Fuel up and get ready for an adventure.
If you’re looking for an affordable vacation that doesn’t land you in debt, a road trip may be the way to go. And if you have a good amount of time off, you may want to take the opportunity to travel from one end of the country to another.
The benefit of road-tripping across the U.S. is that you can not only save money on travel, but also discover parts of the country you never knew existed. That said, a little planning before a road trip could make for much smoother travels. Here are a few tips for pulling your adventure off.
1. Have your car serviced before you leave
Nobody likes to pay for extra auto maintenance, but if you’re embarking on a much longer drive than usual, it’s a smart investment. A few weeks before you head out on the road, have your car’s oil and fluid levels checked, and ask for a tire rotation, which could help improve your fuel efficiency. Also, make sure your tires are in good enough shape for a long drive -- you don’t want a blowout on a random highway in the middle of nowhere.
2. Aim to drive through traffic-prone areas at off-peak times
When you’re driving for what could be hundreds of miles at a time, the last thing you want is to get stuck in rush-hour traffic. Doing so will not only kill your fuel efficiency, but also drive you crazy. Think about it: It’s one thing to idle for 30 minutes during a one-hour trip, but when you’re on the road for six hours at a time, it’s maddening. Therefore, map out your routes so that you’re ideally avoiding high-traffic areas (think major cities) at times when congestion is likely to build.
3. Get a roadside assistance plan
The last thing you want to do is break down on a highway in an area you’re not familiar with and get stuck footing what could be a very expensive tow truck bill. A better bet? Get a roadside assistance plan like AAA if you don’t have one already. Before you do, however, see what coverage your auto insurance offers. In some cases, you may not even need a separate plan.
4. Research gas prices before you fill up
Why pay more at the pump than you need to? If you’re driving a long distance, saving a penny or two per gallon of gas could really add up. That’s why it pays to research gas prices before reloading your tank. Sites like GasBuddy are your friend in this regard (pun intended).
5. Keep your plans flexible
When you’re driving long distances, you never know when you might need to make extra stops along the way, or get delayed by road construction. That’s why it pays to have a relatively loose itinerary for your road trip -- in case you need to change your plans at the last minute. If possible, try to only make refundable hotel bookings, and don’t buy tickets to events or attractions until you’ve reached your destination, or are really close to it.
6. Don’t forget parking
Depending on where your road trip takes you, parking may not always be included. Budget accordingly, especially if you’re planning to hit theme parks or concert venues, which are notorious for charging extra to store your vehicle.
7. Maximize your credit card rewards
The right credit card could make your big road trip far more affordable. It especially pays to find a credit card that offers a nice amount of cash back at gas stations, since you’ll be stopping at a lot of those along the way. But also, find a card with decent rewards for restaurant meals -- chances are you won’t just want to stick to fast food during your trip, and you’ll therefore be dining out quite a lot. Rack up enough points or cash back, and it’ll offset a nice chunk of your journey.
A cross-country road trip could be the adventure of a lifetime. Plan well for it, and you’ll not only have a blast, but save yourself time, money, and aggravation along the way.
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