7 Costly Cross Country Road Trip Mistakes – Episode 133

Cross country road trip tips.
Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

I knew the U.S. was massive but I really got to see it for myself, up close and personal, when our family packed up our car and set out on an epic cross country road trip. While our first cross country road trip was memorable, road trips can be costly (and exhausting), and our journey from Connecticut to Florida was no exception. From unexpected car rental troubles to expensive tolls, my family made costly mistakes which I hope you can learn from.

Get ready for a candid episode that spills the beans on the costly mistakes we made during our 2,400 mile cross country road trip which spanned ten states and 24 hours. Skip the pitfalls and make your adventure one to remember without the financial setbacks — what do you say?

This episode is made possible with the support of International Driving Authority (IDA). If you are planning to travel abroad, apply for an international driving permit from the IDA. By translating your drivers license to 70 languages, it’s a simple and affordable way to ensure you can drive safely and legally in foreign countries. Benefits of using the IDA’s translation service include peace of mind, convenience, and affordability.

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Danielle Desir Corbett

00:32
Hey, finding too savvy travelers. Welcome back to another episode of the thought card podcast. I knew that the US was massive, but I really got a chance to see it for myself up close and personal. When our family packed up our bags and set out on an epic cross country road trip. I want you to get ready for a candid episode that spills to beans on some of the costly mistakes we made.

Danielle Desir Corbett

01:08
During our 1200 mile cross country road trip, which spanned 10 states. I'm Danielle Desir Corbett, and this is a thought card podcast where we talk about travel and money. Thank you for joining me for another episode. From unexpected car rental trouble to expensive tolls, skip the pitfalls, and make your adventure 1 to remember. Without, I would say, the financial setbacks.

Danielle Desir Corbett

01:58
Before we jump in, the international driving authority IDA wants you to travel with ease and confidence. If you're planning to travel abroad, apply for an international driving permit from the IDA. By translating your driver's license to 70 languages, it's a simple and affordable way to ensure you can drive safely and legally in foreign countries. Benefits of using the IDAs translation service include peace of mind, convenience, and affordability. After the episode, tap the link down in the description to get started, and enjoy the ease of driving overseas.

Danielle Desir Corbett

02:25
You can also find the link in the accompanying blog post over at dot card dot com. While come to the thought card. A podcast about travel and money, where planning, saving, and creativity leads to affording travel, building wealth, and paying off debt. We are the financially savvy travelers. Alrighty.

Danielle Desir Corbett

03:07
So why go on a cross country road trip. Well, first and foremost, I was born in the US and I will admit that I haven't seen everything in the US. I haven't gone to all 50 states and I still have a lot to do on my travel wish list for the US edition. And 1 of those things was going on this cross country road trip. And being that I live on the East Coast, something that's really common that you hear a lot of people talk about is driving from, like, New York City or wherever you're based all the way down to Florida.

Danielle Desir Corbett

03:31
So I've grown up, you know, with my family doing these kinds of trips. But I personally never did this kind of trip. So I never did a cross country road trip. And I kinda felt like from home to Florida is like a great introduction versus, like, from home to, like, the opposite side of the country. Like California or Las Vegas or something like that.

Danielle Desir Corbett

03:54
So road tripping to Florida, if I'm honest, wasn't our first choice. But I'm really happy we did it. We didn't realize we had picked travel dates around Easter, which meant that flight prices were ridiculous. So no. We did not wanna spend 1200 dollars per person for economy seats.

Danielle Desir Corbett

04:25
So we decided to rent a car instead. We were like, we're gonna go to Florida no matter what. And we're just gonna road trip it instead. And since we were traveling with the grandparents, My in laws and I booked a 7 passenger SUV for just over a thousand dollars. So instead of a spending 1200 dollars per person and they were, like, a group of 5 of us, we were, like, you know what?

Danielle Desir Corbett

04:40
We're gonna just all pitch in. And we're gonna just rent this car, this large SUV for a thousand dollars, and that would shave our budget. And I was pretty happy about that. I was, like, okay. Alright, Fonichi Savvy travelers.

