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Plan a Summer Road Trip Without Running Out of Gas

SmarterTravel

The Deal Detective is now sleuthing out new bargains every week. Look for a new case each Thursday in SmarterTravel.com’s Deal Alert newsletter.

Dear Deal Detective:

I want to plan a cross-country road trip. What are the best ways to make sure I don’t overpay on hotels, attractions, gas, etc.?
—Victoria

Dear Victoria,

Ah, the great American cross-country road trip. This topic is near and dear to my heart, as I have planned many journeys around the never-ending highway. I would dare say that it’s one of the greatest ways to experience the culture and diversity of our land.

Before you can hit the open road, you must invest your time in researching and plotting a course. Once you’ve decided on the destinations and the time you’d like to spend in each, you can start tallying up expenses.

For starters, if you prefer having set hotel reservations for each night, you can compare prices and make an educated choice based on what is most affordable. If, however, you like to play it by ear, you might want to print out a few options before you go and see what’s available.

Another way to keep costs down is to set a nightly budget. For instance, during my seven-week journey around the country, I allowed myself $70 per night for lodging. Whatever I didn’t spend that evening, I rolled over to the next night. Some nights, I was able to splurge a little, while others I saved quite a bit. This is a great way to make sure you stay within your limits.

As for attractions, I believe it’s pretty difficult to overspend on them, especially since so many are free or only cost a few dollars. I do, however, think it’s smart to do a bit of research on what attractions you might want to see during your trip. If you like quirky and random oddities, RoadsideAmerica.com is an invaluable resource for finding the attractions that make this country so unique. If you’d rather spend time in a museum, I suggest you plan on spending about $20 for each. More than likely, either of these places won’t cost that much, and you’ll have money left over.

When it comes to gas these days, you almost can’t help but overspend. You can, however, prepare yourself for the shock of the price tag. Once you have your route, you can estimate your fuel costs with Mapquest’s gas prices tool.

Planning your trip can be almost as much fun as the journey itself. Invest in a U.S. guidebook to help you find hotels, restaurants, and attractions you might not be familiar with. Spend time online at websites like TripAdvisor and the destination’s convention and visitors bureau. But, above all, remember that no amount of planning can prepare you for the adventure of the open road. Enjoy!

That’s all the space I have for this week’s featured question. I’d love to hear your suggestions for summer road trips, too. Submit your best tips using the comment box at the bottom of this page and we’ll publish the most helpful ones here.

Become a Deal Detective

Below are a few questions from the past week that I wasn’t able to research for this week’s column. Can you help?

Tina F. writes, “I am looking for a trip to Alaska in June 2008. Trip will include myself, my husband and our teenage daughter. We will be flying from Birmingham, AL. We are not really interested in a cruise or fishing trip but would like to see a glacier and we all enjoy wildlife. We will have to keep the cost under $4,000.”

Sable says, “I plan to take a vacation by myself sometime in the next six months. I hate planning travel agendas and am not into active traveling. Can you recommend some travel packages that have good planned tours and reasonable prices? My options are open, but my top two choices are Prague and Barcelona. However, after doing some research, I found that Barcelona is a bit too expensive for me. Most of the packages I found were over $2,000 for six nights. Also, since I don’t do so well in cold weather, are there places that have moderate weather which I can visit if I travel during the winter months? Thanks for your assistance.”

Maureen O. wonders, “I’m trying to find the best deal to Rome (FCO) from either San Francisco or Oakland. I’m not opposed to leaving from any other city as long as there’s money to be saved. I would like to keep it to one stop. I need this for July 2008. Is there a better time to start looking?”

Can you help? Note that I’ll print your full name unless you ask me not to. And of course I’ll never share your email address with anyone.

Have a question for the Deal Detective? Please send your request using the “Submit your own comment” field below. Be aware that due to the volume of requests I receive, I cannot personally respond to every one. The more compelling your question, the better the chance you’ll be selected for an upcoming case.

All prices, dates, and booking details listed here were valid at the time of publication. Some information may have changed since that time.

(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc.)

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