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4 of the Best Road Trip Planning Tips

Cartoon-style drawing of blue van driving down yellow road with luggage and pink circular floatie on top.

It’s getaway season! While you might be looking to hit the road for a fun trip, the cost of doing anything right now could cause you to pump the brakes. We’re here to tell you: Take that trip! Here are four road trip planning tips for saving big money.

1.    Plan around gas.

Let’s address the elephant in the room first:

How much does a road trip cost?

A lot of that comes down to gas prices, which often are high. Currently, the national gas price average is at $3.09/gallon. The further your destination, the more it’ll cost in gas to get there. To prepare for your trip and get a good estimate of how much money you’ll spend fueling up, use a road trip cost calculator. This one from GasBuddy is the most user-friendly option. Just enter your start and end cities, some basic vehicle information, and hit “calculate my trip.” It’ll show you your distance, estimated fuel usage, and total cost of gas. It’ll also map out your route, highlighting stops for the cheapest gas stations along traveled roads.  

Some other basic principles for saving gas:

  • Drive the speed limit. The faster you drive, the more power your car is exuding and, consequently, the more fuel it uses. Speeds over 50 mph sharply increase gas consumption.
  • Accelerate smoothly after a stop. Instead of putting the pedal to the metal, lightly accelerate and let your automatic transmission easily shift gears. It saves major gas.
  • Don’t leave your car running. If you’re going to leave your car idle for more than a minute, it’s better to just turn it off so you’re not needlessly burning gas.
  • Check your tire pressure. Whether you're in your own vehicle or a road trip car rental, under-inflated tires increase a vehicle’s resistance, require the engine to work harder, and use more fuel. Inflating tires to the recommended pressure can improve your gas mileage by up to 3%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.  

view of dashboard on road with mountains on road trip

2.    Set a budget before you head out. 

Road trips will look different for everyone—some may be traveling close while others far. Some might be traveling in an RV or camper van, while others are in cars or SUVs. Ultimately, however and wherever you travel, there’ll still be similar factors you have to consider. Setting a budget in your road trip planner helps transition your mindset to booking things for cost rather than convenience. Besides gas, here’s what you might want to budget for:

  • Accommodations. Plan how much you’d like to spend on hotels, vacation rentals, or campgrounds for each night of your trip. 
  • Food and drink. Budget how much you’ll spend on road trip meals from groceries, to restaurants, fast food, gas station snacks, alcohol, and other refreshments.
  • Fun and excursions. You should have a general idea of the activities and things you want to do at your final destination or on stops along the way. Factor in entry fees, tips, and permits. 
  • Extras. Once you've secured your road trip essentials, plan an amount to spend on miscellaneous items, like tolls, souvenirs, and gifts. 
  • Roadside emergencies. It’s always best to be prepared—especially when you’re miles away from home. In your budget, have money available for tow trucks, speeding tickets, and roadside service. 

3.    Go to a low-cost destination.

One of the best ways to save money is by traveling domestically. However, even local destinations can be quite costly. Key West, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Aspen, Colorado top the list of most expensive tourist destinations in the United States. Instead, as you consider a road trip of the 50 states, head to these low-cost alternatives:

  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. With the Family Kingdom Amusement Park and 60 miles of coastline in one spot, you have plenty of entertainment options without traveling far.
  • Havasu Falls, Arizona. A one-of-a-kind experience, save by booking a campsite and relish the incredible views, amazing waterfalls, and enjoyable hiking trails.
  • South Padre Island, Texas. A family-friendly beach, affordable dining options, and budget accommodations make this island an escape within reach.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado. Camp for free and try a new adventure. Sand boards and sleds are available to rent for a day at the dunes. 
  • New Orleans, Louisiana. Rich in culture, history, and food, New Orleans feels like an international destination without the high price tag.

Want a feel-good vacay? Check out the top seven happiest cities in North America to visit right now! 

4.    Avoid traveling during the holidays.

It might go without saying, but roads will be busier, and prices will be higher for popular destinations during the holidays. Here are the times of year that you may want to plan around. 

  • Spring: Spring Break
  • Summer: Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day
  • Fall & Winter: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s

By being efficient, organized, and a little flexible, you can totally enjoy a road trip on the cheap. Bon voyage!

Handy Travel Gadgets for Your Roadtrip 

From avoiding travel during the holidays to setting a budget, these road trip planning tips will surely help your getaway be a blast. Looking to take your trip to the next level? Check out our top ten travel gadgets to bring along.