Danielle Desir Corbett

04:48
Okay. We're doing we're doing it. Right? Cost savings, still traveling. But here's where things got tricky.

Danielle Desir Corbett

05:27
So let's dig into the costly mistakes, the costly road trip mistakes. So number 1, we didn't have a plan b for any car rental issues that arose. And in the accompanying blog post, I'll go more into detail about it. But for the brevity of this episode, I'll just say that we got to the car rental counter and there were no cars on the lot, like, absolutely 0 cars to rent. Mind you, we had booked this car rental, like, a minimum of, like, 3 to 4 months ahead of time.

Danielle Desir Corbett

05:55
So we were really upset that the day we came to rent the car that Nothing was ready for us. Nothing was prepared, and it was very, very infuriating. And I would say, like, really sloppy on their part. But something I learned is that with car rentals, I'm so used to it being a thing. Like, I booked a car rental months ago, I'm gonna go to the counter the day of and pick up a car rental.

Danielle Desir Corbett

06:12
But what happens if there's no cars available? Like, what's your plan b? For us, we had to pause for a second to be like, what are the alternatives? It's we're leaving tomorrow. And for us to find a last minute rental, does it make sense?

Danielle Desir Corbett

06:32
Does it make financial sense? So we decided to actually take our cars instead. And there was a bit of back and forth in terms of, like, we lease our cars. And with the lease, you have a certain amount of miles that you have to stick to every year. So I was kind of concerned about are we gonna go over this mileage?

Danielle Desir Corbett

06:52
Because this is like a 1200 mile trip. But overall, we decided instead of renting a car, we are gonna just drive and use our own vehicles. Imagine if you don't have a car that you can just do that with. Right? Here you are the day before your trip.

Danielle Desir Corbett

07:22
Or maybe the day of your trip and there's no cars, what do you do? Right? So having a plan b for your car rental issues, I think is really important. And I'm not quite sure what the solution to that is if we were in a different situation, but maybe that's, like, more pressure, calling customer service, complaining, and I'm sure would've gotten figured out. But it was very upsetting the day of that there was no cars in a lot.

Danielle Desir Corbett

08:23
And that could've potentially delayed our trip and cause a lot of issues because we had a really long road trip ahead of us. Alright. Costly mistake number 2 was buying water bottles and leaving them in the car. And the issue here is that because the car was hot, for extended amount of time, we ended up not being able to use and drink those waters on those water bottles, which ended up being a waste. So the solution here, instead of wasting all the money on bottled water, is to bring reusable water bottles personal ones for each person and also water jugs that are like a gallon plus that allow you to okay If anything happens, I can just refill this water bottle versus, like, having these plastic water bottles that if they're in the car too long, if they're heated too long, really become a health hazard.

Danielle Desir Corbett

09:03
I know this is like a basic tip, but we definitely spend AAA couple of dollars, lots of money on this mistake over and over and over again on our long road trip. Now the next costly mistake is that I forgot our gift cards. So 1 of the things that I do when I'm traveling is I look through my drawers to make sure that, you know, if it's abroad, do I have any, like, currency from that place if I've been there before? And do I have any gift cards lying around that I could use? Whether that's gift cards to a particular establishment or a general gift card?

Danielle Desir Corbett

09:24
Because Okay. I could use those gift cards for different purchases while I'm on the road. And specifically, I wanted to use these gift cards to treat us to some snacks at Disney. And when I realized that I forgot my gift cards, I was really disappointed because now we had to come out of pocket. For all of these expenses.

Danielle Desir Corbett

09:53
Mind you, we had about 200 dollars in gift cards that we were planning to use. So it was a bit of a downer that we didn't get to use these gift cards. So this is definitely a tip that I would say is, okay, when you're heading on your road trip, make sure you just pack all of your gift cards. And just, like, your loose change lying around because it's definitely gonna come in handy. Now 1 of the other mistakes I think this is probably, like, 1 of the big mistakes besides, like, the car rental issue was not having easy pass.

