6 Road Trip Blunders That Can Hit Your Pocket Hard

From east to west, America is made for road-tripping. But while a road trip is an excellent way to explore this great nation, it can turn out to be not-so-great on the finances if you don’t plan properly.

Here are six road trip blunders that can hit your pocket hard and how to avoid them.

road trip blunders
Image credit: Unsplash

1. Not prepping your car for the trip

If you don’t get your car checked before a trip, you risk a breakdown on the road. The repairs can be costly, and you may need to pay for accommodation if your car can’t be fixed on the same day.

A car that isn’t running efficiently will also use more gas. You could exceed the fuel budget you set for the trip, especially if you’re driving across states with higher gas prices. In California, Nevada, Arizona and Washington, gas prices are currently all above $4 per gallon.

To prepare your car for a road trip, take it for an inspection and tune-up. Check that the spare tire is in good condition and that you have jumper cables, a flashlight, flares and an emergency kit.

If you are a member of a roadside assistance program, check what areas they cover. For instance, the AAA generally doesn’t cover remote or hazardous areas, like mountainous terrains, deserts or beaches. You may have to rely on a towing company to rescue you, and the more remote or dangerous the area is, the higher their fee will likely be.

2. Not planning your route

Do your homework on the quickest and most fuel-efficient route. When planning your route, look for the cheapest gas stations, eateries, and attractions. You may even find some interesting places to visit that are free.

With a little research, you can find out where you’ll encounter toll roads, traffic congestion and road construction. Being unaware of road construction can result in delays or detours that can add to your road trip expenses.

If you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, check that campsites, mountain huts and national parks are open. If you arrive to find them closed, you’ve wasted a tank of gas to get there.

Here are three road trip planning tools to help you plan your trip.

  1. Google My Maps: Google Maps isn’t just a GPS tool to direct you to your destination. The My Maps feature allows you to map the journey and add points of interest. Plus, you can share it with family or friends. If anything goes wrong, they would know where you are.
  2. Roadtrippers: This is one of the most popular road trip apps. You can switch between different modes such as outdoors & recreation, landmarks, and RV and camping to find recommendations and trip guides in each category.
  3. Waze: With real-time updates from users, the Waze app can alert you to traffic issues, road conditions, speed limits, construction, accidents, and weather conditions.

3. Not being smart about what you pack

Overloading the car with too much stuff can increase your fuel usage. Packing light can be challenging, especially if traveling with a family. While you want to whittle down the luggage to the essentials, you don’t want to leave important items behind that you may need to buy while on the road.

Put a list together of what you need. This may include:

  • weather-appropriate clothing
  • toiletries
  • gear like camping or sports gear
  • entertainment for the kids
  • water and snacks
  • medication
  • electronics like cell phones, laptops, car chargers, power banks and inverters
  • car trash can
  • vehicle registration and insurance documents

If you are traveling with babies or pets, make sure you have enough diapers, wet wipes, towels and dog waste bags.

4. Not being aware of state traffic laws

Check the local speed limits and traffic rules in the cities and towns you plan to visit. Some states enforce heavy penalties for speeding and reckless driving. In Oregon, you could be slapped with an eye watering $6,250 fine for reckless driving.

In states with strict traffic law enforcement, you could face a driver’s license suspension or jail time if you’ve committed a serious offense or have multiple prior violations.

A traffic violation can also increase your car insurance rate. For example, Delaware drivers that get a speeding ticket could see their annual car insurance rate rise by as much as $2,507, according to The Zebra.

5. Not taking the road less traveled

Big metros and popular tourist spots come with high price tags for accommodation, food and entrance fees to tourist attractions. Exploring less touristy places is often more budget-friendly. Going off the beaten track may also reveal some hidden gems like these six great road trip stops along the Gulf Coast.

Traveling out of season can also save money on accommodation, entrance fees and parking and lower your gas bill because you’ll spend less time in traffic jams.

6. Not planning for medical emergencies

On the road, anything can go wrong. You could be in an accident or become ill. Should a medical emergency occur, make sure you’re prepared for it.

  • Research your route to locate the nearest doctors and hospitals.
  • Know what your health insurance covers and where co-payments may arise. If you don’t have insurance, try to budget for unexpected medical emergencies.
  • Keep a first aid kit in your car.
  • Practice good hygiene on the road, like using hand sanitizers, especially after visiting crowded attractions.
  • Be careful what you eat. It’s easy to grab fast food on the go, but this can increase your risk of getting food poisoning. Try to make healthy food choices to keep your immune system strong.
  • Don’t drive when you’re tired. Plan enough rest stops on your journey so you remain alert on the road.

It’s impossible to anticipate everything that could go wrong on a road trip, but with some forethought, you can keep unexpected expenses to a minimum.

Jasper has been an enthusiast of the automotive and IT industries since the age of 16. He independently writes on the auto industry's recent happenings.