One of the best things about a driving holiday—besides the scenery you get to experience along the way—is that it can be inexpensive. But your choices around where to stay, what kind of vehicle you choose and even which roads you drive can quickly cause your costs to add up. So, to help you stay in your lane, financially speaking, we’re sharing 9 money-saving strategies to use on your next adventure.
1. Map it out… twice
Planning your route ahead as opposed to winging it is the easiest way to save money on road trips since you’ll be able to estimate all of your expenses in advance, including your accommodation, activities and approximate gas costs based on how many kilometres you’ll be driving.
The routes you take can make a big a difference. Toll highways often save you a lot of time, but there might be an alternate route where you can avoid paying any additional charges. The bonus of taking some slower routes is that there might be some fun, unexpected things to see along the way, which makes the journey more exciting than highway-driving directly to your next stop.
If you’re planning a road trip in Canada or the U.S., you’ll want to become familiar with GasBuddy, a website/app that lets you search gas prices by city, state, postal/zip code and even by brand, so you can plan out where to fill up based on where the cheapest gas can be found. GasBuddy will also calculate how much you’ll spend on gas based on your itinerary and the model of your vehicle.
Although it’ll take more work, consider planning two different versions of your trip to see how much things cost. One destination might be much cheaper than the other, but you won’t know that until you actually plot it out.
2. Don’t sleep in big cities
Since you’ll have access to a vehicle, there’s no reason to book your hotel right inside popular tourist areas where rooms will cost you a fortune and you’ll need to pay extra for parking. Pick a hotel with free parking just outside your city of choice and then take public transportation into town. Even if you do decide to drive from your hotel, paying the day rate for parking will likely still make your choice more affordable than staying at a hotel within walking distance of all the major attractions.
3. Book a few budget accommodations
If you’re willing to forgo room service or an on-site restaurant for a couple of nights, booking a room at a popular budget chain like Super 8, Days Inn, Travelodge or Howard Johnson all offer a comfortable bed at a good price. Many of these properties have free wi-fi, free breakfast and a pool.
4. Choose your wheels wisely
Car rentals can be relatively inexpensive, so they’re worth looking into even if you have your own vehicle. You’ll save wear and tear on your wheels, plus you get the chance try out a different vehicle for the duration of your trip. Keep in mind that you’ll pay a premium to rent your dream Range Rover, and even though driving down California’s Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible is like a scene out of a movie, a ragtop isn’t the most practical choice if you’re travelling as a family or you have a bit of luggage. Pick a car that makes sense for you, knowing a large SUV is going to cost more than a midsize sedan while certain types of vehicles are better on gas than others.
Before you book, compare prices. Most travel websites that offer car rentals will scan multiple agencies so that’s a good place to start if you’re looking for the lowest rate. Also check individual sites to see if they offer discounts to associations you belong to, such as CAA or university alumni groups. And checking out autoslash.com. The site will track your confirmed car rental for price drops. Since the price of car rentals change almost daily, if you haven’t paid in advance there’s no harm in canceling and rebooking if AutoSlash finds you a better price.
5. Flying first? Bundle your airfare and car rental
If you plan to flying somewhere before your road trip, you can often save money by booking your flight and car rental at the same time. On a recent trip to Orlando, I saved about $150 USD by doing this via Expedia. This bundling trick doesn’t always work, but since it’ll only take you a few minutes to compare booking bundled versus separately, it’s worth looking into.
6. Don’t get insurance if you don’t need it
Whenever you pick up a rental car, you’ll be prompted to purchase insurance. If you already have insurance for the vehicle you drive at home, then your existing insurance likely covers you for car rentals. Even if you don’t have auto insurance, your credit card may give you car rental insurance (be sure to confirm in advance). In either scenario, you need to decline the car rental insurance policy for your existing insurance to be valid. Keep in mind that credit card insurance policies don’t cover third-party liability, so you may want to purchase that to protect yourself.
7. Co-ordinate your rental pick-ups and drop-offs
Where you pick up and drop off your rental can make a difference. For example, it’s typical to be charged an additional ”one way” fee if you drop off the car from a different place than where you picked it up. However, some agencies will waive the fee if you return the vehicle within a certain radius. For example, when I did a West Coast United States road trip with my wife, I saved about $450 by picking up our car in Portland and dropping it off in San Francisco. We spent a few days in the city without a car (which was easy to do in a city with such great public transit) and when we were ready to leave, we got a different rental car from the airport, which we later returned to LAX. Had we kept a single car straight through the trip, we would have paid the one-way fee and for the additional days we had the car in San Francisco.
8. Pack a cooler
As tempting as it is to hit every drive-thru on the road, eating out gets expensive fast. If you pack a cooler, you can easily store drinks and groceries so you always have snacks handy when you get hungry. When I was younger, I did a road trip with my cousins and my aunt even packed a rice cooker! I’m not suggesting you need to bring a small kitchen with you, but stopping at grocery stores and preparing a few breakfasts or lunches at your hotel is an easy way to save money.
9. Spare yourself a speeding ticket
I live in Toronto, where the speed limit on the highway is typically 90 to 100 kilometres an hour, and it’s unlikely I would get a ticket if I was going 10 or 20 clicks over the speed limit as long as I’m driving responsibly. However, that leeway doesn’t apply everywhere. For example, I was pulled over in Pennsylvania for going 5 miles per hour (8 kilometres per hour) over the limit, and charged about $100 USD. Some countries and states also don’t allow you to turn right on a red (another potential pricey ticket!) so it really pays to do some research about local driving laws before you depart.
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