36 Money-Saving Tips for Solo Long-Distance Driving

When you’re crazy in love, you do crazy things. In long-distance relationships, one of those things is long-distance driving.

My husband and I were no exception. When we were dating, we frequently drove 12 hours straight to visit each other. Everyone thought we were insane. 

Perhaps we were a little insane. Still, God protected us and we survived, and I don’t regret a single minute I spent on the road. Seeing each other for a short time was worth every mile marker.

While I was racking up 15,000 miles on my car in that season of life, I also acquired a bunch of long-distance driving tips, including how to save money, stay safe, and stay awake. In this guide, I’ll share what I learned about long-distance driving, in case you’re as crazy as us.

Although my research was conducted entirely on-the-road in the Midwest United States, most of these tips should apply anywhere you’re traveling 🙂

I’ve grouped the tips into six topics here so you can jump to what’s relevant for you.

Getting There

You’ve already decided flying is out of the question, but there’s more than one way to travel by road.

You’ve already decided flying is out of the question, but there’s more than one way to travel by road. 

Tip 1: Look for bus routes between your cities.

If you’re in a major metro area, you can often get a bus ticket for pretty cheap. It will take longer than driving yourself, but you’ll be able to work or sleep throughout the drive. I’ve never tried these bus services, but I know Greyhound and MegaBus are popular.

Tip 2: Look for carpool groups.

Universities often have Facebook pages for ride-sharing. I carpooled a few times in college, and while I didn’t always have the best experiences, I saved a lot of money. Remember that when you’re traveling alone with strangers, you need to be on your guard and take basic safety precautions. This isn’t for everyone.

Tip 3: Bring a friend.

Who says you have to carpool with strangers? See if any of your friends are open to traveling with you and exploring your destination on their own. You’ll get to split costs and share driving duties — all with someone you know and love.

Fueling Up

Gas costs will be your biggest expense. Here’s how to save at the pump.

Tip 4: Pay attention to how gas prices vary between states.

You’d be surprised how much local laws affect gas prices. As you drive, make a mental note of which states tend to have the cheapest fuel. Fill up at the borders of those states next time.

Tip 5: Use GasBuddy to check fuel prices in real-time.

This app will help you find the nearest, lowest-priced gas station in any city at any time.

Tip 6: Sign up for gas rewards programs and use coupons.

Five cents per gallon savings can add up when you’re driving long distances! Choose a company that has a lot of stations on your route. I’d never recommend signing up for a credit card to get rewards, though, as this can come back to bite you.

Tip 7: Drive under the speed limit.

You might get to your destination faster by driving 85 mph, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, “You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an additional $0.19 per gallon for gas.” Slowing down will save your gas money while allowing you to obey the law and keep a clear conscious. (Not to mention that speeding tickets are pretty expensive in some states).

Tip 8: Accelerate and decelerate slowly.

The USDOE also reports that aggressive driving reduces gas mileage by up to 30% on the highway.

Tip 9: Remove useless items.

Another way to improve your gas mileage is by traveling light. I’m personally guilty of carrying around a tent in the trunk of my car for a year, and I wonder how much it impacted my fuel costs.

Tip 10: Keep your tires aired up.

Low pressure in your tires also affects gas mileage. Many gas stations offer free air for filling up tires.

Tip 11: Know when to use air conditioning.

Air conditioning generally reduces gas mileage more than rolling down the windows. However, lowered windows increase drag (which also reduces gas mileage), so the best option depends on your vehicle and your speed. A good rule of thumb is to use AC on the interstate and the breeze when you’re in town.

Tip 12: Choose a car with great gas mileage.

You may have noticed a gas mileage theme in these tips. That’s because your car’s gas mileage (how many miles you can drive on one gallon of gas) makes a massive impact on your trip costs.

While we were dating, my husband had a vehicle that maxed out at 18 miles per gallon, while my car sometimes got up to 37 miles per gallon. Although we were driving the same distance, it cost him twice as much to visit me ($200 in gas) as it cost me to visit him ($100 in gas). If you happen to be buying a vehicle and you plan to do a lot of long-distance driving, don’t underestimate the value of good gas mileage rates.

Food & Snacks

You’re going to get bored while you’re driving, and when you get bored, you get hungry. Food costs can add up quickly, so plan ahead with these tips.

Tip 13: Buy healthy, non-perishable snacks at the grocery store before you leave.

Grocery store snacks are cheaper and better for you than fast food, so stock up on dried fruit, fresh fruit, pretzels, popcorn, muffins, and granola bars before you leave.

Tip 14: Pack a cooler.

Your food options increase exponentially when you can keep things cold. Don’t forget to refreeze the ice packs for your drive home.

Tip 15: Create a food budget for your trip.

Plan a fixed budget for your trip to reduce your risk of stopping at every Starbucks you see.