Danielle Desir Corbett

10:29
And I'm gonna say that the state where I live is Connecticut. And we don't have any toll roads, meaning that you don't have to pay a toll going from 1 part of the state to another part of the state or when you're crossing bridges. And there are a few states in the country that don't have tolls, but for the majority of them, there are tolls. And With a cross country road trip, I thought about tolls, but I really didn't, like, put a lot of thought into it. So it's like it was a thought.

Danielle Desir Corbett

11:08
But if I could go back, I would have gotten EasyPass and connected my electronic transponder so that I can just not have to worry about all of these toll payments, which has has become quite of a mess. With that being said, we had to pay cash for some other tolls, some other tolls, they took a picture of our license plate and they said that they would mail us our bill. Some tools allowed us to accept accepted credit card. So that's what I'm saying. It's a little bit of a mess.

Danielle Desir Corbett

11:38
Like, there's just multiple ways to pay tolls in the United States. And it's just hard to know what payment method is going to work. I know that there are apps that can help you with this, but at the time, I did not think of that. So I didn't have an app while I was on the road to help me navigate all of these different types of toll roads. And it was kind of a surprise for each 1.

Danielle Desir Corbett

12:21
And unfortunately, we didn't bring enough cash for all of these tolls especially when we're coming back home. So from Florida, coming back to Connecticut, there was just a lot more. Especially going through states like New York and New Jersey, there were just so many expensive tolls and we didn't always have cash for them. So it was just really tricky. In the accompanying blog post, I'll definitely write out more about this after I've done a bit more research about tolls, but all I can say is understanding the toll payment system in the US, including the cash payments, electronic responders like easy pass and license plate tooling are all things to consider.

Danielle Desir Corbett

12:49
So my mother-in-law who had easy pass Didn't have to worry about much. Like, everything was Bill to their easy pass, and they didn't come home to a bunch of bills. So when we got back from our road trip, I had quite a few bills waiting for me for these tolls. Now all of this is actually gonna make an impact, and here's why. Because some of these tools, they actually required you to take a ticket.

Danielle Desir Corbett

13:21
And I believe this happened to me in Jersey. Where they asked us to take a ticket, and for whatever reason, we completely missed taking the ticket And so when we got to the toll booth, they charged us 25 dollars. Instead of 5 dollars for the toll. So an additional 20 dollars penalty because we didn't take a ticket, a piece of paper. Y'all, I was so upset.

Danielle Desir Corbett

13:35
I was so livid. I'm like, for a piece of paper, should we be not using paper environmentally friendly? Like, can't y'all just bill me? It just boggles my mind. It's just it's just so I can't even speak.

Danielle Desir Corbett

13:54
I'm so upset. But yeah. So missing 1 of these toll tickets, we had to pay an extra 20 dollars. And then in Delaware, they sent us the bill, and they added an extra 50 dollars in administrative fees. 50 dollars.

Danielle Desir Corbett

14:18
What? What is going on? So yeah. The whole toll situation was a hot mess. And if I were to do it again, I would have a better understanding of how tolling works, keeping track of like having my easy pass, keeping track of, like, Do we need a ticket?

Danielle Desir Corbett

14:50: Do we not need a ticket? It's just a lot. You know, especially, like, you've been driving for hours on end, and you're trying to follow the signs, and you are trying to navigate, and you miss something. And as a result, you have to pay so much extra money outside of pocket. This is definitely a costly mistake that I felt like we could have definitely avoided if we were thoughtful, intentional, and definitely moving forward, they ain't gonna get me.

15:19
I'm not the 1. Moving forward, I'm not the 1. I kinda teased this earlier, but not bringing enough cash definitely had an impact on our expenses because there were some places that they required a minimum spend of 5 dollars on your card. So especially when we, like, took pit stops for at the gas or something, and we're just like, oh, I just wanna pay something quickly with card. They were like, you have to spend more because there's a card minimum.

