Updated April 3, 2014

Make Your Money Stretch Further on a Cross-Country Road Trip

Read more about National Park Statistics

A cross-country road trip can be an affordable way to see what lies between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. But with gasoline averaging over $3.50 a gallon in the U.S., a little planning can go a long way in helping you stay within your budget to see America the Beautiful.

An approximately 3,000-mile trip from the East Coast to the West Coast will take you through the Heartland and over the Rocky Mountains. And, the cost of all that driving, sightseeing and eating out can add up. One good way to stretch your dollars is to try to get the best deals on gas, food and lodging as you go. The following tips can help you limit the amount of money you have to spend.

  1. Before taking off, make sure your vehicle has had a recent tune-up. It’s not only smart to have your vehicle in good working order, but it also can help to enable efficient fuel consumption. In addition, once you’re on the road, check your fluids and tire pressure whenever you stop to refuel. Maintaining proper tire pressure can save you 3.3 percent on your overall gas mileage.

  2. Treat this trip like you would if you were a trying to rack up frequent flier miles from an airline, except now you’ll be earning cash back based on gasoline consumption. Apply for gas rewards cards like those from Shell or BP. You can also look for rebate options associated with major credit cards like Visa and American Express. A good practice is if you’re paying for gas anyway, you should strive to get some of that money back.

  3. Think about planning your route to avoid toll roads. With all the mapping apps and GPS systems available, you can usually find an alternate route to almost anywhere. And when you consider that the fee for a regular vehicle to travel inbound to New York City from New Jersey, for example, typically costs $13, you can save a lot by avoiding tolls. In addition, alternate routes often have cheaper restaurants and other amenities along the way than their more heavily traveled counterparts, where demand is higher.

  4. Food is as much a necessity as fuel, so save on groceries, as well. Don’t forget that many supermarket chains like Stop & Shop now have fuel rewards programs that operate much like bonus cards at participating gasoline dealers. So pack a good-sized cooler, and while you’re saving money by stocking up on food and beverages for all the picnics you’ll be taking on the road, you can be earning points to save money on your next fill-up. Remember, you may not save a lot at all-you-can-eat restaurants. It can make more sense to rest and eat healthier food more often throughout the day. Both your driving and your body will be better for it.

  5. Finally, there’s lodging. Camping is a great alternative to spending money on hotels. A couple of sleeping bags and a tent are huge money savers, especially if you’ve planned your route to intersect the right campgrounds. A great place to start your search is the National Park Service, where parks are listed by state. Just remember to reserve ahead of time, especially if you’re traveling in peak season.

A cross-country road trip (see infographic) can be far more expensive than a three-day getaway to Cape Cod or the Grand Canyon. But, with careful planning and a little ingenuity, the best road trips don't have to break the bank.

This post comes from the editors of The Allstate Blog, which helps people prepare for the unpredictability of life.

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    Infographics: National Parks

    Infographic: National Park Statistics

    By Kelly Teh - Tips for Travel
    National Parks offer a mix of relaxation and stimulating adventure. From hiking, camping, climbing to diving, whale watching, and more, National Parks offer the chance for families to get away from it all with solitude and spectacular views.

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