8 Ways to Save Money on Your Summer Road Trip

A cathartic road trip in the summer sun can satisfy even the worst case of wanderlust. But for most summer travelers, cost is a crucial factor in road trip planning. There's nothing the thrill of the open road can't neutralize, but you don't want your road trip to break the bank. Pack the car, grab the kids, and start your vacation off right — by considering these eight ways to save money on your summer road trip.

  1. Tune-Up Your Car

    Before you hit the road, make sure that your car is in peak condition. Be sure to schedule a tune-up that includes the following: a switch to warm weather motor oil, a tire pressure and radiator check, and some upkeep to your coolant and air conditioner. The majority of summer breakdowns are due to overheating vehicles. Don't let this happen to you! You'll spend money at the outset, but save money in the long run; you'll have better gas mileage and no road woes.

  2. Attack Your Snacks

    When you're hitting the road for a holiday, don't even bother with drive-thru food. It's not real food, and you can save a pretty penny if you pack some smart snacks. Convenience stores charge a premium for road trip foods (such as bottled water), and your body (if not your tastebuds) prefers homemade, non-processed meals. If you've got to shop on the road, opt for grocery stores instead of truck stops. Your tummy and your wallet will thank you.

  3. Pre-plan Your Route

    If you're looking for the most fuel efficient route, don't listen to Google Maps. Consult several online sources, or map your own route for the trip. If it's more about the destination than the journey, you're already halfway to cheap road trip bliss. Avoid rush hour traffic in cities at peak times to save precious time and to pinch a few more pennies from your gas tank.

  4. Consider Camping

    Did you lie about being the outdoor type? Consider your road trip a chance to move out of your comfort zone, and try camping instead of paying hotel fees. If you just need a place to sleep for cheap, camping can fit the bill. There are lots of online resources for beginners, and you may not need as much gear as you think — if you've got a place to bed down in your car, that can be arranged, too.

  5. No Junk in the Trunk

    Why did you bring that extra lawn chair, again? If you have unnecessary gear crowding up your car, you could be losing valuable dollars to poor gas mileage. Minimalism contributes to the poetry of the open road, and you already have passengers, food, and luggage weighing you down. Pack right: pack light.

  6. Entertain Yourself

    Even if you stop for some roadside attractions, you've got to keep yourself and your family occupied for hundreds of miles. Ensure that you've taken precautions against boredom, as you don't want any roadside fussing to set in. Books, laptops, DVDs, games, and iPods are lightweight and easy to handle on the road. If you're flying solo, plan your pit stops for chapter breaks in your audio book, and you'll be well-read and well-traveled in no time flat.

  7. Fortune (And Budget Travel) Favors the Prepared

    If you simply must stay in a hotel during your cross-country trek, book your reservations before you hit the road. Avoid unnecessary fees by planning ahead, and make sure you're aware of any extra possible savings. Even Uncle Sam wants you to save money on your road trip, and Recreation.Gov has some tips to plan and save. AAA's TripTik, Yahoo! Trip Planner, and FreeTrip.Com are all great sites to bargain shop and compare vacation prices.

  8. Slow Your Roll

    What seems like a no-brainer could save you — literally and financially. Drive safely and mind the speed limit when you're motoring through abandoned stretches of highway. Although the open road can be exhilarating, you may be in a speed trap and not even know it. Many states now patrol their highways by air, flying "crop duster" planes and reporting speed infractions to officers on the ground. And if you're traveling alone or with family, you've got precious cargo. Always, always play it safe.

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