16:01 And this is not something I typically have to worry about when I'm home. Like, we're pretty much a cashless family where we wholeheartedly believe in points and miles and using plastic whenever possible. So we kept that same mentality on the road with us, and that is gonna actually lead you to spending more money than you anticipated because of this, like, minimum spend requirement. So I would just recommend as you're doing your cross country road trip, Think about bringing extra cash with you for, like, issues and incidentals. And so you don't have to meet any minimum requirement.

No. Just pay cash and be done. And then for the tolls too, you could just pay cash for your tolls and not have to come home to crazy ridiculous bills. Alright. So the last thing I wanted to say in terms of my costly mistakes is not packing alcoholic beverages with us.

16:57: So I think I've mentioned this in other, like, episodes as, like, you know, financial mistakes. But I think that's important because when we got to the hotel and I I'll say think I'll help to another episode on just planning our Disney road trip. But because we were traveling with baby k, we didn't wanna just straight shot go to Florida. We decided to spend the night in North Carolina. And when we got to in North Carolina, we were exhausted.

17:29: We got there pretty early, I would say, around, like, 7 or so. We didn't just wanna, like, go to bed immediately, so we decided to go to the bar. Downstairs in our hotel. And I really feel like if we had thought ahead and gotten alcoholic beverages like beer or wine or whatever, you pick whatever it is, we wouldn't have rent up a tab at the hotel. And we know hotel bars are just notoriously more expensive.

17:58: So we ended up actually, like, making it up because we ended up getting alcoholic beverages on the road when we got to our official hotel for the rest of our stay. Like, we actually didn't spend as much money. At bars and different things like that. So I would say that definitely packing your alcoholic beverages with you which is probably gonna be a lot cheaper where you are based locally. It's gonna definitely save you a lot of money overall.

18:17: So as a quick recap here are my costly mistakes for our first cross country road trip. So having a plan b for car rental issues is just important. Just in case if something happens and you There's no rentals. What are you gonna do? Right?

19:05: Insuring that your plan b includes a reliable car, whether that's another car rental or considering if you're gonna take your own car or a car of a family member or friend or whatever the case may be, but, like, having a plan b is something I didn't think about before, and it became a real reality for us, and we had to make decisions very, very quickly. Which could have ended up, you know, making us spend hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of this last minute decision. Using reusable water bottles, of course, it's, like, great for the environment as well. But it wasn't something that we were thinking about, like, these single use water bottles. And, like, I have plenty of reusable water bottles at home, and I could've used that to prevent us from, like, having to spend all this extra money on that.

19:28: So just again, something practical to think about. You're remembering to bring your gift cards for potential savings if you have them. Understanding the toll system in the US, it is complicated, and I will do my best to break it down in the blog post. And just like avoiding these penalties of missing these toll tickets. Like, gosh, this extra 50 dollars.

19:54: $20 it's just so unnecessary. It's not at, like, at the expense that I really wanted to it's, like, it's just not necessary. And then, lastly, doing your best to bring your snacks, your food, your alcoholic beverages, pack them with you in your car. So you don't have to stop at restaurants all the time or you don't have to, like, go to the hotel bar. You can just have your drinks with you.

20:33: These are just, again, things that just these little things that definitely add up. And I feel like as Fonichi cyber travelers who may be considering road trips for the summer and beyond, It's just things for you to keep in mind and things for you to know. Now, I am working on a blog post all on my cost breakdown for how much money we spend, road tripping, across the country, and you can definitely expect some Disney content coming up very soon. I go to Disney, I think, a few times a year and I'm always like, can I create Disney content? I come home, and then I don't.

21:06: But I'm really excited that I'll be creating more Disney content for you all. So be on the lookout for a cost breakdown blog post and also a cost breakdown for Disney in particular. So lots of breakdowns to come. Overall, it's always a good idea to have a buffer in your travel budget to account for unforeseen expenses, which for us ended up costing us a couple of extra hundred dollars that we didn't plan for. So just keep that in mind.

