How to Make the Most Out of Your Road Trip

With the summer nearing to an end, there is still time to make the most out of this sunny season. Grab a few friends, point to the map, and follow these seven tips to get the biggest bang for your buck on your final summer road trip:

Budget, Budget, Budget
It’s hard to determine exactly what expenses lie further on down the road, but to the best of your abilities, plan a budget. It will help you determine just how far and how long you can cruise for. It will also determine what you travel for; seeing the Grand Canyon is a lot cheaper than a guided fishing trip to the Yukon. Once you are on the road, instead of splitting every single shared expense, keep a running ledger (see example below), and square out at the end of the trip. What’s the most recommended number of people to ride along for budget, dynamics, and efficiency?: 4 people makes the best crew.

Sample Ledger

  • Brad Lane - Gas: $50 
  • Robert Jordan – Park Entry Fee: $60
  • Frederic Henry – Camping Permit: $30
  • Jake Barnes – Firewood: $20
  • TOTAL:  $160 / 4 people = Everyone Pays $40

Guess-timate Your Gas
While budgeting, you’ll find that one of your biggest expenses will be gas money. And unless you’re riding in a vegetable-fueled eco-van, or public transportation is an option, it’s a hard expense to avoid. But how do you know how much gas it will take? And how does the cost of gas compare between where you’re going and where you’re coming from? Luckily, in the age of the internet, answers are available. Websites such as AAA or Gas Buddy, will take your car info, your mapping info, and road trip travel preferences to calculate a rough estimate of your gas cost; allowing you to plan where that gas will take you.

Pack Early
Chances are between luggage, camping supplies, cooking items, activity gear, electronics, and the actual people; you will need to play real life Tetris when packing your vehicle. Do not wait until the last minute to do this. Not only will you probably forget something important (who’s got the map?), but it might put a good 2-3 hour delay on your departure. Make a list, check it twice, and figure out what you need and who’s bringing what. You may want to start considering buying a roof-rack.

Avoid Hotels
A hugely unnecessary expense for a true road trip is a hotel room. You can splurge one night for the comfort and privacy, but if you are on a road trip to see some things, I hope it’s not to see any average boxy hotel-room. Their are a ton of options out there instead of the Comfort Inn. Camping is always ideal and only one Google click away; and the cost of a new tent would be less than a week of one time use hotel rooms. The second option is people you know. Scour your Facebook friends, study your map, and start calling people you know. Arrive with a house-warming gift, and they will be happy to see you. Or, stay with people you don’t know. Couchsurfing.com is a great resource to find a couch to crash on. Just do your research, read the reviews, and use your best judgement.

Eat In, Not Out
Granted, when visiting a new city or scene, it is necessary to sample the local cuisine. But not every meal needs to be an occasion. Avoid the many little costs that come with food, and you can travel further and see more. Find a grocery store and stock up on versatile items; peanut-butter, jelly, bread, cheese, tortillas, sausage, peanuts, eggs, etc… Anything to get you to avoid excess drive-thru costs or dumpster diving behind Panera.

Drive at Night
It’s not dangerous if you do it right. This is why four people is ideal for a good road trip. Not only can you split gas between more people, but the dynamics for driving can add more time to your schedule. It’s important to have two people awake at all times when driving at night; one being the driver, and the other to keep the driver attentive and awake. If you can safely drive at night by switching drivers often, taking plenty of rest-stops, and sipping coffee if you must; then you don’t have to waste any of your precious daylight in transit.

Stop Along the Way
Cliche but very true. Like the pioneers of old, a lot of your stories and memories will come from unexpected pit-stops and random rose-smelling opportunities. It may be best to follow a bit of a loose itinerary or the patented “no-plan plan.” This is where you have a rough budget, a fair amount of research done on possible places to visit, and an open eye for excitement. Once you take off, the loose itinerary will keep you pointed in one fiscal and literal direction, while the “no-plan plan” will keep you open to whatever adventure you choose.

The last thing to consider is that road trips can be a special opportunity in your life, an opportunity that won’t always come often. So if you are going to do it, if you’re going to burn all that gas, make sure you do it right. Make sure that no matter what happens, something great comes from it. Safe Travels!

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