Road trips and ways I saved money

Southern Ohio
Southern Ohio

2 months ago, I took a road trip down to Sarasota Florida to visit my mom and headed over to and down the SE coast of the USA. I passed through states such as West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina and Georgia on the way there. On the way back I went back through Georgia, South Carolina then though Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. This was one of the longest road trips I have been on and I saw some truly wonderful and amazing things every place I went.

Before I left and even while on my trip people were shocked to learn I was driving my car and not renting one. They were even more shocked that I was taking this massive trip alone. Yes, it might have been cool to have a co-pilot and someone to talk with especially while driving at night and for sure when I stopped at some of the places I did. However, I know no one who can afford to, let alone willing to leave on a 2-week trip across the country.  For many people this is not a feasible trip for many reasons. I incurred all the cost of this trip on my own, paid it with my own money and credit cards and was responsible for my own gas, food and lodgings. It is fair to assume I put a fair amount of planning into this half of which I ignored once on the road. The gas and gas mileage thing was the one thing I did keep track of. A trip like this with myself and 1 or more people would of course made it cheaper….however I am not a sociable guy and get annoyed with people after a few hours of contact usually. My dog Harley was the only perfect road trip companion I have ever had. We will see how the trip to Maine in November with my friend Ben goes.

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Road trips like this are invigorating to me and exciting. I learn about myself along the way on every one I take. Things I’m able to handle and not but have to deal with anyways. Traveling alone by car has its upsides and downfalls and you problem solve alone. Technology has made this sort of thing easier but also taking away from part of the adventure aspect of it. The giant maps or an atlas unfolded and strew about the seats are gone and I miss them a little. Maps just do not look the same on smartphone screens. It is hard to fathom exactly how far you are going and what it is in between where you are starting and ending. Match that with a demanding robotic female’s voice screaming into my ear every time I left a highway or a road to stop for coffee and a piss reminded me of being screamed at by my irritating ex-wife.  I might do without the navigation on the next trip *shuddering*.

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I fully understand traveling alone as a male is different from a woman traveling alone. There are creepers in the world and the women have to be careful…or carry a gun. I still don’t under stand why everyone was so shocked I was driving alone it wasn’t my first solo trip and wont be my last. It was just the first without Harley.

I found ways of making this trip cheaper though and it wasn’t the most healthy option but it worked. I wanted to save money for the good stuff and not spend it randomly on silly things like 3 meals a day. Which works since I only eat about 1 time a day anyway. Here are some ways I found to save money on this trip and other helpful hints.

Snacks– I took a lesson learned from beach trips with my mom growing up and packed food in a cooler. I made PBJ sandwiches, bought cheese crackers  and a bunch of other stuff that’s horrible for me. A friend hooked me up with a bunch of healthy stuff like bananas. Bananas are a great road trip food since they help concentration.  I bought two 20 oz. 6-packs of Gatorade from the Wal-Mart, which later doubled as water bottles on the beach.  Gas station food is crazy expensive.

Coffee– I loaded up to the point of freakiness. It was iced coffee during the day, hot coffee at night to keep me awake during long late night stretches and Gatorade the rest of the time. I do not drink energy drinks like Monster anymore and what not since they are dangerous and loaded with sugar, which I don’t eat a lot of anymore unless it’s in something like OJ.

Driving– Since I was alone I could drive for as long as I wanted per day/days. An example of this is when I left Michigan. I drove from Grand Rapids where I live and drove across the state into Ohio and stopped and took a 3-hour nap at a rest stop near Columbus Ohio (the middle) only because I had only gotten 2-3 hours of sleep after work the day I left. From Columbus I drove straight thru to Summerville South Carolina where I was for 1 day on the way down. That bit of driving was about 630 miles and was tough since I was going through mountains and half of it was night driving. The point is that I had no one telling me I cannot and whining that they want to stop. I had a few things to stop and see on the way to SC and found a few others as I drove that looked cool. I’m older now and the days of my early 20’s and driving 24- 36 hours or longer nonstop and no sleep are long gone…even I need my sleep, at least a nap. If you don’t need to stop….don’t. You are less likely to spend money on silly trinkets at tourist traps and I am a sucker for that shit. When it comes to sleep if you just need a few hours for a nap rest stops are usually ok places. I avoid the ones near big cities as much as I can. I would rather take a 3-4 hour nap in my car at rest stop than spend 80 bucks on a hotel room for more time than what I really need.

More Driving – I prefer driving at night. The reason is that there are fewer cars, less traffic and less BS to deal with. If your road trip is during the spring, summer or early fall it’s usually cooler at night. This means your car will run cooler and get better gas mileage. Even more so since, you do not have to run the AC, which kills your gas mileage. You are not really dealing with rush hour traffic, soccer moms in mini vans and old people that think the speed limits should still be what they were in fricken yesteryear than you will not spend as much time constantly adjusting your speed up and down. Set the cruise and just steer…my general rule of thumb while driving is never break unless you really have to. None of that sad panic breaking shit because the car 8 cars in front of you put on their breaks for a second; change lanes and go around them.

The one downfall I have found over the years of driving at night is that you miss some cool things. I fell victim to this on the way to SC while driving through North Carolina and missed driving part of the Blue Ridge parkway (next rip down I guess).  So depending on where you go plan accordingly. Ohio is great state to drive through at night since there is nothing worth seeing and this is why I left Michigan at midnight (actually 2 am).

Even more driving – OK really do the normal car prep stuff i.e. oil changes, rotate tires, check fluids bla bla bla. It does help but do it 2 days before you leave not 1 week before just trust me on this. I also kept track of the gas mileage I was getting for over a month before I left on my trip on both highway and city streets going to and from work and college. My car is a 95 olds cutlass. Yes, it’s almost 20 years old, however I bought it with 61,000 original miles on it 2 ½ years ago so it runs like a newer car yet engine wise….for the most part. When I left for my trip, I had just over 100k on it….near 104k or so when I got back never had an issue at all. Supposedly my car gets 26 mpg on the highway (17 city) according to the EPA it was closer to 33/34 highway (22 city) actually depending on the driving conditions. Point is that I wanted to know how accurate my gas mileage was so I could plan for gas money accurately. I was only off by 1 full tank and only spent 300 bucks on gas the whole trip (YES ROUND-TRIP of 3,000 miles or so) as opposed to the 260 I was planning on. No biggies that’s what my credit cards were for…emergencies. Also use at least midgrade gas in your vehicle I did on the trip and noticed a difference on my MPH. Its 10 cents more than regular usually so if you can’t afford .10 cents more on your road trip you should not be taking one.

Meals – One of my rules while traveling is eating local, no chains. You get a better bang for your buck at a local place than you do some national chain. Part of the reason you travel especially by road is to experience life and food you normally would not get at home. Often by eating local, you get better food, more of it for cheaper prices. Therefore, you are not only saving money you are enjoying a piece of Americana and making memories. (I broke this rule 1 time on this trip and stopped at McDonalds in West Virginia because I needed to get online and post a blog as well as a book review, it was kind of a working trip a bit.)

Staying CleanPilot Travel Centers were all over on my trip as well as Travel Americas (also truck stops of sorts). They have showers, food and Wi-Fi and are always clean and nice from what I saw. Sometimes you just wanna take a shower after a 10 hour drive and wash the sweat off and feel refreshed. I’d rather spend 11 bucks for a shower that I only need for about ½ an hour or so than 80 bucks or more for a hotel room that I don’t really need. Again, it saves you money when you are traveling alone or even with a wife or GF, this is not a bad option as long as they are not all bitchy about it. If you are on a long road trip who cares.  If that is not your thing and are a prude, see if you have friends living along the way or family and ask them before you go if you can stop and borrow their shower for a few. Often they will invite you to spend a night and catch up. Otherwise, just keep trucking your stinky ass down the road.

Assistance and Tech– My first massive road trip ever was when I moved to Oregon at 22 it was full of big maps, AAA guidebooks and paranoia. That was a different world back then and technology is now very useful when traveling by road in many cases. Plus I’m older and worry far less now about little stuff I was married once so I know what hell is like anything else is like Christmas day. Stress on trips, any trip, is stupid. Why take a trip if you are going to stress, stop worrying play shit by ear, and chill. As Bruce lee would say “be like water, fluid”.  I used two apps quite a bit on my Motorola Atrix in addition to the navigation. One app was Gasbuddy.com. I use this app every day in my normal life to find cheap gas and save money ( did that sound like an advertisement to you too?). I have used it on other shorter road trips as well. The website actually has a very useful trip planner to figure your total cost on gas money for your road trip, which I did use in my planning. I used the app 5 times a day on my trip it really came in handy. Usually gas stations right off highways are the most expensive. Gasbuddy.com lets you know about the station a mile or two down the road from the highway exit that’s .10-20 cents cheaper…and sometimes more. So again, this saves you money. Don’t be such a scared puss and afraid to leave the view of the highway YOU WILL BE OKAY.

screenshot from my phone of my local gasbuddy.com prices
screenshot from my phone of my local gasbuddy.com prices

The other app I used was Priceline.com  app for hotels. Now, I only stayed in a hotel 2 times on my trip. Using this helped me save money and get in a good location. More than anything, it was convenient I could use it while I was driving. Gone are the old days of calling ahead and begging for a good price. It came in handy the most at the end of my day in South Carolina on the way down to Florida. I wanted to go to Savannah and Tybee Island Georgia and I found a great deal at a 3 star 10 minutes south of Savannah just off the highway while I was on the highway south from Edisto Beach SC. The next day historic Savannah was an easy drive and Tybee Island and fort Pulaski only took me about 30 minutes.

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Banks- Banks are a great way to save money and not just with the money in your savings and checking. My bank has a rewards program where you earn points based off purchases you make with your debit card. The bigger the purchase the more points you get. I have 2 checking accounts one for college and one for my business (the book stuff). Over time, you accumulate points and can redeem them on things like gift cards for various places, car rentals and plane tickets. I redeemed all the points off one of mine accounts and got 50 dollars in pre-paid gas cards. I used these to fill up with the night I left Michigan since at that time Michigan gas was the most expensive I would encounter on my trip (3.89 here versus 3.18 or so down south). It took me 48 bucks to top the tank off with mid-grade so right off the bat I saved 50 bucks.

I am sure there other things but I think I’m done for now.

Smokey Mountains. You cant see this kind of beauty on a plane.
Smokey Mountains. You cant see this kind of beauty on a plane.

Don’t be afraid of road trips America, there are a lot of roads to drive, towns to see and life to feel. You cannot do that very well from the air and you miss a lot at 30,000 feet…plus the food is better as well even gas station food. Road trips are often cheaper than flying especially if you are traveling with other adults and children and need a car and are staying in the USA and Canada. Whether alone or with people road-trips are the best vacation I think. So have fun, grow a pair and take an adventure….who cares if you get a flat tire along the way.

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