2023 Road Trip Guide To Saving, Staying Safe and Having Fun
SmartFinancial Offers Unbiased, Fact-based Information. Our fact-checked articles are intended to educate insurance shoppers so they can make the right buying decisions. Learn More
It’s the first warm season without COVID restrictions, and many Americans are itching to travel. However, airfare, both international and domestic, is at an all time high due to shortages caused by a drop in demand during the pandemic. Fuel prices have soared too. Now that everyone is looking to take a flight out of town, the airlines can’t keep up without raising prices.
Data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index shows a 25.6% increase in airfare from January 2022 to January 2023. What that means is on average, we are paying 25% more to fly than a year ago. Prices on airline tickets are expected to continue to climb as the summer unfolds and then begin to dip slightly in July (1).
Unfortunately, inflation is making the great American road trip more costly too, but it’ll probably still be less expensive than flying, especially if you’re traveling with kids. We have some tips for you to save even more money and have fun on your next summer road trip.
What To Do as Far in Advance of a Road Trip as Possible
Save $40 here, $50 there. It’ll all add up. So take care to do the following as soon as you decide to take a road trip.
- Call Your Credit Cards in Advance. Use a credit card with gas rewards and points for hotel stays.
- Book Hotel Stays. If you’re looking to travel in August, book now, because prices will only go up. HotelTonight can help you find deals and open rooms.
- Consider renting an AirBnB. Make sure you have renters insurance on top of the coverage they offer and ask the agent if you’ll be covered out-of-town.
- Consider Campgrounds and Make Reservations: Inflationary costs may price you out of a decent hotel so why not consider making it a camping road trip? There’s a park cost, and you’ll have to make reservations at the very popular ones. National Forest campgrounds are often much cheaper and sometimes free. Keep scrolling for a section on popular national parks, only some of which require reservations.
- Download the GasBuddy App: Gas Isn’t Getting Any Cheaper: Gas will still be your biggest expense, so find the cheapest way to buy it wherever you are.
- Increase Car Insurance Limits: If you’re driving many miles, your chances of having an accident go up. State minimums rarely cover an accident in full.
- Travel Outside of the Holidays. You’ll be paying the steepest prices anywhere you stay or eat on or around July 4th or memorial day (May 29) so try to plan your trip at other times.
- Get Your Car Checked Out Thoroughly. And make sure you’ve got good tires on your vehicle. If your car breaks down, you’ll be miserable so make sure your mechanic gives the car a complete lookover. You may still have a mishap, even if the vehicle is in great shape so add roadside assistance to your car insurance policy.
- Make Sure You Have Health Insurance. Whether it’s a hiking, fishing or swimming accident, you don’t want to pay for an ER bill out-of-pocket. Even if you’re young and healthy, you should have a low cost, high-deductible plan in case of an emergency. That goes for car accidents too. If you’re traveling outside of your coverage zone, call your insurer and find out what happens if you go to the Emergency Room in an out-of-coverage zone. You may be partially covered or not at all. Some plans, like Blue Shield, also offer temporary insurance for a low rate. If you’re fresh out of luck, try insuremytrip or squaremouth, both travel insurance comparison sites, to buy the most affordable temporary travel health insurance.
- Know Where You Can and Can’t Sleep. Each state has its own laws on sleeping in a car. Even if you’re in a van, you may have trouble finding free parking. Know that some parking lots, like Walmart, allow overnight parking without charging fees. You can pretty much find one wherever you go. Whatever you do, don’t park anywhere sketchy or poorly lit!
How To Save the Most Money on Your Trip
- Create Your Travel Budget in Advance. The Roadtrippers app is a popular place to start figuring out your destination, which will help determine cost. The app features lodging, sights, outdoor destinations, restaurants, activities, fuel stops and more. Or use PocketGuard or Trabee Pocket to budget your entire trip.
- Book Activities in Advance. You may end up paying less. Check for discounts for seniors, military families and other hidden gems.
- Cook Your Own Food. Big supermarket chains, like Safeway and Kroger, have loyalty cards that give you discounts on groceries. Bring a cooler, some cookware, utensils, a chopping board and your best spices. Reserve at campsites that have designated fire pits for cooking.
- Bring Your Own Coffee. Yeah, it’s tempting when you see the green crown,but don’t make vacationing an excuse to drink Starbucks. You’ll easily add hundreds of dollars to your bill for coffee alone!.
- Bring Your Own Water. Bring a big old gallon of it and cups. You may also need it to cook with. Stop and replenish at any Walmart along the way. You’ll save so much money not buying single plastic bottles.
