Saving on Road Trips

This weekend I went on a road trip.

Driving for long periods of time can be expensive. Gas, wear and tear on your car, and other expenses can add up, which can hit your budget pretty hard.

I make this trip once every few months, so here is what I learned as far as saving money on road trips:

how to save money when going on a road trip

Small Towns Have Cheaper Gas

I love this one, because I find it true almost every time: the smaller the town (the farther away from the city), the cheaper the gas.

If I’m really low on gas, I get it while I’m leaving the area. Gas in some places is much less expensive, and to fill up it can save me $70+. If you can wait until you get to the little towns in the middle of nowhere, it’s even cheaper.

Save on Snacks

The obvious thing to do here is to just not get snacks, or to bring snacks with you so you don`t have to stop at a drive through. However, this isn’t always realistic. Eating healthy while driving is unrealistic if you don’t want to stop; especially if you are the driver, it’s hard to eat and drive at the same time. Furthermore, it can be dangerous if you bring food that needs to be heated up or refrigerated to go without these provisions.

I propose that instead of stopping at a drive through, or eating while driving (dangerous, expensive), time your trip between meals if it’s not a long road trip. This can also be advantageous because of my point below.

Timing

On long weekends, or in high travel time (summer, the holidays) if you leave town at “rush hour” time, you can be caught in traffic. Idling is bad for the environment, your wallet, and your engine. It’s also not efficient, because who wants to waste their time in a car for hours longer than they should have to?

I find that leaving at around 10:00 AM and 1:30 PM on Fridays beats the out-of-town rush. Saturdays can be hard to work around, but leaving earlier rather than later in the day will help you avoid some of the traffic.

Mileage

I hate watching my car chug down the gas on road trips; since I’m in the car the whole time, it’s more noticeable when the gas gauge goes down steadily.

I drive a standard transmission, so when I am on anything with a slight slope, I tend to pop it in neutral and coast as far as I can (without losing speed).

Avoiding Tickets

Perhaps I shouldn’t be mentioning this, but who wants to go the (ridiculously low) speed limit while on a road trip on a big highway? Not me. There is an “unwritten” rule of thumb where you can drive 10 KM over the speed limit without getting pulled over or risking a ticket. Anything over 10 KM  above is ticketable.

If you have a heavy foot, don't go faster than the people in the fast lane in front of you. Those are the people that get ticketed. Follow the person in front of you (unless they are going above your comfort level), and watch for brake lights in the distance. This is usually a pretty good indicator of radar, because people are generally kind of dumb and stomp on their breaks when they see cruisers.

Or, you know, you could just follow the speed limit. Right. That too.

 

How do you save money when driving long distances?

60 thoughts on “Saving on Road Trips

  1. My wife and I are avid road trippers. Our experience in the western USA is that gas prices tend to be higher in small towns. We've found the best prices are usually in larger towns, but more than half a mile from the freeway.

    What is a LOT cheaper in small towns is hotel accommodations. You can just look on the website of any major chain.

    Two additional tips:

    1. Build a list of online resources. We've found Priceline to be invaluable for hotels. Simply make a lowball offer and if they turn you down, pick a low rate anyway.

    On some trips we ended up doing a Priceline car rental - weekly rates get really low if you bid aggressively. Our trips tend to be more than 3,000 miles each. Our car isn't gas efficient, so on several trips we calculated the estimated gas cost and used that to bid. Not only did we get better gas mileage, but we saved an entire oil change cycle on our car.

    Also TripAdvisor has been a big help weeding out iffy restaurants and hotels on the way.

    Our biggest saver, however, has been the cooler. We have a big one, and boy, does it pay. We go to the grocery store and stock up on fruit veggies and sandwich supplies. Lower calories, less salt and much, much cheaper!

    Great post!

    Reply
  2. We just took a road trip too - it's a Canadian long weekend tradition. 🙂 You are so right about the gas - 15 cents cheaper in the country! We packed extra water in a cooler bag and brought a few snacks. If we'd really planned, we could have packed sandwiches too.

