Whether you are a van lifer, overlander or just adventuring in your vehicle, rising fuel prices is certainly causing you to think twice about how it is affecting your lifestyle. For those of us who travel full time on the road, the cost of fuel is what we refer to as ‘paying rent’. But unlike signing a lease on an apartment, fuel prices can fluctuate and what is happening around the world can make a big difference in your budget. When fuel prices are low, we often take it for granted and become complacent to excessive fuel consumption. Driving a little faster so we can make it to our camp spot a little earlier, making last-minute detours to explore something new, or just delaying that vehicle maintenance visit to another day because we just don’t feel like doing it. In this article, I want to share with you 10 tips that you can do to save hundreds a month out of your monthly fuel budget. Some of these things you probably already know and do, but I bet there are a couple you haven’t thought of.
I will divide these tips into 2 different types. First 7 of them will be tips for you to gain greater efficiency by using less fuel without the need to drive shorter distances. The last 3 tips are for those of us who are full-time travelers with a bit more flexibility to reduce how much we are driving without it feeling like we are sacrificing our desires for adventure.
Get More Out Of Your Fuel
- