Six ways to save on a road trip

July 3, 2012 1:03:35 PM PDT
Many Americans will travel by car to cut costs on their summer vacation this year. Here are some tips from Consumer Reports' Money Adviser for stretching your travel dollars while on the road without forfeiting any of the fun.

Map it

Use one of these free online road-trip planners to build a custom map and itinerary: AAA TripTik (go to, then choose "Online TripTiks" in the left column); Yahoo Trip Planner (; or Rand McNally TripMaker Planning Tool (

Avoid ATM add-ons

To dodge paying out-of-network fees for cash withdrawals, ask your bank for a map of its ATM locations along your route. If you can't get to one, look on the back of your ATM card for the logo of your bank's network, such as Star or Cirrus. An in-network bank will charge you to use its ATM, but your bank will usually waive its own out-of-network fee.

Prep your car

Before you leave, have your mechanic check the level of all fluids, inspect belts and hoses, check the battery and tires (including the spare), and inspect the air-conditioning system. Make sure you bring an emergency road kit.

Conserve gas

Traveling at a moderate speed helps you get the best gas mileage. Avoid hard acceleration and braking. Keep tires properly inflated. Skip premium fuel unless your car requires it.

Look for lodging deals

Take advantage of membership discounts and perks offered by hotel loyalty programs or groups like AARP or AAA. Compare rates on travel Web sites such as Expedia,, Orbitz, and Travelocity. Call the hotel directly rather than the national reservation line to negotiate a price. Feeling lucky? Skip reservations and show up unannounced late in the day. If a room is still available, you might be able to get the lowest rate.

Get smart

Smart-phone applications can be useful on the road. Some are free; others have a fee or subscription cost, which might be bundled into your monthly charge for data services.

Navigation apps, like those from Navigon and TomTom, let your phone function like a stand-alone GPS. Aloqua, Urbanspoon, and Yelp find nearby attractions and restaurants in your price range. GasBuddy shows you where to find the cheapest gas; Gas Cubby and greenMeter track your gas mileage. The Weather Channel and WeatherBug alert you to severe weather conditions.