Whether you’re taking on great Scottish routes like the North East 250 or are planning to head further afield to enjoy even more historic options like America’s Route 66, few vacations beat a summer road trip for self-actualisation. Unfortunately for road trippers seeking those benefits this summer, rising fuel prices very much look set to stand in the way.
Of course, this issue is by no means unique to road trips, with as many as 35% of people in a recent Auto Trader survey revealing that they’re less likely to head away this year, with fuel prices being the reason 85% of the time. And who can blame them considering that fuel prices right now are surging by as much as 5p a litre while the UK attempts to cut fuel ties with Russia? Forget worrying about spending money and accommodation, that can lead to trip costs that simply aren’t viable for most of us.
The good news is that, with a much higher level of control, there is an argument that road trips are still more viable than, say, air travel which has also fallen foul to rising fuel prices. Controlling everything from your routes to your car finance rates in the first place can certainly start you on the path to an affordable option here. The question is, what else can you do to cut potential road trip costs that could still leave you bankrupt if you don’t factor for fuel fluctuations?
Step 1: Find cheap fuel throughout your trip
As you’ve likely discovered over recent months, fuel changes land in some garages faster than others, while the price fluctuations that have always existed between, say, supermarkets and standalone garages are still very much in existence. All of this being said, your first step towards keeping road trip costs reasonable is to simply find the cheapest fuel that you can.
As obvious as this might sound, even driving a little further to reach the cheapest refill options could save you a decent chunk of money throughout your trip. To benefit, it’s worth heading to sites like PetrolPrices when you’re preparing for your trip. By providing you with a clear 20-mile comparison of 8,490 UK petrol stations, mapping an affordable fuel route couldn’t be easier. Even if you’re heading abroad, seeking similar local websites/apps, or even just heading online for comparisons before you embark on your route each day, is sure to make a huge financial difference overall.
Step 2: Pack with efficiency in mind
We all know that the weight of our vehicles can impact fuel efficiency, but this fact is especially worth prioritising during road trips this summer. After all, if you load your vehicle complete with roof boxes and every single item that you could need from home, you could end up increasing your car’s fuel consumption by as much as 39%. And, 39% right now is a pretty sizeable chunk of your vacation spending.
When packing, you therefore want to eliminate anything that you possibly can with this in mind, including roof boxes as mentioned, but also by clearing anything unnecessary from your car. Removing heavy items like car seats, or even just clearing out the junk that has a habit of building can especially help here. In an ideal world, you should then aim to keep just one lightweight bag (avoid hard-shelled heavy suitcases) in your boot or on your backseat, which is guaranteed to see your fuel going a whole lot further than it would otherwise.
Step 3: Think about the temperature of your location
Typically, temperature features in our location considerations only in so much as we want to head somewhere that’s hot, hot, hot, to ensure our fun in the sun. In reality, though, piping hot destinations like Florida have never been as fun as you might expect for car trips, and this is especially the case in the midst of rising fuel prices, when using things like air-con is going to cost you so much you might have to remortgage.
The fact that air conditioning burns as much as 1 litre of fuel per 100km especially means that you’re going to want to leave it off for the majority of your trip this year. Of course, that’s not to say that hot locations are entirely off the cards, but if you know that things are going to get hot, alternating air-con with having your windows down, stocking up on plenty of in-car fans, and even planning more regular pit stops can all be more efficient options overall. And of course, if you want to keep costs lower, sticking to a more modest climate like the one found right here in the UK wouldn’t hurt from a financial standpoint either.
Step 4: Time your refills right
With road trips, in particular, fuel refills are typically addressed as and when they become necessary, but timing your refills right is another great way to save yourself some money. Admittedly, you aren’t going to cut back on a fortune here, but the fact that petrol and diesel are denser when it’s cooler can mean that refilling, say, first thing in the morning before the sun comes up, could see your tank fuller for less than if you refilled in the height of the midday sun.
Of course, to some extent, savings here aren’t as good as those you can enjoy when planning the cheapest fuel stops as mentioned earlier, but if you can plan to stop for the night somewhere around those cheap refill options, then these savings could go hand in hand to see you getting way more fuel for your money across your trip’s entirety.
Step 5: Use public transport when possible
The idea of using public transport on your road trip might seem somewhat backwards, but hopping on the bus once you reach your location is more than worthwhile in most cases. This is especially true in locations where you can buy a day ticket for public transport, and could see you moving around with ease for one fixed cost that’s far lower than fuel right now. And, hey, you might even find that you appreciate the chance to kick back and relax for at least some of your trip.
It’s especially worth considering this option when you factor in the fact that many inner-city or in-town locations will have far slower speed limits and higher levels of traffic which are otherwise sure to eat your fuel. By instead keeping your fuel allowance for longer stretches of fast-moving roads between locations, you can therefore ensure that you never have to waste your hard-earned full tank on things like idling in traffic or sticking within a 30-zone.
Step 6: Keep spare tyres on hand
The amount of fuel you’re burning is also going to depend on the state of your car itself, and specifically the condition of your tyres. By increasing your vehicle’s drag levels by no small amount, underinflated tyres are especially guilty of eating up the fuel that you’re trying to preserve, regardless of your efforts for improvement elsewhere.
On the one hand, this means that you should always get a maintenance check on your vehicle before heading off, which admittedly is nothing new when it comes to successful road trips. With fuel in mind, however, it’s also worth keeping a fully functional spare tyre to hand, and stocking up on things like air pumps which can keep your tyres fully inflated even during hard or hot weather wear. That way, you can easily ensure that you’re never paying over the odds simply because your tyres keep letting your entire trip down.
Step 7: If in doubt, stay close to home
Even with all these cost-saving pointers in mind, the reality remains that road trips can be a pretty pricey travel option this year and for who knows how long after. While manageable if you save in these ways and make sure to get your finances in order beforehand, you may therefore decide that a long-distance road-based vacation is just too full of financial uncertainty this year. In which instance, it may be better to ease your concerns by staying closer to home.
After all, the less distance that you cover, the less fuel you’re going to need. Not to mention that sticking to a familiar country means you can better understand where cheap fuel is available, and also what you’ll likely contend with in terms of traffic and so on. Fantastic UK staycations especially offer a tempting way to get your road-based fix without plunging yourself into bankruptcy.
Equally, a Scottish road trip can work well if you plan your mileage, and make sure that you’re budgeting properly beforehand. Then, when these rising fuel prices finally halt, and begin to balance themselves out again, you’ll be far better prepared to manage a more extreme road trip option like the much-heralded Route 66.
There’s no reason why fuel prices need to run down your 2022 road trip plans. Simply take back the wheel by making sure to save yourself on fuel costs in these top ways.