Tip 16: If you must stop, buy the cheapest food on the menu.

Many fast-food restaurants have dollar menus. In my opinion, Wendy’s has the best budget food.

Tip 17: Track your spending.

Keep yourself accountable to the aforementioned budget and make adjustments for your next trip. If you lose receipts like me, sync your bank account to an app like Mint or EveryDollar to quickly see a record of your transactions and categorize them.

Staying Busy (& Awake)

Keeping your mind active and engaged while you’re driving is the best way to fight sleep. If you’re really tired, though, make sure to pull over, take a quick nap, and walk around to stretch your legs.

Tip 18: Call family and friends.

This is hands-down the best way to stay awake because you’re listening and speaking. Long drives are the perfect time to catch up with you grandma or your high school BFF. Some states have strict laws about talking on the phone while driving, so you may need to consider hands-free calling.

Tip 19: Listen to a free book with an Audible trial. 

You can choose any audiobook as your free book with an Audible trial. I listened to The Prodigal God by Tim Keller using this trial. Highly recommend.

Tip 20: Get yourself a library card.

Public libraries have audiobooks, too! Sadly, sometimes their selection is limited.

Tip 21: Pray.

Who better to talk with than God?

Tip 22: Memorize lyrics.

Play a rhythmically complex song — like music by Twenty One Pilots — then repeat, repeat, repeat until you have every word memorized. If you’re a Prime Member, you can stream tons of music for free with Prime Music (If you haven’t heard, college students can get 6 months of free Prime and it’s basically the best deal ever). Spotify is also a great option with a $4.99 monthly student subscription.

Tip 23: Stay current with podcasts. 

I recommend the Journeywomen Podcast, available on iTunes, Spotify and online.

Tip 24: Tune in to local radio stations.

Personally, I love learning what the folks in the middle-of-nowhere Nebraska are listening to.

Tip 25: Move around.

You’ll feel silly, but stretching and dancing around in your seat will perk you up. Engage cruise control and keep at least one hand on the wheel.

Places To Stay

For long trips, you might need to stop somewhere along the way. Here are some wallet-friendly options.

Tip 26: Stay at the homes of family and friends.

If you know people who live along your route, see if you can stop over at their place. Make sure they know you won’t be spending much time with them, or they may be disappointed.

Tip 27: Stay at an Airbnb.

Airbnb’s are inexpensive and easy to book. Make sure you choose a place with plenty of good reviews and the ability to check-in late at night. Tell others where you’ll be staying in case something happens.

Tip 28: Camp in your car.

Sleeping in your car doesn’t require you to spend any money, but you do need to be more vigilant about safety and local laws. Check out this car-camping guide from REI for tips. For more information about how to camp from your car, see this guide from TopNotchOutdoor.

Tip 29: See if your parents will pay for you to stay at a hotel.

Your parents care about your safety, so they might be willing to help you in some situations. I planned to car camp on one trip, but my mom was so worried about me that she booked me a hotel room. Honestly, I’m so thankful she did because I’d never really stayed alone at night before and I was scared. Saving money is great, but you need to know yourself and the situation.

See also: 5 Places Your Boyfriend Can Stay Other Than Your Bedroom

Vehicle Care

Saving money doesn’t just happen on the road. Cut your costs by doing your research and caring well for your car.

Tip 30: Look for insurance discounts.

The more you drive, the more your monthly car insurance bill may creep up. Insurance providers often offer discounts for good driving and good grades.

Tip 31: Get rid of car insurance you don’t need.

Everyone who drives is required to have a basic level of liability insurance. But insurance providers also offer additional coverage to protect your property, such as replacing your car when you get in an accident or paying for repairs when a tree falls on your car. These types of insurance are useful if your car is worth a lot of money, but they’re not as useful if it isn’t.

For example, if your car is only worth $1500, you could end up paying that amount in monthly payments before you ever get in an accident. It’s a matter of weighing costs and benefits, so talk to someone who knows about insurance. 

Tip 32: Switch your car insurance. 

If you’re not happy with the rates you’re getting, shop around for a better price. 

Tip 33: Take care of your car.

Naturally, the better you care for your car, the longer it will last.

Tip 34: Check newspapers and the back of grocery store receipts for oil change coupons.

Sometimes auto shops will publish coupons for first-time oil changes. Other places offer student discounts. However, make sure you keep a healthy amount of skepticism if they try to tell you there’s a $400 problem with your car. For complex car problems, see a mechanic you trust, even if they cost more.

Tip 35: Learn to change your own oil.

Or have your boyfriend do it 🙂

Tip 36: Drive carefully.

I popped a tire on a curb once because I was groggily eating a muffin. At the mechanic later that day, I learned my debit card had a $500 per day limit. Safe to say, it pays to drive carefully.

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