If you’re about to embark on a road trip across the U.S., then you’re probably prepared to confront the hefty cost of gas. Driving from New York to California is approximately 3,000 miles. Averaging 300 miles per tank, that’s about $600 in gas alone. But while you’re stressing about gas creeping past $4 a gallon, it is important to remember there are lots of other ways you can start racking up the charges while crossing the country.
Here are some ways to pre-plan and save!
You’re ravenous and cruising on a never ending stretch of highway. Don’t get sucked into eating whatever drive-through or convenience store pops up on the side of the road. You’re going to pay a premium for food in out of the way locations, and most likely, it will be far less nutritious and appetizing than had you given it a little forethought. Stop at a grocery store before you head out each morning and grab ½ lb. of fresh turkey or ham from the deli counter, wheat rolls and an avocado. All you need is a plastic knife to assemble your own sandwiches. Load up on high protein and filling snacks like beef jerky, almonds and assorted nuts, string cheese and apples, all easy to nosh on behind the wheel. It will save your wallet and your waistline, especially since sitting in the car for several days on end is no help to either.
Making conversation for 3,000 miles can be a challenge, and buying CD’s, downloading albums on iTunes (STOCK QUOTE: AAPL) and audio books can get pricey. That’s why the Cracker Barrel’s Books-On-Audio program is a wallet (and relationship) saver. Visit any of the 579 Cracker Barrel (STOCK QUOTE: CBRL) locations and buy an audio book (prices range from $9.99 to $48.00). Listen on the road and return to any of the other locations for a full refund, minus $3.49 for each week you’ve had it. Cracker Barrels are commonly accessible off major highways, with huge billboards marking their locations.
If you have a laptop, bring it. Click here to find wireless hotspots at campgrounds, rest stops and trucks stops across the country. Periodically logging on will keep you up to date on weather, roadwork, detours and traffic reports that could spell trouble for your journey.
If you can’t give up your morning Starbucks (STOCK QUOTE: SBUX) run, it doesn’t hurt to mention to the cashier that you’re on a road trip. It’s not uncommon to get a coupon for a discounted coffee after 2pm, just when you’ll need another pick me up.
Be strategic about when you’ll arrive and depart from overnight destinations. If you’re staying in a major metropolitan city, like Chicago, Ill. then the last thing you want to do after a long day of driving is hit rush hour traffic. Push to leave early in the morning or hang back and let the traffic pass. Also, check for major sporting events. Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic on Highway 80 in Lincoln because the University of Nebraska football fans are packing the road means more time idling, worse gas mileage and more expenses (in addition to a potential nervous breakdown).
When not staying in a big city, consider cutting your costs by camping. There are plenty of fantastic locations scattered between the coasts, like The Badlands (South Dakota), Jackson Hole and Grand Tetons (Wyoming), Great Basin ( Nevada) and Crater Lake (Oregon). Visit the National Park Service’s website for more information.
Even if camping is not for you, taking advantage of national parks can still save you money. Bring a camp stove and prepare a few simple meals in an idyllic setting, rather than having dinner at another Applebee’s (STOCK QUOTE: DIN). After a couple days on the road you’ll be craving a home cooked meal, even if that means making it in the woods.