How to Save Money on Holiday Road Trips
Follow these tips to keep the cost of gas, meals, lodging and more under control.
Fortunately, going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house for the holidays should cost less for those traveling by car this year. At $2.99 per gallon, the national average price of regular gasoline is 28 cents lower than the price per gallon a year ago, according to AAA. So if your car's tank holds 15 gallons, you'll save about $4 every time you fill up. The savings are magnified if you're traveling long distances during the holidays.
There are several steps you can take to save on a road trip. Here's how to trim expenses even more on gas and keep the cost of meals, lodging and entertainment for the kids under control.
Prepare your car before you go. Your wallet will thank you if you make sure your tires are properly inflated before you hit the road. Every pound per square inch under the manufacturer's recommendation for all four tires lowers your gas mileage by 0.3% -- which means more stops at the gas station. Also, remove anything from your car that you don't need for your trip and don't pack more than necessary just because you have room. Otherwise, your fuel economy will suffer by 2% per 100 extra pounds you load into your car.
Find the cheapest gas on the road. The free GasBuddy app helps you find the lowest gas prices near you. You can search by zip code or city. Also, don't fill up with pricier premium-grade gasoline if your car's owner manual says regular is fine.
Use a gas rewards card. If you don't already have one, consider getting a gas rewards credit card to earn cash back on gas purchases. One of our favorites is the PenFed Platinum Rewards Visa, which gives you five points for every dollar spent on gas. You can redeem points for travel, merchandise, gift cards or prepaid cards. (Anyone can join the PenFed Credit Union by contributing a one-time $14 fee to Voices for America's Troops or $15 fee to the National Military Family Association.)
Avoid traffic back-ups. Use the free Waze app to get real-time traffic and road information from its community of users. Drive with the app open, and you'll be notified if you need to alter you route to avoid back-ups -- so you don't waste time and gas sitting in traffic. If you do come to a standstill because of an accident or construction, turn off your car. Idling can drain your tank by a quarter- to a half-gallon of fuel per hour, depending on the size of your engine and use of air conditioning, according to Fueleconomy.gov, a Web site run by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Eat cheap. The best way to save money on food (and avoid time-consuming stops) is to pack sandwiches, snacks and drinks in a cooler. To make it fun for kids, you can buy a few trinkets at the dollar store and put them in bags along with their food to replicate kids meals from fast food restaurants. If you'd rather keep crumbs out of your car, buy discounted gift cards to your favorite fast food joints before you hit the road. We recently found a $50 Subway gift card on Gift Card Granny for $44.50 -- an instant $5.50 savings.
Get a deal on lodging. If you know you're going to need a hotel room during your trip, you're more likely to get a better rate by booking at least two weeks in advance because many chains offer discounted rates for advance booking (see How to Get the Best Deal on a Hotel. Sites such as GetaRoom.com, Hipmunk.com, Hotels.com and Priceline.com make it easy to compare prices. If you have to make an unexpected stop along the way, use the free Last Minute Travel app or the Priceline Negotiator app to get a deal on a room.
Keep the kids entertained. There's nothing worse than listening to your kids ask "Are we there yet?" hour after hour. Keep boredom at bay by checking out books or DVDs for the car ride from the public library for free. If your kids have a tablet or smart phone, use your home Wi-Fi to download free games before you go so don't have to use up your (pricey) data plan to download apps on the road.