Summer is here! You know what that means… it’s vacation season! Approximately half of the country will hit the road at some point this summer. 90% of them will use their cars. Vroom, vroom, baby! (Sorry… I got excited.) If you want to make the most of your vacation, check out this guide to planning a summer road trip that you’ll never forget.
You don’t need to spend your life savings!
First: I understand some people don’t have the budget for an extravagant vacation. That’s 100% okay! Please know you can take a road trip without spending a ton of money.
Are you an outdoorsy type? Find a park (state or national) and spend a few days in nature. You don’t need camping gear. Most parks provide cabins and outdoor shelters for your convenience.
Does music soothe your soul? Find a concert within a few hundred miles of your hometown. Book a room on Air B&B and ask your host to recommend additional activities. They’d be happy to help!
Can you appreciate art and culture? Find a museum (art or history) and go learn something interesting. Many museums, such as the MET in my hometown of NYC, offer a “pay what you can afford” option. If nothing else, it doesn’t hurt to ask!
As you can see, your summer road trip doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. It could last anywhere from one day to one month. The cost could be anywhere from $100 to $100,000. If you’re creative and resourceful, you can probably find a way to make a summer vacation fit your budget.
Be 100% certain about where you’re going.
This is going to sound super old-school, but I suggest bringing a map. I’m aware your phone has a GPS, but it can’t always be trusted.
Funny example to illustrate: One of my friends asked Google for directions to Home Depot and it took him to a residential neighborhood. Home Depot was 10-15 miles in another direction! Weird…
Related point: men have fragile egos. They hate admitting they’re lost. If you don’t stand your ground, they might not ask for directions, and then you’ll waste HOURS driving around in circles. Fun? Nope!
It’s important to have good directions (even if that requires stopping at a gas station), because you want to make every moment of your trip count. There’s nothing worse than losing a huge chunk of your day, because you failed to plan ahead.
Make a vacation budget (and stick with it!).
Your summer road trip will include four primary expenses: gas, food, lodging, and leisure. Let’s start with gas since you can’t avoid that one (and this is a blog about cars, after all…).
Use the trip calculator at FuelEconomy.gov to estimate your fuel cost. Simply choose the make/model of your vehicle, enter the address of your home/destination, and presto! You’ll have a ballpark figure.
Food can be as cheap or expensive as you desire. If you’ve got the taste – and budget – for fine dining, why not splurge? I won’t judge you! If you’d rather spend that money on activities (or simply save it), stick with cheaper options like McDonald’s.
Health nut? Fast food’s out! That doesn’t mean you have to blow your entire vacation budget on food. Find a home on Air B&B that includes a fully stocked kitchen. Visit the grocery store before you go and pack a cooler with all the foods you’ll need to prepare meals.
Finally, let’s talk about booking a room. This article is NOT an advertisement for Air B&B, despite the previous two mentions (I just like how you can have a whole house versus a room). If you’d rather stay in a hotel, check out websites like Kayak, Orbitz, Expedia, and Priceline to maximize your savings.
After you figure out how much you must spend on these four categories, decide how much you want (and can afford) to spend on the final category: fun/leisure. Please be honest with yourself. If you’re struggling to cover basic life expenses, then you probably shouldn’t blow $1,000 on a summer road trip.
Don’t forget some activities are cheap or free. You don’t have to pay a fee before walking on the beach. (If you want to enjoy a cocktail or Corona on the beach, that’s a completely different story, and the cost can add up fast depending on how much of an appetite you have for that kind of thing – no judgment!)
No matter how high or low your budget is, stick with it. No exceptions! If you want to lower the risk of overspending, withdraw the full amount in cash. It’ll be easier to keep up with what percentage of your budget is left when you can see the money right in front of you. Also: spending actual dollars is more painful than swiping your debit card, so you’ll be less tempted to buy stuff on an impulse.
Make sure your car is prepared for a road trip.
It’s good to be loyal to one auto shop. Why? There are SO many reasons. Read more about that here. For the purpose of this article, let’s discuss one key benefit of going to the same mechanic consistently.
When you go to an auto repair shop for an oil change, they don’t just refill your oil and send you home. While your car is in the garage, they give it a safety inspection to make sure your car is in decent shape.
Most drivers don’t understand the goal of this safety inspection – which is to prevent car breakdowns, getting stranded, and other inconvenient situations – and then they complain when we recommend a service besides the one they requested.
I’m not saying you do this. But soooo many drivers do! It’s a communication failure, plain and simple! What does this have to do with your vacation? Easy answer: your car should be inspected before you take it on a long trip! Otherwise, you might break down hundreds of miles away from home.
Swing by your auto shop and tell the service adviser (PPA): “Hey! I’m going on a trip to _______ soon. Could you give my car a look to make sure I’m good-to-go?” Note: unless you’re also investing in a service (it can be something basic like an oil change or tire rotation), there might be a charge for this. Still, it’s worth the investment. If there’s a problem, wouldn’t you rather know now than later?
I hope your summer vacation is an amazing experience!
Share this blog with your friends so they can learn the secrets of planning a summer road trip, too!
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