Planning one last trip before summer comes to an end? If you’re taking on the open road, you’ll need to prepare accordingly. From mapping out a route to calculating the cost of gas to choosing which snacks to bring, considering every expense could save you from turning what should be cost-effective travel into a costly experience.
Make sure your car is in good shape. Now is the time to get that oil change and tire rotation you’ve been putting off. If you need new spark plugs or an air filter, they’ll pay off in better performance during your long drive.
Map your route. Organizations like AAA provide handy online fuel cost estimates based on your route and vehicle specs. This way, you’ll have an idea of what gas will cost so you can set your remaining budget. You can also research which roadways are closed or under construction, which can throw your whole schedule out of whack.
Shop around for hotel deals. If you know which cities you’ll be spending more than a day in, make reservations. You’ll save money, keep your timetable on track and avoid that “let’s stop at the next exit” mindset when you’re exhausted. Load some apps onto your phone so you’ll be able to search for options if you need a last-minute room.
Have an itinerary, but keep it loose. Factor in some time each day to be spontaneous or deal with delays. My family will plan out some things in exact detail, but other things we leave wide open to leave time and funds to check out those places we don't know about before arriving.
Pack a cooler. Grabbing snacks at gas stations gets expensive quickly. Stick to refillable water bottles to save more and keep the family hydrated in the sun. You’ll also save by stocking up on your favorite snacks beforehand. Everyone will feel more energetic if you choose snacks that are low in sugar and high in protein – think cheese sticks and nuts instead of cupcakes. Picnics at scenic overlooks make for great memories. Drive-thru tacos, not so much.
Give everyone a souvenir budget. Make sure everyone’s cash is secured, but let the children on the trip make some spending decisions. It’s a great way to teach kids to be patient and not blow all their funds at the first touristy shop, and you won’t be tempted to overspend on them.
Dig deep for budget-friendly destinations. National parks are often surrounded by state parks and national forests that offer similar landscapes but with fewer crowds and fees. Historical destinations and museums are also fun, affordable options. Visit travel message boards to find out what out-of-the-way treasures other road-trippers recommend. Once you’re in a city with lots of possibilities, ask the locals for tips.
Many years ago we took a trip to Anchorage, Alaska. Some of the most memorable things we did were suggestions from locals after we arrived. We love to grab brochures from the hotel and then talk with locals about what is a keep and what is a pass.
You’re making memories on your trip, not checking tasks off a list. Having a plan will let you concentrate on family and friends once you get where you’re going. And don’t forget to have some car-friendly games in mind: Getting there is supposed to be fun, too.
Kat's Money Corner is posted every Tuesday. Kat Hnatyshyn, when not blogging or caring for her little ones, is a manager with CommunityAmerica Credit Union. For more financial chatter, click http://twitter.com/savinmavens or visit http://communityamerica.com.