Road warriors, rejoice! Spring is here, and there's no time like the present to live your best life and rev your engines for a weekend getaway. (Cue the movie montage: convertible top is down, wind blows through your hair…) Yet, what seems like a budget-friendly adventure when you pull out of the driveway can quickly become pretty pricey, even with reasonable fill-up costs at the pump. Feel financially confident so you can live in the moment with these four travel tips:
#1: Give a Thumbs Up to the Tune Up
Worst-case scenario: You're on the side of the road with a smoking engine or pancake-flat tire … 87 miles from the nearest gas station. Better-but-still-bad-case scenario: You're burning through more fuel (and money) than you should be. Tuning up your car can improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent.1 Same for under-inflated tires—though the savings aren't quite as significant, at an improvement of about 0.6 percent on average. But since every penny counts, don't blow yours out the tail pipe.
#2: Have a Fuel-Up Strategy
Don't settle for the nearest nozzle when there could be a cheaper one right around the corner. How to know? Well, there's an app (or two) for that. Lisa Rowan, lifestyle expert at The Penny Hoarder, recommends downloading apps that can clue you in to the lowest gas prices in the neighborhood. "The cheapest gas prices in town could be two blocks over, and you won’t have to waste time or money driving around to compare prices,” Rowan says.
#3: Take Advantage of Hotel Websites
We all know travel aggregation sites are the best places to book hotels, right? Not so fast. Many hotel chains have recently announced that they will offer better prices to people who book directly. The reason? Hotels are tired of paying commission to middlemen and losing business to home rental sites. That doesn’t mean you should skip the travel sites altogether. Instead, use them in tandem with a hotel website to compare and find the cheapest room. “Travel aggregator sites make the price-comparison process way less cumbersome,” says Rowan. “I recommend travelers use them to create a shortlist and then check in with each hotel directly to see if there are special rates or discounts available.”
And if you're clocking several trips a year, definitely join a loyalty program (it’s usually free!). From complimentary Wi-Fi to room discounts, “the rewards can rack up quickly,” says Rowan.
#4: Don't Buy Every Meal on the Road
Sure, the drive-thru seems quick and economical, but those fast-food receipts add up fast. Before you leave on your trip, take a spin through your favorite grocery store to stock up on inexpensive basics like fruit, granola bars and sandwich fixings (PB&J!) to store in a cooler, so you can occasionally make lunch or dinner while en route. "If you make a pit stop at a local park or campsite, you can enjoy your meal in the fresh air,” Rowan suggests. Break out the blanket and enjoy the scenery—you’ll also avoid spilling strawberry jelly on your steering wheel.
1 “Keeping Your Vehicle in Shape,” U.S. Department of Energy
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