Whether you're packing up your RV for a trip with the whole family or setting out alone in a two-seater convertible, road trips are one of the great American traditions. While many chose to drive to their destinations because they love the open road, there are plenty of people who see driving as a more affordable alternative to flying. Either way, saving a few bucks on gas is something just about anyone can get on board with. On that note, here are a few tips to get you to your destination as inexpensively as possible:
Take it easy
Getting every mile out of each gallon of gas is one of the best ways to save money while you're on the road. Putting a little extra care in your driving style will help you do just that. In general, you should avoid stomping on either the accelerator or the brakes – obviously, the latter tip should be ignored in an emergency – as both will lower the fuel efficiency of the car. If you see a red light or some traffic congestion up ahead, don't speed towards it and then slam on the brakes to screech to a halt at the last second. Rather, try to coast in as gently as possible. Then, when the light turns green, don't peel out like you're in a drag race.
Cars and trucks tend to be most gas efficient when they are traveling somewhere between 40 and 60 miles per hour. Of course, driving 45 miles per hour is probably unsafe for most major highways, so don't sacrifice safety for fuel efficiency. However, be aware that the faster you drive, the more gas you're going to use. Cruising along at 90 miles per hour is not only unsafe and could land you a speeding ticket, but will cost you at the pump as well.
Proper tire inflation
If you take good care of your tires, your tires will take care of you. The importance of properly inflated tires cannot be overstated. If you let your tires get too low – something that happens naturally, not just when there is a leak or puncture – the car's fuel efficiency will suffer, because there will be greater rolling resistance and the engine will have to work harder to get the car moving. On the other hand, an overinflated tire puts you at risk of a dangerous blowout.
Now we're getting into some classic NASCAR tricks. Professional racers draft behind other cars to cut down the wind resistance, making their cars faster and more efficient. You can try the same thing on the road if you're careful. Drive at a safe distance behind a semitruck and you should see a couple more miles per gallon.
Use your GPS
Unless you're driving a route that you're extremely familiar with, plug your trip into a GPS. First of all, it will prevent you from getting lost and using up gas traveling in the wrong direction. Plus, you can stick to the shortest possible route, which should keep you from needing to stop at the pump as often. Stick to major highways as much as possible to avoid the stop-and-go traffic that comes with smaller towns and traffic lights.
Time your trip
We've all watched gas prices rise and fall – mostly rise – seemingly at will. There isn't a whole lot you can do about overall gas prices, but you can find some patterns. For example, gas prices tend to rise on weekends and in the days surrounding holidays. If possible, plan your trips so they don't coincide with these days.
There are lots of ways to save money on the road aside from making your car as fuel efficient as possible. Doing a bit of research before you take off can pay off in dividends. A quick Internet search can point you to lots of hotels that offer special deals with your stay. For example, you may be get a gift card or coupon for discounted gas when you check out. Another trick is to download one of many smartphone apps that find prices at nearby gas stations. Have your copilot search around to find the cheapest gas in the area when it comes time to fill up.
Protect your belongings
Though you may not take it into account when you're budgeting out your road trip, having your valuables stolen while you're at a gas station or hotel can not only be devastating, but extremely pricey. If you're using a roof cargo container, make sure it is securely locked at all times. If you have anything of particular value – important paperwork, electronics, cash or a firearm – bring along a portable safe to make sure no one can make off with your belongings. Look for one that has a heavy-duty cord that can anchor it to your car so it can't be removed by a thief.