    Reply
  3. Before I took the 4.5 hour (minimum) bus ride up to New York last week, I made sure I packed snacks. I figured I wouldn't be tempted to load up on junk food if the driver stopped at a rest area (he didn't by the way). Also, I just really hate being hungry. I feel so powerless when I'm famished and stuck on a bus with no means of getting something to eat.

    Reply
  4. Now if I only had a car!

    JK

    I can't do road trips because I get car sick =\ getting to the rocky mountains is my MAX distance, otherwise I just fly.

    Reply
  5. We usually time our tank fill-ups to coincide with our visits to the cottage, because the gas is always 10-15 cents cheaper there than it is in the city. You'd think it would be the opposite...

    Reply
  6. The biggest way we save money when on road trips is finding someone who is going the same way as us. Especially if we're going to visit families members or a neighbouring city. Having help with gas money makes all the difference.

    Reply
  7. I have to tell you, I absolutely love my Toyota Prius for long trips. We bought it used and it is saves us a ton on gas. I recently went about 1,600 miles and spent only $120 on gas 😀

    I love the small town tip as well. Nice post Daisy!

    Reply
  8. I think you nailed most of the things we look for. Filling up for gas at cheaper places is something I always look for and I do my best to eat before I travel.

    Reply
  9. I didn't think I could eat cheap and healthy on a roadtrip, but I managed it last time I drove out to Grand Forks to visit my mom. I packed chopped up veggies, trail mix and a salad. I even managed to polish off the salad while stopped for construction. So I also made really good time. Ok maybe my speeding contributed to that too lol.

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  10. Food is the biggest waste on road trips. When I was single, I'd drop a good $100 just for a weekend trip. Now that I'm married to a frugaliesta, she packs our snacks and drinks and saves us TONS of money. Also, I'm not allowed to get Mt. Dew, which saves a stomach ache and some cash 😉

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  11. Brian

    Growing up my family drove everywhere (Indiana to the Grand Canyon is a long boring drive) and we always packed meals for on the road. Typically we would always eat lunch in a rest stop and get dinner at a kind of quickish place. How I envy today's youth with their air conditioning in the back of a van and those entertainment centers. Thank God I can sleep anywhere at any time!

    Reply
  12. Eddie

    Great post.
    I don't do many road trips, but I often shop in the States every few months. I ensure I have enough gas just to get me down, and I fill up while I'm there - much cheaper than in Canada.

    In terms of food on the go, I usually eat at home or pack snacks for the trip. The only thing I try to buy on the road is coffee.

    Reply
  13. If I get stuck in a REALLY REALLY bad traffic jam, I'll put my car into park. Haha not entirely sure if that's a good suggestion. Oh! And as far as where to buy gas....NEVER in Massachusetts I recently found out! Fill up before you enter the state so you can wait till you get to the other side.

    Reply
  14. We're big on road trips to the Okanagan and snacks/water are key for us. We just pack some sandwiches, junk food and water in a cooler and we're off.

    I don't know if it saves a lot of money, but when we're waiting at the border, we also shut off the car engine. It's good for the environment!

    Reply
  15. I think your number one is only relevant for you since gas could NOT be more expensive than it is in your fair city! Here, the small towns have the most expensive gas, because they know if you are stopping forty miles from Portland, then you REALLY need gas, so what's an extra fifteen cents a gallon?

    Reply
  16. I took a defensive driving class (long story why involving stop signs and turning on red lights) taught by a long-time police officer. He said that in the US most police won't stop you if you're 7 mph over (pretty close to your written rule in Canada). He mentioned that you COULD get stopped, but most police have better things to do than get you for 7 over.

