Whether its the approaching holiday season, a summer vacation or a permanent move to a new home many people have the need to drive themselves or their whole family across the country. In this how to we will look at some money and sanity saving tips that should reduce the chaos and cost in most situations.
We will go over some important things like how to plan for lodging, buying fuel and packing your vehicle but every trip is different and you will need to account for you and your families specific needs.
Planning Your Travel Route
The first thing you want to do is plan your route of travel. This might seem like the easiest thing to do but there are some tricks that can be very helpful in saving time and money.
I suggest that the first thing you do is enter your route information into Google Maps. This will give you the most direct and a couple alternative routes for your trip. However Google is notoriously wrong with mileage and time calculations. They do the best that they can with the information they have but they normally do not account for traffic patterns, road construction unless it is major and weather conditions which will change your time on the road significantly.
For the most part you really should stay on major highways and if an interstate is available near or alongside a state highway it is best to fork out the $10 and pay the toll for the entire path through a state. For instance in New Jersey you have I95 which is partly toll and then you have 295 that runs along it for most of the way. Route 295 is a major highway but it is often congested with truck and local traffic. If you are passing through vs finding your destination in the state you want to use the Interstate.
Now the drawback to interstate or large highways is that highway speed is often much faster than local highways. You can expect to add 10 miles per hour or more in normal traffic and honestly that extra few miles an hour isn’t going to save you that much time over a long distance but it can be hectic to deal with. If you are not comfortable driving fast on a large highway you can pick the alternative route if you know it is a well maintained highway.
When you are driving long distances you want to pick the easy path of travel not the fastest. Normally the Center lane on a 3 or wider lane highway is the safest. Left lanes are normally taken by people who are late for their destination and they will tailgate you until you move out of their way no matter how fast you drive. You could speed up to 80 or 90 miles an hour and they would still be on your bumper like its a video game. The right lane is normally local traffic and people trying to make an exit. Although you want to be alert you don’t want to be hitting your brakes at every exit as traffic backs up. You want an easy smooth ride and in the end it will work out being the fastest path on a long haul.
Keep your distance from people while driving. Give lots of extra room in front and to the sides of you. I have taken long routes with foolish people beside me only to end up passing and re-passing them because they can’t pick a lane and stay focused on their travels.
I don’t suggest that you use cruise control on your route because it can make you lax in reading the road. Even if you are out in the middle of nowhere and you are use to using it for shorter trips you really should be in full control of your vehicle. This is especially important if you get tired at the wheel. In that case at the minimum hopefully your speed will decrease if you lose attention.
When you are planing your route you want to take into account all of these things. I suggest that you make your route in Google maps and then adjust it by adding points to the line of travel. You want to calculate your stops for gas and rest and we will talk more about rest stops later.
Timing your Departure Time for Easy Travel
If you will be traveling through highly populated areas then you must account for commuter traffic. When I take long trips to Florida I normally leave the night before and not in the early morning. This is because about four hours into my drive I will pass through Baltimore and Washington DC.. By leaving around 10pm the night before instead of 4 or 5am in the morning I completely miss the DC Beltway traffic. This can add a good hour to two hours to your travel time and the driving is very hectic.
By driving at night you will almost have the road to yourself. I can remember driving through North Carolina and almost no traffic was around me at 2am on a early Monday morning. When there is traffic it is normally in packs of cars and then you just slow down and get to the back of the pack and keep their taillights in view and you have the road to yourself.
The amount of stress this reduces is amazing but on a long trip you will eventually have a spot with high traffic that you can’t schedule around. Again pick the center lane and you should pass through it much easier and faster.
Another benefit for those with kids is if one parent sleeps after dinner until you leave and the kids stay up later then they will most likely sleep through the night.
I would suggest that the better driver also sleep through the night as much as the can and then take their turn when commuter traffic starts in the morning.
Just take your time overnight and stay away from other cars. There will be fewer of them but there could be a few sleep deprived or drunk drivers out there and that needs to be avoided.
Stopping for Food and Gas on your Trip
You really want to make your stops as infrequent as possible however if you are tired you need to pull over. A rest stop might not be the best place to sleep and I would suggest a 24 hour Walmart. I am not endorsing walmart but they seem to be the only retail establishment that allows people to sleep in their cars in their lots if they are traveling. Its a nice gesture and there are plenty of them out there to stop and take a nap. If you are traveling alone you probably won’t even need to get a hotel room. You can go without a shower for a day it won’t be the end of the world and you can wash your face in their bathroom and grab some food for the road.
Other than that you want to try to buy gas and food away from a rest stop or highway exit. In your route planning when you select a stop point you should look for a small town near the exit and buy gas in town. Better yet if you are a member of a warehouse club try to find them on your route and you can save your normal 10cents a gallon and use a cash back credit card and maybe save another 2 to 5%.
If you can’t hit a warehouse club look for what gas stations are most popular in the areas you will be passing through. Normally they are regional but there are national brands. You can normally pickup a Gas Card on Discount from a reputable seller for 10 to 15% off the face value so a $100 gas card might cost you $85 and again pay with a cash back credit card and save those extra points. Look for these sales online at coupon websites or hit the gas merchant’s website and maybe even email a few for any deals.
For Food again you don’t really want to buy overpriced food at a rest stop and another thing is you don’t want to eat dramatically different than you normally do. I would suggest that you stick to large national chains because they tend to have similar processes for making their food. You should also look for discounts at these merchants and you can even order a pizza to pickup at the next town on your cell phone and it will be ready when you get there.
If you are not buying takeout food or sitting down to eat then buy food at a grocery store not at a gas station not at a minimart type place. If you were at home you wouldn’t shop there for good prices you would go to the grocery store and buy a jar of peanut butter and some bread or a bag of rolls and a half pound of deli cheese and meat to make sandwiches. Add a bag of chips, a drink and you are back on the road for $15 and everyone is pretty happy.
When you are traveling to a destination then you want to optimize your travel time. If you are moving and need to bring a vehicle then it is the best bet to drive the distance. If you don’t have a vehicle then renting one for the trip won’t be economical unless you are renting a small uhaul van to bring a lot of belongings.
Normally if you are traveling over 1000 miles you should slim down what you bring with you. It will take time to sell most of what you have for a good price but there should be justification if you need to bring something like a 7 year old couch or a 5 year old mattress vs bringing the bed frame and buying a new mattress.
Anything that is expensive should be packed separately and brought into your hotel room if you are making a stop. Out of state license plates at hotels are red flag targets. Most people don’t have problems but some do and you don’t want to be one of them.
Don’t over pack your car or have seating areas filled with boxes or items that will make the trip uncomfortable. It is hard enough to drive that far without being jabbed in the side from a box or suitcase or giving up leg room.
If in doubt remember you can always have your items shipped to you. There are companies you can hire to take your items across the country and there are a lot of choices. From small contractors, to national moving companies and even mail companies. Normally you will beat your package if not ship it ground freight only and then you definitely will.