Saving Money on the Road

Whether you're taking a several hour drive to visit your in-laws or a week-long journey to vacation on another coast, you'd probably be happy to save some money while you're on the road. Take these tips into consideration the next time you're packing up your car for your next trip, and you could have more play money left over when you get where you're going.

Plan a budget.

If you know how much money you have available to spend, and then allocate how much you will spend on each part of your trip, you'll be less likely to overspend or waste money on spur-of-the-moment purchases.

When planning your budget, first take into consideration the essentials such as food, gas, and sleeping accommodations. Then decide how much money you can spend on the fun things, such as entertainment and souvenirs. Don't forget to expect the unexpected―in other words, have some money set aside for emergencies.

Give your vehicle a tune-up.

Not only is this a wise move as far as safety goes, but it's also financially beneficial. If your car starts acting up or even breaks down, you're going to have to pay for repairs that could exceed the emergency funds of your budget. And if you're an out-of-towner? Those tow truck companies and service stations will love getting your call. Not only that, a breakdown might require an extra overnight stay in hotel―more money wasted.

Some basic things to remember include making sure your tires are properly inflated and in good shape; changing your oil; topping up all your fluids; and checking that all headlights signal lights work and no warning lights are on.

Beyond that, you can let someone experienced take a closer look under the hood.

Pack your own lunch.

Throw it in a brown bag, a cooler, a lunchbox―wherever. Just be sure to take some food along with you if you're going to be on the road long enough to get hungry. Restaurants, fast food joints, and even convenience stores can get expensive (not to mention unhealthy). Why pay extra when you have a fridge full of food? Plus, if you're going to be gone for a while, it's better to eat that food than let it spoil while you're away.

If you're going on vacation and plan to stay in a hotel, consider doing some light grocery shopping once you arrive. Most hotels offer free continental breakfasts, so check with the clerk when you arrive. Remember, you can always dine out occasionally, but having some staples around for lunches and snacks will help you save even more money in the long run.

Buy a phone card.

It's always wise to travel with a cell phone―who knows when you're going to need roadside assistance? But roaming charges can really add up, and you could go for long stretches without receiving cell service at all. So if you think you'll be making any phone calls along the way, consider picking up a calling card before you leave.

Phone cards are also handy to have if you plan to stay in a hotel during your trip. The charges for outside calls are quite pricey at some hotels. Most times you won't even realize how much you've spent, until you check out.

Get the most gas mileage.

Gas prices are ridiculously high―this isn't news. Aside from wasting gas looking for the cheapest gas, take the steps necessary to get the most mileage out of your car.

This includes using your air conditioner only when driving on the highway and rolling your windows down when driving through a town; avoiding idling for more than one minute; easing into starts and stops; and driving the speed limit. That tune-up you got before you left will also help you get better mileage. offers additional tips for getting more miles from each tank of gas.

Sleep affordably.

For those of you genuinely trying to save money on the road, this is a no-brainer. If you're traveling long enough to need to stop for the night, pass up the Four Seasons and head to the nearest Motel 6. You need a clean bed for one night, not 24-hour room service.

Of course, it's OK to opt for a bit more luxury if you plan to stay at a hotel for the majority of the trip. Just remember, spending more money on a hotel boasting rooms that have been color coordinated to promote relaxation isn't really worth it if you'll be spending most of your time sightseeing.

Be safe.

The most important money-saving―and life-saving―step you can take is to be safe. Drive like you have sense. Arriving safely is much more important than arriving on time; plus, if you're involved in an accident, it's going to cost you money, regardless of who was at fault. Keep an eye on your gas gauge, and try to fuel up only at well-lit gas stations.

Choose secure-looking hotels and motels in which to spend the night. Look for well-lit, well-maintained grounds and clean lobbies and rooms. Keep your valuables, including your money, credit cards, and wallets, locked away, and keep your children close by.

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