Road tripping is a great way to travel and sight-see — especially if you want to avoid long flights and busy airports. If you do it right, driving to your destination (or a few if you’re feeling ambitious) could even save you some money in comparison to what you would normally pay on airfare and accommodations. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you plan for an epic adventure on the road.
Do: Make a plan
Some of the most memorable parts about a road trip are the last-minute detours you take and hidden gems you discover along the way. Spontaneity is a must, but you should still plan out some important details before embarking on your trip. For example, consider the distance to your destinations before mapping out a route. Can you make it on one tank of gas? If so, you might save valuable time and money.
You should also be sure that your vehicle is tuned up and ready to go before you leave to avoid any surprise (and likely expensive) breakdowns. Put together an emergency road kit to prepare for the unexpected with things like jumper cables, flashlights, tools, and cell phone chargers, and make sure that you sign up for a roadside assistance service like AAA ahead of time.
Don’t: Pay top dollar for gas
Gas is likely one of the more costly expenses you’ll have on a road trip, especially if you’re traveling for an extended period of time. Avoid pulling into gas stations right off the highway or in major cities if you can. Instead, opt for small town spots that will likely be more cost efficient. You can use real-time price comparison apps like GasBuddy to find the most cost efficient fuel options. Using your cruise control as much as possible and packing light are other great ways to make sure you’re keeping your fuel consumption to a minimum.
Do: Travel with friends
The more the merrier when it comes to road tripping! Traveling with friend or loved ones means you can split expenses like gas or lodging, and it might make it easier to commit to checking out that costly restaurant you’ve been dying to eat at or traveling just a bit further to reach that national park you’ve always wanted to go to. Plus, you’ll have people to pass long hours in the car with. Just make sure to discuss budgets and things you want to do and see on the trip ahead of time.
Don’t: Eat out for every meal
Ok, some meals are worth dining out for the experience (and the yummy food) — especially if you’re traveling somewhere you’ve never been or with a lot of culinary flavor. But, eating out for every meal is a fast track to an expensive trip. Instead, consider packing snacks to eat on the road (even convenience store snacks start to add up, so it’s good to pack ahead of time or buy in bulk), and making your own meals over a campfire, at campsites with grills, in that cute Airbnb you rented, or in your RV if that’s how you’re traveling.
Do: Look for free entertainment and activities
Incredible sites and fun things to do don’t always have to cost a fortune. Do your research before you visit a place to find free places to hike or little-known locales to visit away from the touristy areas. The local visitor center is a good place to start for information and maybe even some coupons!
Don’t: Spend a fortune on lodging
If you really want to get into life on the road, try staying at a free or discounted campsite. National Forest campgrounds are usually a good option. There are some camping apps like The Dyrt which show users a map of all the places you can legally pitch a tent for the night. And, if you don’t mind working a little on your trip, you can find free lodging through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in exchange for a little manual labor.
Do: Look for the deals
For the money you do spend on gas, food, lodging, and other expenses, make sure you use a credit or debit card that gives you rewards or cash-back on your purchases. Avoid ATM fees by traveling with cash and knowing what institutions you can take cash out of without incurring a surcharge. And, make sure to notify your bank that you’ll be traveling before you leave.
If you plan to visit multiple national parks on your trip, save money by purchasing a national parks pass or planning your trip around days with no entrance fees. You can also save by joining camping or RV clubs; for an annual membership fee, you’ll have access to exclusive deals and resources
Don’t: Overpay for parking
Finally, make sure you have a plan for parking expenses, especially when traveling to major cities. Park your vehicle at a park-and-ride when possible, and take advantage of public transportation to get around (hey, you’ll be saving on gas here, too!). Make sure to pay close attention to tricky signage to avoid any pesky parking tickets as well.
If you’re looking to invest in a new (or new-to-you) and reliable vehicle, consider taking out an HUECU RV loan!