Road Trip Expenses

Road_trip_expensesUp here in the snowy north, we hunker down around December and mostly don’t stray too far until March or April until the snowy weather clears up a bit. So come late winter, I get cabin fever and am eager to stretch my travel legs at the first opportunity. What about you?

This year was unusual in that we planned a week in a sunny destination for the first time ever. We went to Barbados for some much needed sun and relaxation. Even so, the very next weekend happened to be easter. My Whymances home town friends have a tradition of holding a Good Friday BBQ that he hasn’t missed since it started a few decades ago. Between not wanting to miss that and the fact we hadn’t seen family and friends since the wedding in September or xmas, we booked a car last minutes… At the cost of $400!

One of my goals was to reduce road trip expenses this year, so I felt we weren’t off to a good start!

We Don’t Own A Car

I feel I should add a little context here. We live in a big city and walk or take public transit everywhere. We enjoy this lifestyle and it makes us feel connected to the community, rather than just zipping through areas. Also, it saves us money! But last year, we spend a little over $3000 on car rentals and bus tickets for a few short getaways just the two of us, usually including exploring some nature and checking out a new (to us) brewery. The majority though is spent to go see family and friends.

Anyhow, we don’t own a car, and if we continue to spend that amount every year on road trips, I have to wonder, are we still saving money. I mean, I assume we are but assumption aren’t enough. So I quickly did some numbers, which, in all transparency need more verification but it’s a good start:

  • Assume purchase of a used car at 8K, that will last 8 years.
  • $1632/year insurance
  • $80 gas per road trip. This is averaged out for one to three day road trips
  • $220/year for street parking permit
  • $120/year license plate sticker fee
  • $500/year maintenance

What’s not accounted in the numbers above are tires and any non regular maintenance that may come up, like say muffler replacement etc. So already with all of the above, we surpass our most expensive year for road trips (2017). So at least we’re still saving money by not owning a car; that’s good to know.

Breaking Down Road Trip Trends

To be exact, we spend $3,164 in 2017 on bus and car rentals. This is up from $2,373 in 2016. Let’s take a quick peek:

  • We averaged between 300 – 400 month
  • There was a huge spike in April at greater than 600
  • Unusually we had travel costs in Feb and November, when we typically don’t.

2017 Road Trips

A season of weddings

One mitigating factor we can’t ignore is that we were planning our wedding that would take place 500Km north in My Whymances hometown. This made sense for a few reasons: the location had meaning, over half the attendees were within one hour of the location and it had HUGE cost reduction (geo-arbitrage your wedding!). We did pretty good with getting help from local family and friends, but there was no getting away from the fact that we had to go up more often than we might have to do some planning. And sometimes at not the cheapest times. Not to mention we had to attend a cousin’s wedding a week before ours! Fun times were had. Totally worth it!

What Did 2016 Road Trip Expenses Look Like?

We can see that travel is pretty steady starting in late winter/early spring. That cabin fever is hard to keep in check come February/March. There were less trips in spring/summer and the average cost was towards $200-300. It also cost us more than $450/month. So still not great, but a little better.
2016 Road Trips

Should We Opt Out Of Rental Company Insurance?

We can’t use our personal car insurance, as we don’t have our own policy outside of car sharing services. So that’s a no go. We do have rental insurance through credit card. We initially used it for road trips in 2015 but started to purchase car insurance through then rental agency for $29.99 a day. Call it peace of mind. It’s unlikely we’ll have to use it, it did come in handy once when someone banged our car and drove off while we were happily eating lunch.
If we had used credit card insurance for that scenario, the entire bill would be charged directly to us immediately. Whether that’s $3000 or $12,00 for a major accident. We would then have to file with the credit card company and wait for re-embursement. Which could… take a while. All the while we pay interest on our line of credit if the amount was high enough. Much better than credit card interest. But… owww!

So yea, we choose to use rental car company insurance, even if it costs more for peace of mind. When we didn’t, we spent our time worrying. And if that’s what we do, well what’s the point of taking a small road trip to relax.. when there’s no way that’ll happen!

Ways to Reduce Expenses

The obvious learning from this weekend is we can do better by planning ahead. Renting a car is stupid expensive last minute on long weekends. We definitely still go a ‘deal’ considering, but it still sucked paying that much. Obvious we debated and made the decision to spend the money, not complaining here. It was totally worth it to see friends and family; which include two 90 something year old grandparents. You never get time like that back or likely many more opportunities ahead.

Fees and Reserving Ahead

One item that drove up the cost by $50 was the ‘premium location’ fee. This is because we picked up the car at the airport. Car rentals are typically in high demand during holidays and long weekends. So the one around the corner was out of stock. We can always count on getting a car from the airport, but we pay higher fees as it’s an ‘in demand’ weekend and the added fee for the pleasure of picking it up at the airport is added. So, if we’re strategic, we can do our best to avoid this fee, and the increase cost (surge pricing).

It’s obvious we travel on long weekends. So if we assume we’ll want a car every long weekend, and reserve WAY ahead of time, assuming price is good, with a company that has a 100% free cancellation policy within a week of rental, will give is flexibility to have a car in hand, or cancel if we want to stay in town.

Reducing Road Trips

I’m imagining a lot of you reading this articles are thinking,

“why not do less road trips?!”

I hear you, and don’t disagree with you! I feel like I lost a few points not planning ahead with this road trip but maybe I won a few for intentionally not traveling until now since we were headed to Barbados? One can hope right? But yes, while I look into the possibility of pre-booking this seasons car rental trips, we’ll also look at our spending as we go and make decisions on reducing our trips, if needed.

Alternative Weekend Getaways

Another intriguing option is taking inter-community commuter train as days trips. This will let us explore new communities, maybe still check out a new brewery but reduce the travel cost. We can also look at discount bus and train tickets. Sometimes they have wicked cheap sales. The challenge will be lodging, as that will be a new expense. Most road trips we stay with friends or family. But it’s another option to check out!

Over to you! Any suggestions on how to reduce road trip expenses? Any hacks for reducing car rental costs?


0 Replies to “Road Trip Expenses”

  1. We’ve talked about going car-free, but that would be a little difficult in our current house (closest public transit is 2 miles away), we live in small suburbia outside of a small-medium city. The challenge would definitely be dealing with car insurance for the times when we’d need to rent a car. I didn’t think about how our credit card does cover that, but I haven’t tested that, so I’d be a bit nervous like you to use it! One of our favorite road trip frugal hacks is to get friends to join, then the driving costs are divided between multiple people.

    1. Being car free is great if your situation lends itself to it. Unless you can walk/run/cycle to work or have close public transit, it’s not really practical. And living in the city isn’t for everyone.
      I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to change how we plan road trips to include friends! We’ve done that in the past. I suppose we’ve concentrated on seeing family so it didn’t come up. Thanks for the suggestion!

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