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How to Prepare for a Road Trip

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My sister recently graduated from college and my family all made the trek to watch her receive her diploma. She graduated from Gannon University in Erie, PA, which was out of state for all of us. My parents and younger brother live in  Texas, I live in the greater Chicago area, and my older brother lives in Southern California. The Texas side of the family decided to fly out, but Erie was in driving distance for me so my plan was to drive. When my older brother was researching airline ticket prices, he found out it was cheaper for him to fly into Chicago than into Erie (which is common for regional airports), so we decided to make a trip out of it and do the 8+ hour drive together. It was fun to catch up with my brother since he lives in California and we don’t get to see each other frequently.

We had a solid day’s drive ahead of us for each leg of the trip, so I decided to take my car in before we hit the road. Here are some tips before you hit the open road for your next road trip:

how to prepare for a road trip

What you need to know before hitting the open road

Get Your Vehicle Serviced

Before I took off on the road trip, I took my car in to get an oil change, tire balance and rotation, and an alignment – all of which are good for improving mileage per gallon, reducing wear and tear, and extending the life of your tires and vehicle. I do most of my service at national chains (in this case, FirseStone) because that is where I bought my tires – which is good for free balancing and rotation for the life of the tires. I also bought a lifetime alignment there, which was a great deal and something I rec0mmend looking into. A few years ago my car slid on some ice and bumped into a curb. I was only traveling around 5 mph as I was accelerating from a stop sign, so there was no damage to my car. However, it did knock my alignment out of balance. The cost for a lifetime alignment was roughly double the cost of a one time alignment, so it was a no-brainer to buy the lifetime alignment (I’ve used it about once per year since I bought it).

I also use FireStone because they perform an inspection each time I get my oil changed, top up fluids, make sure the tire pressure is good, etc. All of these things are good to do before hitting the road on a long trip.

MPG Claims Aren’t Always as Advertised

Sometimes they are better!  There has been a lot of talk about how many cars don’t get the miles per gallon average that manufacturers claim on the window sticker (part of this has to do with car manufacturer’s engineering their vehicles for the testing standards set forth by the EPA). So depending on your driving habits, you may experience a better or worse MPG than what is stated on your window sticker.

I bought my Mazda 3 new over 6 years ago and the stated mileage was 26 town, and 31 highway. Thats not bad mileage for the year the vehicle was manufactured (the Mazda 3 now gets around 40 mpg on the highway). During the trip we had several stretches where we exceeded the highway MPG, with tanks of gas averaging 34 and 35 mpg. I was impressed to beat the stated highway MPG by 10%, especially for a 6 year old car.

We didn’t do anything special on the trip either – other than use cruise control at 75 mph for most of the stretches where we got the excellent mpg (the stated speed limit was 70; I often drive five over and set the cruise control when driving on the highways if the weather is clear, which it was). Limiting your speed to only five over the limit is usually enough to avoid a speeding ticket.

Related: How to improve your gas mileage.

Book Lodging Early

My brother and I went to a college graduation, which meant there were hundreds of more people in town that weekend. We planned early and booked our hotel room well in advance, and we got good rates for the area and the hotel class we stayed in. While we were checking in I overheard the hotel receptionist tell someone on the phone that almost all hotels in the area sell out during the spring through fall months. I never would have guessed that for a city the size of Erie, but then again, you don’t always think about those things when you plan a trip. Plan early, and make sure you get a hotel that fits your dates, is conveniently located, and fits your budget.

Related: How to get a good deal at Priceline.

Paying for Everything

It’s always a good idea to notify your credit card company if you are planning a trip – this will help prevent your card from being frozen by accident. Some companies are good about notifying you if they suspect something, which is cool, while others may just shut off your card without warning. It’s also good to discuss splitting the tab if you are sharing the road trip with someone. My brother and I switched off on buying gas and snacks on the road, which worked out well. I have no idea if either one of us paid more or less than the other person, but it felt right, so in the end, that’s all that matters.

Here are a few recent articles from around the web: Carnival of Financial Camaraderie, Totally Money Blog Carnival, Insurance Claims And Issues: The Risk of Risk, Self Directed Investing For Retirement Carnival – Bear Market Rally is Over.

Photo credit: Adam Foster | Codefor


Published or updated May 22, 2012.
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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Craig

Road trips are the best! I love taking them with my friends. For college football games, we get an RV and crash in there to save on hotel costs. If we get a hotel, we pack as many as we can in there to save as well.

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2 Ryan Guina

Using an RV is a fun way to do it. A good way to save on hotel costs is to book a room with two queen or king size beds, and a pull out sofa, making it easy to fit 3-5 people comfortably. YOu can fit more than that if people don’t mind sleeping on the floor or in a chair. Now that I’m a few years removed from the college days (and little money) I prefer to opt for comfort. Some things are just worth paying for, and a good night’s sleep is high on my list!

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3 Vincent Turner (@vinaeco)

RVs can be good, but they also seem to suit longer trips with less kilometres per day vs the ‘get there’ roadtrip. We did a roadtrip around California and once we added it up afterwards the 100 miles free a day limit meant we got an extra 30% or so on our bill!

Gees it was fun though! .. more fun than a hotel :)

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4 Matt

Great advice about notifying your credit card companies about your trip. I would not have thought about that and just in time for my families upcoming trip out of state!

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