Did you decide to save money this year by driving to your summer vacation destination, thus avoiding airfares and car rental charges? You're in luck! With some effort and forethought, you can save even more money as you drive. Consider these tips for increased savings:
- Auto Maintenance – A well-maintained car runs more efficiently and uses less gas. The most-often overlooked and easily corrected issue is underinflated tires. According to EPA estimates, for every pounds per square inch (psi) of under-inflation, fuel efficiency drops by 0.3%. Excess fuel usage from 1-3% is common. Check your tire pressure and inflate to manufacturers specifications (found in your manual or available online).
If your car is past due for a tune-up, get that done before your trip to ensure fuel efficiency. You won't recover the cost of the tune-up right away, but you should over time.
- Good Driving Habits – We know that statistically, at least one of your kids has to go to the bathroom at any moment during the trip, but driving recklessly or speeding to get to the rest stop is not worth it. Uneven application of your gas pedal — as you talk with family members or rock out to music — is also inefficient, so use your cruise control at the speed limit to make the most efficient use of gas.
Frequent stops and diversions from the main highway will also decrease your mileage – although you will have to balance limited stops against needed bathroom breaks and other potential sources of travel unrest.
Aside from avoiding speeding, the best way to conserve gas is to avoid disrupting your car's aerodynamics. Rolling down the windows creates drag and lowers gas mileage; use the air conditioner instead (although that will also affect gas usage). Using rooftop containers also increases drag, so if possible, keep things inside the car or use trailer hitch attachments. Also, try to travel light – the less weight in the car, the less gas you will consume.
- Check Gas Prices – With a smartphone, you can use Gasbuddy.com or similar apps and plan your fuel stops accordingly to save on gas. Gas prices will be higher where there is minimal competition and limited traffic, but that does not mean the lowest price you see on the interstate is the best deal. Check the savings to see if the price difference is worth a trip further into town.
- Save on Food – Bring some of your own food. You will have the convenience of snacking whenever you want, and as tempting as microwaved convenience store burritos may be, you will save lots of money by avoiding the markup. Don't forget a cooler with drinks – preferably water, but make any compromises necessary for family harmony.
When you do eat out, check for advertised specials, "kids eat free" promotions, or similar discounts. Use your smartphone to check the website of any chains – they may have online offers.
- Take Advantage of Coupons and Memberships – AAA membership, loyalty cards, cash discounts, advertised sales and coupons… all can save money along the way. If you do dine out or visit local attractions, check travel centers or state welcome centers for ideas and discount coupons.
- Check Hotel Options as You Go – If you can tolerate the spontaneity, try Priceline or similar websites to get same-day hotel deals. Otherwise, select the most economical chain you feel comfortable with – or discount/local motels, if you can find a good review. Be careful here – an unclean or dangerous motel is not worth the savings.
We hope that these tips will help you save money on your driving vacation. However, you must never skimp on two items when taking a prolonged family driving trip – children's entertainment and air freshener. Those two items have a great return on investment!