Budget Family Travel Guide
By Melanie Monroe Rosen
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Whether you plan to take a road trip in your own car or just make use of a rental car for zipping around your destination, there are plenty of ways to save on automotive travel.
Skip the Super-Sizing. If you’re planning to rent a car, select a car only as big as you really need. Don’t be tempted by offers to upgrade to a bigger gas guzzler if you can get by with a mid-size car, for example. If your family owns two cars, take the one that more fuel-efficient, even if it means skimping on space. Many families are doing this now, reports AAA-New York spokesman Robert Sinclair, Jr. “AAA can track information from individual users of our Fuel Cost Calculator, and many people are entering information for two separate cars to compare fuel costs,” he said. To determine which car makes better sense at the gas pump, check out AAA’s Fuel Cost Calculator (fuelcostcalculator.com), which allows you to enter the make, model, and year of your car as well as your starting and ending points in order to estimate how much you’ll spend on gas during your trip.
Travel a Shorter Distance. A family vacation doesn’t need to be a cross-country odyssey. By staying closer to home, you’ll save money on fuel costs and put less wear and tear on your vehicle, not to mention reduce the number of times you’ll hear, “Are we there yet?” Can’t figure out where you might like to go nearby? A number of local tourism departments and AAA have developed ideas for “trips on a tankful.”
Fuel Up Wisely. Don’t just fill up at the nearest gas station; do your research ahead of time to find out where the best gas prices are in your area. Websites like gasbuddy.com and gaspricewatch.com allow drivers to submit prices they’ve seen at local gas stations. The downside? They rely on volunteers to submit prices -- which means that there are sometimes no recent prices listed for your local area and there are sometimes screwballs who purposely input incorrect information. AAA’s Fuel Finder , on the other hand, offers information about the latest fuel prices at over 100,000 gas stations in the U.S. The data are derived from credit card transactions, direct feeds, and other survey methods, which ensures greater accuracy.
Focus On Fuel Economy. You can make the most of each gallon of fuel by making a few minor changes in the way you pack and drive. For example, resist the temptation to cram everything from home into the car. According to fueleconomy.gov, a website maintained jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an extra 100 pounds in the trunk reduces a typical car’s fuel economy by one to two percent. Using a roof rack or carrier can decrease your fuel economy by five percent! And, while having kids on board should be sufficient reason to drive sensibly, an additional reason to avoid aggressive driving is that it can reduce fuel economy by up to 33 percent on the highway, according to fueleconomy.gov.
Map Out Your Route. “In addition to wasting time, getting lost also wastes fuel,” reminds Sinclair. If you already have a GPS navigational system for your car, be sure to use it. Google Maps and Mapquest offer helpful maps and driving directions online. You can also take advantage of AAA’s TripTik Travel Planner. A spiral-bound version comes with membership, but AAA also offers an easy-to-use online version to help you plan your next trip. You can enter your departure point and destination (as well as waypoints) and then TripTik will generate a suggested route, which you can modify as you like. You can also customize it with information about lodging, restaurants, attractions, gas stations, and AAA member discounts along the route, as well as information about construction and road closures. If all this seems more than you can handle, a AAA travel agent can also help you create your itinerary.
Search For Savings. If you plan to rent a car, take stock of any discounts you may already quality for. For example, your company many offer special discounts to its workforce, your military or veteran status may win you a deal, your credit card company may offer a percentage off of rentals when you pay with its card, and AAA membership offers discounts of 10 to 20 percent on Hertz rental cars. You may also want to consider a package deal. If you need to rent a car as part of your vacation plans, consider booking a travel package that includes a flight and possibly a hotel (but do the math first to ensure that you’ll be saving money on the rental). Regardless of whether you’re renting a car or driving your own, you can take advantage of savings on fuel by looking for hotels and resorts that are offering gas rebates.
Park It. If the rising price of fuel and the thought of many hours behind the wheel make a road trip unappealing, consider an alternate form of transportation like a bus, a train, or a ferry. Transportation-obsessed kids are sure to love this kind of adventure, and you’re likely to find some great deals on bus fares (greyhound.com) and train tickets (amtrak.com).