21:33: If you enjoyed this episode, this road trip style episode, I encourage you to listen to episode 01:02. Where I broke down 28 plus items to bring on a road trip. And also episode 01:12, if you have a baby and you're considering row tripping with your baby. I give 10 additional tips for that. And then lastly, You know, summer is almost here.

21:59: And in episode 01:06, I broke down 12 ways to save on summer travel. So there's just lots of episodes to listen to. Those 3, I think, will be great to listen to after this 1. And a special thank you again to IGA International Driving Authority for partnering on this episode and we'll make sure to include all the links mentioned in the show notes. Until next time. Bye.

Why Plan a Cross Country Road Trip

Cross Country Road Trip Planning Tips and Mistakes to Avoid.

Why a cross country road trip? 

For us it was simple. It’s something we had never done before and so we were interested in trying it out. Born and raised in the U.S., we admittedly haven’t seen much of the country either. Also, we wanted to do something special to celebrate Baby K’s first birthday!

Traveling around Easter, road tripping offered a more affordable alternative to plane travel which would cost around $1,200 per person for economy seats. 😳

Since we were traveling with our extended family, we booked a 7-passenger car rental instead for just over $1,000.

If you’re considering a cross country road trip, here are three reasons why you should add it to your travel wish list.

1. Save money on travel

As I mentioned earlier, a road trip can be a more budget-friendly option than flying or even taking a train or bus.

While planning your route, make sure you consider expenses like gas, tolls, meals, lodging, parking, and potential car troubles, whether car rental related or maintenance issues.

2. Discover new places

On a road trip, explore parts of the U.S. you may have never seen before. From national parks to historic parks and small towns, there are many hidden gems to uncover on your journey.

While brief, we spent two nights in Raleigh, a city in North Carolina we’ve never visited before.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly hotel near Raleigh, I recommend Hyatt House Raleigh / RDU / Brier Creek. With complimentary breakfast and amenities like free parking, a pool and gym, this was the perfect place to stay overnight before getting back on the road.

3. Bond with loved ones

Road trips are a great way to spend quality time with family and friends. Use the time to have deep conversations, play games, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

On our road trip, we listened to David Goggins’ inspirational book, “Never Finished“. We spent the majority of the car ride conversing about topics discussed in the book and how we plan on applying many of David’s tactics to our own lives. Stay hard!

How To Avoid Costly Mistakes During Cross Country Road Trips

1. Anticipate rental car issues

What would you do if you booked a rental car months ahead of time and the day you’re supposed to pick up the rental, there are no cars in the lot. Would you panic? Cause a scene? Cancel your trip altogether?

Well, this unfortunately happened to us.

Despite booking this rental four months ahead of our departure, when we arrived at the car rental counter, we were surprised to hear that there were no cars available. Even after waiting for an hour, there was no certainty that we’d be able to drive away with our requested 7-passanger vechile. By the way — if you’re wondering — we rented a car with “Budget”.

Considering the alternatives, we decided to skip the rental and drive our cars instead. While it worked out in our favor and we ended up shaving $1,000 from our travel budget, this incident caused considerable amount of stress last-minute.

While car rental issues may be difficult to anticipate and plan ahead for, it’s something to be aware of. This could have delayed our trip or worse. We were pretty lucky to have reliable cars that could handle a cross-country road trip, but if not, what would be your Plan B?

2. Reusable water bottles over single-use bottles

Leaving bottles of water in the car for extended periods of time in the heat is a health hazard. On a long road trip it’s inevitable.

Instead of buying single-use water bottles, bring personal reusable water bottles for each passanger and a larger gallon to refill throughout the road trip.

Keeping sustainability in mind, save money on bottled water while positively impacting the environment.

3. Bring gift cards for potential savings

Don’t forgot your gift cards.

Whether gift cards for specific venues like Starbucks gift cards, or general gift cards, bring them so you don’t miss out on the potential savings.

