The Thanksgiving and Christmas periods are among the busiest long-distance travel period of the year. According to data provided by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the number of long-distance travels increases by almost 55% during that period.

Furthermore, more than 90% of long-distance holiday travel is by personal vehicles, like cars, mobile homes and trucks. On the other hand, only 5% of holiday trips are by air and less than 3% is by train, bus, ship or other mode of transportation.

Why so Many people choose to Drive?

While traveling by bus or train will help them avoid the holiday traffic, most people still opt for their car. So the question is – why so many people choose to drive during this busy season? A couple of years ago, Italian researchers discovered that people simply have an irrational bias toward cars – they even called it “the car effect.”

But besides the irrational bias, most people are simply looking to have a memorable vacation with their family. That’s why so many of them skip traveling internationally and stick to the family car. A road trip will allow you to see the country at a slow pace and take some time to explore.

However, while national gas prices are still pretty low, a cross-country road trip can actually end up costing you far more than you’ve initially planned. So in order to have an exciting, reasonably priced holiday trip, you need to do some planning in advance. Therefore, you need to consider all the expenses possible and ensure that you’ve budgeted everything properly before you hit the road.

Planning the Route

If you want to save some money, mapping your route is vital to control spending. Simply put, your route will determine the number of days you’ll spend on the road and just once you discover the distance you’re going to travel, you can create a budget for gas, food and accommodations.

Here are a couple of sites and apps that can help you plan your trip:

  • MapQuest – the popular app shows gas stations, restaurants, parks and hotels along your route
  • TripIT – this app allows you to create a careful route and share it with your family and friends
  • Yahoo Trip Planner – Yahoo’s app allows you to add the cities you’d like to visit along the way

Of course, you have to do the dirty work all by yourself. For instance, if you’re traveling with children, you have to plan to make more stops along the way. Also, if you’re not accustomed to driving after dark, you need to make additional adjustments.

Last but not least, you need to do some research and see if there are any construction zones along your way. This will allow you to prepare alternative routes and save some time, especially if you plan on traveling through these zones during high-traffic hours.

Creating a Budget

Once you determine the number of miles you plan on covering, you’re ready to create a full budget. First, you need to determine how much money you have to spend. So if you’re working on a tight budget, you need to prioritize.

What’s more important to you – enjoying the best food or staying in a good hotel? Do you want to visit a number of attractions and don’t care if you’re camping or sleeping in your car? Once you determine how much money will be spent on gas, you can start thinking about the costs of food, accommodations, etc.

1.      Gasoline Costs

The cost of gas will probably be your biggest expense and unlike the other ones on our list, it’s unavoidable. Determining how much money you’ll spend on gas will allow you to see how much money you’ll have for the more fun activities along the trip.

Luckily, you have apps like the AAA Fuel Calculator, which will help you estimate the costs for gas. You just need to enter the starting point of your trip, your destination, the model of your car and you’ll be able to determine the full costs of gas.

And if you want to save some money along the way, here are a couple of tips that will help you do so:

  • Make sure your car isn’t over-packed – the more weight, the worse your mileage will be
  • According to the Office of Transpiration data, the best gas usage speed is around 60 mph
  • Get the Gas Buddy app if you want to know what are the lowest gas prices in the country
  • Avoid too much accelerating and hitting the breaks too often, because this uses more gas

2.      Vehicle Costs

Before your trip, you need to make sure that your car is great condition. This will not only help you save money on gas, but it will also ensure that you’re safe during the trip and avoid any possible emergency repairs on the road. Now, in this case you have two options – visiting a mechanic or doing it yourself.

On one hand, if you experience with car maintenance, you can do it yourself – the internet is full of DIY car maintenance checklists that will help you make sure that you’ve checked everything. On the other hand, since your safety is on the line, the smart thing would be to take your car to the mechanic.

Here are a couple of things you can do to make sure that your car is function properly before the trip:

  • Do a General Checkup: This should include checking your fluid levels, battery, lights, tires and blades. After you’ve checked these items, simply fix them as needed. Don’t be cheap –if you have any problem with your brakes, opt for a top-notch manufacturer like DBA, for instance.
  • Get an Insurance Plan: If by any chance you are not enrolled, go out and get roadside assistance on your vehicle insurance plan. It won’t cost you more than $10 dollars per month, and you’ll be able to use it any time you have a flat tire or if your battery dies on the road.
  • Find an Emergency Kit: In addition to one or two spare tires – and the equipment for changing tires – your emergency kit should have things like jumper cables, a flashlight, a few reflectors, blanker, road flares and most importantly, a first aid kit in case you have an accident.

3.      Other Costs

And here we come to last part – once you see how much money you’ve spent on your maintenance and how much will you spend on gas, you can see how much you can spend on food, logging and sightseeing along the way. Moreover, you need to keep an accurate record of these expenses.

First, you should know the purpose of your trip – if you want to visit a couple of historically important sights along the way, you should put the majority of your remaining money there. If you’re traveling alone with one person, you can sleep in cheap motels and leave money for restaurants and night clubs.

But if you’re traveling with a family and you want to save some money on food during you’re, here are a couple of tips that can help you:

  • Check Yelp and read the user-reviews to find out what restaurants have low prices
  • Look for apps such as Groupon and Living Social to find good restaurant deals
  • If you’re looking for cheap accommodations use apps like Priceline and Orbitz

The Bottom Line

Road trips are always exciting because unlike flying from one location to another, your car allows you to enjoy all of the sites in between. But you have to make sure that you’re staying in your budget, and more importantly, staying safe.

Always drive carefully and make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings at all times. As USA Today reports, out of 95 million Americans who hit the road during the holiday season, almost 28,000 of them will be seriously I injured in car accidents. If you don’t want to end up being a statistic – drive carefully.

So take frequent stops during the day to starch and relax and if you’re feeling tired, take a longer break. While trying to drive for another hour or so may be tempting, it makes no sense if it puts you, your family members and other drivers on the road at risk.


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