Last updated: August 2022

Road Trip Tips: How to Plan, Prepare & Save Money

In the insurance world, we’re all about planning and helping our customers be prepared for unforeseen circumstances — planning a road trip is no different! Direct Auto can keep you covered on your adventures with affordable car insurance, but you’ll need to take some additional steps to make sure your trip goes smoothly from the moment the idea pops into your mind. Here are some of our favorite road trip tips to help you plan, prepare for any potential trouble, and save money.

How to Plan a Road Trip

Before you get behind the wheel and hit the open road, you might find it helpful to thoughtfully plan your adventure. You don’t have to schedule every single activity, but figuring out major details ahead of time can help limit any unpleasant surprises and help keep stress levels low so you and your passengers can enjoy the journey. Here are some things to consider when it comes to road trip planning.

  • Travel dates: Are you traveling for a specific event or are your travel dates flexible? If you have flexible travel dates, you might be able to visit your destination at an off-peak time to save money.
  • Travel companions: Who, if anyone, is joining you on the adventure? If you’re traveling alone, you might be unable to drive as long each day because you won’t have any other drivers to switch off with. The number of people will also influence your lodging decisions and how much you can split costs.
  • Points of interests: What do you want to do when you reach your destination? Are there any games you wish to attend or museums you want to visit? What free attractions are available? It might also be worth checking to see if there are any national parks or state parks you could stop at on the way.
  • Your preferred route: Which interstates and highways are you taking? Where can you stop and stay for a night along the way? Do you need to drive a little bit out of the way to see some sights between your home and your final destination?
  • Lodging: After you’ve mapped out your route and figured out where you need lodging, look for something that satisfies your wishes. Do you prefer hotels or short-term rentals? Do you want to camp under the stars to save money?

How to Prepare for a Long Drive

Now that you’ve finished the bulk of your planning, you’re probably excited to curate your favorite playlists and download your favorite podcasts. But before you do, it’s important to ensure your vehicle is ready by having it inspected. After all, it’s better to discover that you need a new tire or battery before your road trip than when you’re stranded hundreds of miles from home.

Take your car to a trusted mechanic (or, if you’re knowledgeable, inspect if yourself) to ensure your ride is in road trip condition. That means no weird noises, leaky tires, questionable dashboard lights — you get the idea. 

Here are a few things you or a mechanic can do to ensure your vehicle is operating safely: 

  • Inspect and fill tires 
  • Replace your windshield wipers 
  • Test your battery 
  • Check your HVAC system 
  • Replace air filters 
  • Refill and replace fluids (oil, coolant, brake fluid, wiper fluid, etc.) 

Even if you spend a little bit of money now, you could end up saving money in the long run. You don’t want to put a bunch of stress on a car that isn’t road trip ready and end up with an even larger (and more expensive) problem while you’re far away from home.

How to Save Money on a Road Trip

There are plenty of ways you can save some cash during your travels. Here are five simple suggestions.

1. Apps to Save Money on Gas

There are several apps that allow you to compare gas prices in real time, helping you find the cheapest gas in your area. Even saving a few cents per gallon can add up when you’re planning to drive hundreds of miles.

2. Food to Bring on a Road Trip to Save Money

Instead of stopping for every meal and buying snacks at a higher price at a gas station, pack food before you leave. There’s a good chance you can eat healthier than you would by stopping at fast food chains, and you’ll almost certainly save some money. Consider protein rich options like beef jerky, string cheese, and peanut butter to feel full longer. Stashing sandwiches in your cooler is another great way to save money on food. Lastly, don’t forget to bring a water bottle you can refill instead of purchasing new bottles over and over.

3. Avoiding Tolls (When Possible)

Many smartphone apps have an option for toll-free navigation. When you get close to a toll, follow the directions to get around it, assuming it will not majorly derail your timing or travel plans.

4. Researching

Are there any restaurant deals you can take advantage of? What fun, free activities can you take advantage of? Do any of the museums or art galleries you’re hoping to visit offer free admission one day of the week? Which places offer free or discounted items for kids? You’ll be shocked at how much you can save just by researching beforehand.

5. Booking Lodging at the Right Time

It’s tempting to book your hotel or short-term rental as soon as possible. However, you might be able to save by waiting a little bit. NerdWallet’s analysis of hotel bookings says reserving your room roughly 15 days in advance offers the most savings. So, don’t wait until the last minute, but carefully monitor prices until you see them fall to a number that fits your budget.

Road Trip Essentials: Items You Should Always Carry

Before you embark on your adventure, it’s important that your car is stocked with essential items. While toiletries and snacks are important, we’re talking about things that can come to your rescue should you break down or pop a tire. Here are some of the main tools or items to make sure you’re always carrying in your car.

  • Emergency flares
  • Triangle reflectors
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • A blanket or two
  • A phone charger
  • Tool kit
  • Tire changing kit

For a complete list, check out Important Things to Keep in Your Car Year-Round.

It’s also essential you always travel with your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle’s registration in your wallet. If you get into an accident or are pulled over by a police officer, you don’t want to face any additional fines, tickets, or consequences.

How to Save Gas on a Road Trip

We shared some tips on saving gas money, but how can you improve your fuel efficiency on a road trip? Here are five great tips.

  • Fill up your tires: As discussed above, getting your car checked out before a long drive is a great idea. One major reason? Having your tires at the proper PSI can really help your fuel economy.
  • Lighten the load you’re carrying: We shared some recommendations for things to always carry in your car, particularly on road trips. Eliminating unnecessary weight (like heavy sports equipment, unless you’re playing at your destination) can help you improve your miles per gallon (MPG).
  • Turn off your vehicle when you’re stopped: Pulled over in a parking lot to take a phone call or figure out where you’re going? You burn fuel while idling, so turn off your car if you’re trying to save fuel.
  • Drive efficiently: Slowing down and speeding up quickly can burn gas faster. Try to maintain a steady speed. Cruise control can help when you’re on a long stretch of interstate.
  • Get your vehicle serviced regularly: Oil changes and regular service can make your car run more efficiently. This is just one more reason to take your car in for a tune-up before leaving.

How frequently should you take breaks when driving long distances?

It can be tempting to limit the number of breaks you take when there are hundreds of miles between you and your destination. However, you should stop about every two hours for a short period to stretch and increase circulation, according to Lifehacker. If you have a particularly long drive, planning at least one extended break can also be a good idea.

What if you have car trouble on a road trip?

We hope you don’t have any issues during your travels, but breakdowns and flat tires do happen from time to time. Before you set out on your journey, you could consider purchasing a roadside assistance plan so you can get professional help when you need it most. Or, at the very least, you can brush up on how to perform some basic car care that can help you reach the nearest auto shop for help instead of being stranded on the side of the road.

Learn How to Jump-Start a Battery

Learn How to Change a Tire

Review your car insurance policy.

Unless you’re embarking on a solo road trip, there’s a good chance you’ll be traveling with other people or even letting someone else get behind the wheel of your car. But what happens if they get into a fender bender? Would it be covered? Should you consider adding roadside assistance as we mentioned above?

If you’re curious about how your current policy would protect you and your passengers on the ultimate road trip adventure, give us a call at 1-877-GO-DIRECT 877-463-4732 or come into a Direct Auto location near you. Our friendly, knowledgeable agents can help answer your questions, review your coverages, and get you a free quote on affordable car insurance coverage. 

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