Sadly, we forgot our $200 gift cards which we were hoping to use to treat ourselves at Disney World. Instead, we had to come out of pocket for all expenses, when we could have benefited from the relief.

Listen Next: Financial Tasks To Complete Before Vacations

4. Understanding toll payment systems

Paying tolls in the U.S. can be done either with cash at toll booths, using electronic transponders like E-ZPass, or through license plate tolling where a bill is mailed.

For cross country road trips, I don’t think it makes sense to research specific toll roads and bridges along your route, but knowing how the tolling systems work across the country is helpful.

Overall, paying tolls in the U.S. can vary depending on the state and the specific toll road or bridge. However, here are some general guidelines on how to pay tolls:

  1. Cash payment: Many toll roads and bridges still accept cash payments. As you approach a toll booth, follow the signs indicating the cash lane. Have the exact change ready, as some toll booths may not provide change. Drop your payment into the designated basket or hand it to the toll booth operator.
  2. Toll booth attendant: Some toll booths have attendants who can accept cash payments. Simply hand over the cash to the attendant and they will provide you with a receipt or change.
  3. Toll pass/Electronic transponder: Many states offer electronic toll collection systems. These systems use a small electronic transponder which you mount on your windshield or place in your vehicle. The transponder communicates with tolling equipment and deducts the toll amount from a prepaid account linked to the pass.
  4. License plate tolling: In some cases, there are no toll booths or electronic systems. Instead, cameras capture images of your license plate and a bill is mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle.

Speaking of toll passes and transponders, E-ZPass and SunPass are widely used electronic toll collection systems in the US, accepted in various states in the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic regions. To use E-ZPass, for example, you need to obtain a transponder from a participating agency, set up an account, and link it to a payment method.

5. Avoid penalties for missing toll tickets

Accidentally missing toll tickets meant spending an additional $70 of unplanned and unnecessary expenses.

Not only did we have to pay an additional $20 in toll fees driving in New Jersey but we received an additional bill which included a $50 administrative fee.

To avoid unnecessary fees, and streamline payments, consider enrolling in E-ZPass and attaching your electronic transponder to your vechile prior to your road trip. Again, E-ZPass is an electronic toll collection system used on toll roads, toll bridges, and toll tunnels throughout the United States (Eastern, Midwestern, and Southern).

Lastly, when you do receive a toll bill in the mail, make a payment in a timely fashion to avoid additional late fees.

6. Bring cash

Ensure you bring enough cash and even loose change because some establishments have minimum spend requirements on cards. Instead of having to spend extra money to meet the minimum, which is usually $5 or $10, simply pay with cash. Carrying cash will also come in handy when paying tolls.

7. BYOB (Bring your own beer)

Lastly, while packing for road trips, bring your own alcoholic beverages whether wine, beer, or liquor. Also, bring your bartending tools with you like strainers or cocktail shakers. If you’re looking for a travel-sized bartender kit, check out this one. This can doubles as an incredible gift for cross country road trips.

As we know, hotel bars are notoriously pricey. Instead of running up a tab at the hotel (which we did), if we had planned ahead and gotten alcoholic beverages at our local grocery store, we could have saved a lot of money.

Overall, the key takeaway from our first cross country road trip is to have a buffer in your budget to account for unforeseen expenses. Pay attention to hidden costs, think ahead, and prepare as best you can to avoid financial surprises. Most of all, have fun.

Memorable Quotes

[12:12] Understanding the toll payment system in the US, including the cash payments, electronic responders like E-ZPass and license plate tolling are all things to consider.

[13:38] Missing a toll ticket, we had to pay an extra $20 in New Jersey.

[15:53] Think about bringing extra cash with you for issues and incidentals. And then you don’t have to meet any minimum spend requirement.

[17:12] I really feel like if we had thought ahead and gotten alcoholic beverages, like beer or wine or whatever, you pick whatever it is, we wouldn’t have ran up a tab at the hotel.

Listen to this podcast episode on Spotify.

Would you consider driving cross country? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or leave me a voice memo.

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