By Andrea Woroch
Many U.S. households have put a pause on air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic and families are instead hitting the open roads to enjoy a getaway while staying safe and saving money this summer. In fact, AAA forecasts that Americans will take 700 million trips this season and road trips will account for 97% of this travel. Car trips will actually see the smallest decrease in travel volume during the pandemic of just 3% year-over-year compared to traveling by plane, which will be down 74%. It is' clear consumers are itching to take a vacation.
If a summer road trip is on your radar, don't let the false sense of savings security fool you into blowing your budget. Even though driving is cheaper than flying, it's still important to mind your budget as every small expense adds up quickly.
Here are seven savvy road trip tips to help you make the most of your summer travels on a budget.
1. Keep financial accounts safe.
Road trippers are often targeted by thieves looking to steal credit card information when they least suspect it. That's why financial companies take extra precautions to protect customers against fraud, especially if they notice unusual spending activity in new cities or out of state. However, this can be problematic for you if your accounts get locked and you can't access your money when you need it. You can avoid this scenario by alerting your bank and credit card company ahead of your trip, indicating the various cities you plan to visit.
Paying with cash at rest stops and inspecting any credit card machines for potential tampering are other ways to protect against skimming and fraud when you're on the road. Let MoneyTips protect your credit and your identity with a free trial.
2. Get a tune up.
Schedule a routine maintenance check on your vehicle before hitting the road so you don't run into any issues which can put a damper on your trip and also add a monumental roadside assistance bill to your total travel spending. Considering that 40% of passenger cars have at least one under-inflated tire, which can lead to damaged tires and lower fuel efficiency, it's a good idea to get your car checked out for a small price now than a bigger fee and hassle if something unexpected happens in the middle of nowhere.
3. Pack food and drinks.
Pit stops for gas and restroom breaks are inevitable, but they can also become costly when you pop into the rest area's mini mart to pick up a few drinks and snacks. Although these small purchases seem harmless, they can add up quickly.
Keep in mind, drinks, snacks, and meals will cost more at such convenience stops. Plan ahead by packing a cooler with water bottles and other drinks plus some sandwiches or other snacks to help lower your total food cost on the road. When it comes to fast food breaks, you can often find coupons for chain restaurants so run a quick search on your phone to see if any deals exist.
4. Stretch your gas dollars.
Budgeting for hotels and activities is a no brainer when planning your road trip, but a lot of people overlook the total they will spend on fuel during their travels. Budgeting for this expense is important, but you can also save by knowing where to fuel up for less. For instance, the GasBuddy app can help you pinpoint the best-priced gas stations wherever you go, usually those a bit off the highway.
It's also a good idea to keep cash handy as you could pay 10-cents more per gallon when swiping a credit card. Don't forget to sign up for grocery and gas reward programs to earn discounts on fuel. For instance, Exxon Mobil Rewards+ offers discounts on fuel based on your spending, while, Shell Fuel Rewards offers cash off when you fill up at the pump, as well as gas discounts for spending a certain amount at participating restaurants in the Shell Fuel Rewards dining program. Even your regular cash back card may offer extra points for purchases at select gas stations, so check details before fueling up.
5. Look for local pet sitters.
Most people want to bring pets on their trips, but it can be a hassle when you plan activities such as visiting a zoo or sunbathing on a beach that doesn't allow dogs. This doesn't mean that you have to leave your pet behind and pay a high price for a kennel. Luckily, you can find local doggy day care options based on the city you're visiting via Rover.com, which connects you with loving pet sitters wherever you travel to. You can always schedule a meet and greet when you get to your destination to ensure it's a great fit for all involved. Plus, the mobile app makes it easy for communication, handoff, and payment to be contactless – so you can stay safe.
6. Snag last-minute lodging for less.
If you don't have a set plan or route for your road trip, planning hotels can be challenging. However, waiting until the last-minute like day-of bookings doesn't have to be expensive. Apps like HotelTonight provide a listing of luxury accommodations based on your location at up to 70-percent off. Meanwhile, RoomerTravel.com is another great site to use which connects you with other
travelers who are stuck with a hotel reservation they can't change, and facilitates your purchase of that reservation for up to 25% below market price.
7. Mind mobile data use.
On the road, you will be accessing maps for directions, playing music, uploading pictures on social media, watching videos and your data use can skyrocket, which can slow down your plans to snail speed. You could always purchase more data, but there are cheaper options. First, make sure you use free Wi-Fi for things like checking your email, updating social media posts, and reading restaurant reviews at rest stops or your hotel.
You can also download map directions and Netflix shows for your kids when hooked up to the Internet and access it later without a connection, you don't need to pay for more data. Just be careful that you don't share sensitive personal information such as your online banking login or credit card details when hooking up to a complimentary Internet source, as a hacker could be lurking.
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