Money at 30: 3 Road Trip Lessons From My Latest Journey

This past week, my wife and I got to take a little vacation… if you consider driving 24 hours in each direction and running a combined total of 19.3 miles on two different days a vacation. For the fourth year in a row, we participated in the runDisney Super Heroes Half Marathon at the Disneyland Resort. Of course, when we started this streak, we were still living in California, making the commute a bit more manageable. But, for the past three years, we’ve not only added a 10K race to our weekend plans but have also tacked on a marathon of a drive as we venture from Springfield, Missouri to Anaheim. In fact as I write this I’m sitting in a rest area food court that literally straddles the I-44 in Oklahoma.

I realize it may sound crazy to some (OK — most) that we drive such a long distance but, truthfully, we’ve gotten pretty good at it. While flying might be faster, we’ve found that driving actually gives us more flexibility for our tight schedule in addition to saving us money. However, even being the seasoned pros that we are at this point, each trip teaches us or at least reminds us of a few money/time-saving lessons. So, without further ado, here are some of the takeaways from our 2017 adventure.

Always have cash/change in the car

Having cash can come in handy on a road trip for a number of reasons. First it serves as a back-up in case there’s a problem with your credit card or the establishment (*gasp*) doesn’t accept cards. Additionally you may be able to save a few dollars on gas along the way as some stations offer lower prices to those paying in cash. And then there are those dreaded tolls.

On this trip we knew we’d need at least $9 in cash to pay for the two turnpikes we’d travel on in the Sooner State. Unfortunately, due to some GPS mishap mixed with the mind blur inherent to overnight driving, we somehow ended up on a third turnpike that included multiple unmanned toll stops. Luckily we’d also brought along some assorted change so we were able to pay up, so you can bet we won’t leave home without such preparations again (lest we end up with a ticket greeting us when we return home).

Order ahead

If time is money then we made out like bandits on this trip. In previous posts bearing my road trip tips, I’ve discussed the app GasBuddy that can help you plan your stops and score cheap gas. But, with many fast food and other dining establishments adding mobile order capabilities to their apps, we’ve taken our pit stop economizing to a new level.

At a couple of points along our journey, the passenger would start looking ahead at what restaurants we were coming up on and start placing our order for pick-up. In some cases this allowed us to have food in hand before we were even done pumping gas! In a true double win, we were also able to take advantage of Starbucks’ holiday drink BOGO offer by putting in a mobile order just before the 5 p.m. cut off and pick it up shortly after. This blessed us a with a nice, reasonably priced pick-me-up after a long day (and night) of driving.

Don’t buy gas in California

When we first drove to Missouri to check out Springfield, we definitely noticed how the gas prices fell as we headed east. That said, it seems that the gas prices in California have only gotten higher since we left, with some stations we passed posting prices upwards of $4.50 a gallon. Meanwhile, in Arizona and onward, the most we paid per gallon was $2.79.

Although we couldn’t completely escape these crazy CA prices, we were able to minimize them. For example we found a Circle K in Barstow selling for about $.50 less than the gas station next to the aforementioned Starbucks and were also able to merely top off our tank before making our way into AZ on the way back. The moral of the story is, if your trip takes you through the Golden State, maybe try to fill up on the other side of the border (wherever that is).

With another marathon road trip behind us, my wife and I are still learning some important lessons about saving money and time on the road. This time around, we experienced the importance of the keeping cash and change on hand, the convenience of mobile ordering along the way, and the crime that is California’s gas prices. Hopefully these lessons are ones you can learn from as well and lead you to a successful road trip of your own.


Kyle Burbank

Kyle is a freelance writer and author whose first book, "The E-Ticket Life" is now available on Amazon. In addition to his weekly "Money at 30" column on Dyer News, he is also the editorial director and a writer for the Disney fan site and has recently starting publsihing his own personal finance blog at

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