The cost of an airline ticket isn’t going down any time soon, and unless you’re into cozying up with strangers for a long train ride at about the same price, the best way to get out of Cincinnati for the remainder of 2008 is a vehicle of the four-wheel variety. In a down economy, saving on gas isn’t the only way you can make a road trip economical without depriving yourself.
There are plenty of ways to travel safely without going overboard on buying expensive gadgets like a global position system (GPS) device or pre-packaged emergency kit for your car. All of the usual admonitions apply — check fluid levels and tire pressure, make sure windshield wiper blades are in working order, make sure regular maintenance tasks like and oil change are current — but what about the unusual stuff?
“The most important thing to do to save money is preparation, plan ahead, talk to people and do research online,” says Elaine Zeinner, spokesperson for the American Automobile Association (AAA). “Memberships like AAA can be used to get discounts at restaurants and our members usually get the best hotel rates available.”
Credit card companies, professional associations and other organizations also negotiate deals with local and national companies, like car rental agencies. But the only way to know if savings might be available is to ask.
Some of the things that fall into the “no-brainer” category are about not losing what you already have. The replacement cost for expensive toys like tweaky digital cameras or a GPS system might not be covered by your insurance if you lose it on the road or do something like leave your car doors unlocked.
Part of your preparation includes finding out what your homeowner/renter’s insurance policy will and won’t cover. Having your windows broken and piles of gifts stolen can be a budget-buster.
Give yourself a common-sense refresher to avoid making such careless mistakes.
Lock doors and keep windows closed while driving and do the same when you leave your car parked.
Don’t wear or carry anything that looks expensive — pricy watches, ornate jewelry, purse or briefcase. Leave your flashy things at home or pack them away until you reach Grandma’s.
See people watching you or your passengers when you make a rest stop? Cut your stop short and leave quickly. If you back into your parking space, you can depart faster.
Even if you can’t confirm the source of an uncomfortable feeling, trust your instincts. When something feels “off,” respond accordingly — leave, drive to a busy and well-lit place, find a cop or call 911 if you’re worried about your safety. Overreacting is way better than under-reacting when it comes to safety.
Rest stops can also end up being a pricey proposition if you avail yourself of the snack and drink vending machines. A 50-cent candy bar can cost as much as $1.50 and the $1 bag of chips is about half the size you get at a local convenience store.
Instead, before you leave, buy a regular size bag of chips and transfer them into a plastic container — it’ll save space, and the “package” is reusable for the trip home. Really tight on space because of all those gifts crammed in with Suzy, Johnny and Fido? Make up a bunch of disposable sandwich-sized bags that are easier to stash and quasi-green in that you limit the volume of trash you generate. If you buy enough rest-stop chips to get the same sized snack, you’d create a lot more garbage.
When parking your car at that rest stop, don’t let the kids go off by themselves — losing them would add more than a few hours to your trip. Sadly, people will snatch kids when they’re away from parents, which means not leaving them in the car no matter how much they whine. If the older kids come up with the argument of protecting valuables in the car, go to the restroom in sifts — never leaving any minor unattended by an adult.
Saving by avoiding
Safety-oriented organizations recommend that you know where your destination is and how to get there and home. That might not seem like a big deal if you’re going to see family, but what about construction detours or having to alter your route due to an accident or a nasty weather forecast? Extra gas, an overnight at a hotel and other delay-related expenses add up fast.
Most state law enforcement agencies provide a road-and-highway information hotline for the construction info. Check to see what conditions they report — weather, construction and/or serious accidents — before leaving.
Some basic travel tips for driving into potentially hazardous weather are:
• Carry a fully charged cellular telephone; a car charger is also a wise investment.
• Leave a copy of your travel itinerary (including stops and estimated arrival and departure dates/times) with a trusted family friend or relative.
• Check your battery’s strength — you don’t want to be stranded in severe weather.
• Inspect brake lines and pads.
“If you must be out during a severe winter storm, knowing how to operate a vehicle can help you arrive to your location safely,” says Daniel J. Kelso, Ohio Insurance Institute (OII) president. “Make sure your vehicle is in proper working order before heading out and have a safety kit in the vehicle in the event of an emergency.”
The OII recommends a complete emergency preparedness kit of things you probably already have at home that won’t break the bank:
• Two blankets or sleeping bags
• Waterproof matches and candles
• Extra clothing, especially boots, mittens and hats
• Dry food rations like raisins and nuts
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• First-aid kit
• Emergency flairs
• A brightly colored cloth for use as a signal for assistance
• A steel shovel and rope to use as a lifeline
• A few large plastic garbage bags that could be used as insulation to block the wind if forced to leave a stranded vehicle.
Some other things to add to a shopping list are de-icer for door locks, tire repair in a can, window scraper, extra windshield wiper fluid, some cat litter for traction and a deck of cards (no batteries required for hours of waiting-for-the-tow-truck entertainment).
Have fun, and be safe on the cheap!