Money at 30: 5 Things to Do Before Going on a Road Trip
As I write this, I am just mere hours away from jumping in the car and setting off on a 16-hour road trip to sunny Orlando, Florida — and I couldn’t be more excited. Yes, I was just there a couple of months ago. However this trip will not only be the first time in more than four years that my wife and I have gone to Florida together, but will also mark our debut as Walt Disney World Annual Passholders.
In any case, as we’re preparing for this latest adventure, I’ve realized how a bit of forethought can help your road trip go much smoother. Some of these tips might help save you some money, while others could save your time and/or sanity. With that, here are five ways we’re preparing for our road trip that could help you out in the future.
Watch for expiration dates at home
This latest road trip came about fairly last minute with us booking it only about a week and a half ago. However, as soon as our plans were set, one of the first things we did was head to the kitchen. Why?
As it turns out, we had just stocked our fridge a day or two before learning we’d be going on this trip. Because of this we needed to look at what items we had on hand that needed to be used up before we skipped town and which would last until we returned. Even if you’re road trip isn’t as last minute as our, it’s still a good idea to check on your expiring food situation about a week or so in advance of your departure date so you can plan accordingly. In addition to saving you money by not wasting food, this will also help prevent you from coming home to a smelly refrigerator — something no one wants.
Check the weather
For the longest time, I’ve been in search of two things: 1) an app that can show me what restaurants are actually close to the freeway instead of taking me miles of course and 2) an app that will show me the weather forecast along my route ahead of time instead of having to “spot check” various cities. Thanks to an update in Google Maps several months ago, my first request has been met to an acceptable level, although the latter seems to allude me. Believe me when I tell you that I’ve Googled this thoroughly and came across what seemed to be promising leads only to end up a dead end or, as it were, a dead app.
With all that said, there is one such application that works well enough for what I need it for. Accuweather’s website has a road trip planner that takes your start point, end point, and time of departure to give you an overview of the forecasts on your route at the time you’ll be passing through. Now you may be thinking “isn’t that exactly what you asked for?” It is except there are some major ways this service could be improved.
For one, it doesn’t give me alternate route options like a Google Maps would. Such a feature would have proved quite important this time around as the route Accuweather gave me had chances of snow along it. Meanwhile a southern route suggested by Google will seemingly have me avoid those areas. I was able to override Accuweather’s flaw by changing my destination to a different city along the way and checking the forecasts up to that point but I wish there were a better way. All that said I do have to commend Accuweather for making me aware of the snow threat in the first place as I might not have known about it otherwise.
Prepare for tolls
While Google brought me good news in that I could drive through some different states to avoid snow and not add any time to my drive, it also informed me that there would be tolls along the way (for the record, the northern route required tolls as well). In some cases Google can help you find a reasonable way around such things but there are other routes where that’s just not a viable option. That’s why it’s always nice to know about tolls ahead of time and prepare yourself.
One thing Google doesn’t do (at least not that I can find) is tell you how much these tolls are or how they’re paid. For example some turnpikes might charge you a one-time flat fee of $4 while others might have you toss a seemingly random amount of change into a basket every few miles. That’s why, on top of having some smaller bills ($20s or smaller), you’ll also want to have some spare change with you as well. Personally I like to grab a roll of quarters on my way out of town to help with tolls but you might also want to get some dimes since not all tolls break down into nice $.25 denominations.
Grab the coupons and snacks
As I’ve talked about plenty of times in the past, my wife and I swear by having a case of bottled water in the car at all times along with a few snacks to munch on. Of course, even with these items, we usually stop for a “real meal” at some point. This is where the coupons come in.
[ad adnetwork=”adsense” ad-client=”ca-pub-1949462953996881″ ad-slot=”1514159558″ size=”300×250″] You may not realize it but a lot of the coupons that end up in your mailbox or newspaper are good nationwide (assuming they’re for a nationwide chain, of course). Thus we actually keep a folder of these coupons to hold onto if we know a trip is approaching, giving us a variety of deal options while we’re on the road. Keep in mind that, even if they are for national chains, some coupons may be limited to specific areas or franchise locations — in which case this little trick won’t work. But, if you don’t see these restrictions in the fine print, it’s definitely worth giving them a try.
Finally I have to give yet another shoutout to GasBuddy. I really can’t tell you how many times this app has saved my butt and my wallet on the road. This was especially true on our last trip to California where gas prices were out of control. Reviewing GasBuddy before we got to the border helped inform our decision to fill up before reaching California and later helped us find the least insane prices in the Golden State. Seriously, they don’t pay me — or even know I exist — but I can’t recommend this app enough.
Although road trips can sometimes be spontaneous fun, you can often save some money and headaches by a least doing a bit of planning ahead of time. From avoiding bad weather and finding good gas prices to saving on food and averting spoils at home, be sure to put these tips into effect next time before you hit the road.