Protecting Your Car, Your Family
Just as there are dangers to flying there is always the risk of an accident during a long drive. Car insurance is not where you want to trim savings by cutting coverage. Get the coverage you need and then compare rates to see who will give you the best price.
What You Need To Know About Liability Coverage
If you have an accident that is your fault, your liability coverage will cover the damages of accident to the other car(s) and injuries to the driver and passengers, but only up to limits. See what your limits are. Raise them to be fully covered. Rarely do bad accidents cost $10,000 or $12,000. Consider how much cars cost these days, and what hospital bills cost. You want to be protected against out-of-pocket expenses.
If the accident was your fault, liability coverage will not help you fix your car. You’ll need collision coverage to pay for repairs.
Say your car gets stolen while you’re on a hike, liability will not cover the loss. You’ll need comprehensive coverage to get back what the car was worth that day.
Liability coverage will also not help you out if your car breaks down. You’ll need to add roadside assistance coverage, which doesn’t cost much at all.
How To Lower Your Car Insurance Bill
- You may need to compare quotes and switch insurers to get a much cheaper car insurance bill with or without raising limits and adding collision, comprehensive and roadside assistance coverage.
- After you get a cheaper rate, you can also raise the deductible on collision and comprehensive to pay the least amount per month.
- Ask your new agent about car insurance discounts and scour the list to see if you’re eligible for any of them.
- Bundle your auto and home insurance or auto and renters insurance for a price break.
Common Road Trip Disasters and Who Pays
|Road Trip Disaster
|Liability and Collision Coverage
|Homeowners or Renters Insurance
|Roadside Assistance Coverage
|Health Insurance or Personal Injury Protection
Lower Your Chances of an Accident or Other Loss
- On your route to your destination, avoid dangerous roads.
- Budget enough money for lodgings to get adequate sleep.
- Take your time getting there and stop along the way to rest your eyes.
- Follow the rules of the road and drive the speed limit.
- Make sure your passengers (even in the back seat) are buckled up.
- Don’t weave through traffic unless absolutely necessary.
- Park your car in well-lit parking spaces at nighttime.
- Don’t park in desolate areas when hiking or camping.
- Avoid distracted driving. Have someone else change the music or reach into your bag. Never text and drive or fidget with the GPS while you’re driving.
- Don’t drive with earbuds or headsets, which may cost you hefty fines.
- Don’t drink and drive at any point while on vacation. A DUI in another state may mean having to attend court there too!
Taking a Road Trip in an EV
Every EV has a different range, but taking a road trip in any EV is completely doable – as long as you’re prepared.
Use an app like PlugShare to schedule stops near charging stations along the way, so you can charge way before your battery is depleted. Also consider the frustrating scenario of non-working charging stations, so don’t wait until your car is ready to die.
Remember that it may be a challenge to find charging stations in some parts of the country so make sure you map out your stops in advance and make sure it’s a working station that can charge your car. Know your range and what type of charger your car needs before you plan out charging stops (3).
Popular National Park Destinations and Camping Fees
There are more than 400 national parks nationwide, some with paid camping, others free. Keep in mind that there may be additional entry fees to get into these parks, which can range anywhere between $4 and $55 (2). You may want to try to reserve in advance if you’re going during a holiday or busy summer season.
Here are just a few favorite stops for road trippers.
- Yellowstone National Park: $20-$40 a night
- The Grand Canyon National Park: $15 per night
- Grand Teton National Park: $35 for 7 days
- Yosemite National Park: $5 to $20 a night
- Great Smoky Mountains: $24 - $30 a night
- Acadia National Park: $25-$30 per night; Lifetime senior pass is $80
- Zion National Park: $20-$50 a night
- Rocky Mountain: $26 per night
- Glacier National Park: $10-$23 per night
- Bryce Canyon National Park: $20 a night
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: $15 per night, $30 per car
- Shenandoah National Park: $30 a night
- Olympic National Park: $15-$24 a night
- Mount Rainier National Park: $20 a night
- Hot Springs National Park: $34 per night
- Everglades National Park: $21 admin fee and $2 a night per person
- Joshua Tree National Park: $25 per night
- Arches National Park: $25 and up depending on group size
- Death Valley National Park: $12 to $18 a night
When traveling on a budget, having adequate car insurance is not where you want to cut corners. However, you can still save on premiums by comparing rates and switching carriers. To begin searching for a better rate for free, enter your zip code and get started.