    Reply
  17. DebtKiller

    My parents are six hours away and like you, I make that trip a few times a year. Unfortunately, I have to navigate my way through New York City. Did you know the George Washington Bridge is $12 to cross? And the Verrazano Bridge is $13? Without driving an extra 50 miles out of the way (another two gallons of gas and an extra hour), there's no feasible way to avoid these tolls. I'd love to find a way to avoid tolls, but they are a plenty. Sucks, really.

    Reply
  18. Edward Antrobus

    I've found there to be a bit of a bell curve in the graph of population vs gas prices. The really small towns usually have prices as bad as big cities. When I drove from NJ to CO a couple years ago, the most expensive gas I saw was in the lone gas station of this little Mayberry town in the Nebraska panhandle.

    Reply
  19. jefferson

    my favorite tip on your list, daisy, is the idea of bringing your own snacks.. gas stations are trouble. trouble for the wallet, and trouble for the waistline. we always bring a nice selection of fruit and healthy snack crackers, in order to avoid stopping somewhere.

    Reply
  20. Great tips. For our car trips, bottled water and audio books keep our trips less expensive. Bottled water keeps us from needing to buy drinks even if we do grab value menu food. Audio books keep us from stopping more than we need to if they are interesting. 🙂

    Reply
  21. Sandwiches and water and some good music are the best friends on the road. Every once in a while I stop to gas station with playgrounds for snacks and coffee for us and 10-15 minutes of playing for the kids

    Reply
  22. Lately, I have been driving slower because I left with plenty of time to get where I was going on time and I know I get better gas mileage going closer to 60 than well over 70. It makes the driver more pleasant too!

    Reply
  23. I got a "camera speeding ticket" in May in MD. I was apparently driving 47 in a 35 and it was like one of those red light cameras, but a speed gun. They sent me a $40 ticket. Pretty annoying because I live in NJ, so it wouldn't be worth it to fight it. Apparently they're installing those in NYC, too.

    Reply
  24. John @ Married (with Debt)

    Great tips. I'd also add to make sure you have enough change for toll roads. We almost got burned by this. Not fun having to explain to someone in another language that you have no cash.

    Reply
  25. When I take long trips I first make sure that my tires are properly inflated. This is done so that I get the best MPG but also reduces the chances of a blown tire.

    The next thing I do is get up to my cruising speed and set the cruise control. I have a tendency to drive my intended speed for a bit, then slowly speed up. To stop me, I just put on the cruise control. Of course, you have to drive at a time when there aren't too many people on the road or it defeats the purpose with the changes in speed.

    Reply
  26. I wish I enjoyed driving, but I avoid it as much as possible. I think it's because there are so many bad drivers in the city and there's nowhere to park. That's surprising the smallest towns have the cheapest gas. I would have thought the opposite as I've seen places in the boonies that have high prices, but maybe that's just California.

    Reply
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  29. Veronica @ Pelican on Money

    Nice post Daisy!

    Whenever I take a long trip I typically stock up on healthy snakes to avoid feeling sick and having to stop and purchase expensive snacks. I also try to avoid rush hour at larger cities knowing that I could be stuck in traffic and waste a boatload of gas. Hence, I agree with your tip on timing!

    Reply
  30. Ha ha, great post. I agree that we always find the best deals in the smaller towns for lot of things including gas. We always bring our own beverages and snacks along so we don't have to stop and eat fast food because we simply don't eat it (unless it's pizza :-). Cheers Mr.CBB

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  32. I don't enjoy driving. My parents live three hours away and I don't enjoy the 3 hours drive..more if there's traffic. As far as small towns having cheaper gas? It depends on how small town it is. I believe mid city and suburban areas have affordable gas. City prices are crazy high!
    I try to visit my parents every 2-3 months. How about you?

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  34. We're just about to head out on a vacation, and I've already been plotting when and where I'll fill my tank! I've used the AAA fuel gauge report to see which states and cities have the lowest gas prices. It can make a big difference!

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  45. Tommy Cash Loans Today

    Whenever going on a road-trip I always try to find other people going the same way, saving on petrol costs, and sharing the driving!

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