parks, historic sites, beaches, rivers, lakes… all are either free of charge or incredibly affordable. And you’ll likely find that they make the most lasting impression of all the sites you see. Travel from city to city, and there’s a risk that you’ll be reliving the same day over and over again. To an extent, all coffee shops look the same. However, visit a little known state park off the beaten path, and you may find vistas that defy imagination, or hikes that exceed all expectations. If you’re unfamiliar with the states you’ll be visiting, simply use Find a Park to do just that. It’s fast and easy.
Save on Fuel
There was a time when the cost of gasoline was so cheap, it almost didn’t factor into overall road trip costs. Those days are long gone. You will definitely want to do some route planning in advance to factor in gas costs. Additionally, you may consider using apps like Gasbuddy to find the cheapest gasoline in the towns you’ll be visiting. Saving an average of $0.50 per gallon will net you $50 over the course of 100 gallons of gasoline. Not bad, right? You could treat yourself to a nice meal with that money, or spend the night in a budget motel. Which if you’ve been camping for four weeks, might be just what you need!
Make Simple Roadside Repairs (or Use AAA)
Making simple roadside repairs can save you hundreds of dollars, as it prevents you from having to pay for towing, diagnosis, labor, and parts. If you’re even a bit handy, pack some simple tools and common parts in your trunk so that you’re prepared should the car break down or suffer a simple mechanical fault. Even packing some spare lightbulbs for your headlights and taillights is better than nothing; it can stop you from getting a ticket, and make a trip to the local dealership or mechanic unnecessary. Alternatively, if you’re not mechanically inclined (and don’t feel guilty, most of us aren’t), consider getting AAA. The company famously offers free towing nationwide for its customers, which can help you get out of a jam just when you need it!
- Rick Steves
- Rick Steves
- Edition no. 37 (2017-09-12)
- Rick Steves Best of Europe
- Rick Steves
- Rick Steves
- James Feess
- Skyhorse Publishing
- Paperback: 176 pages
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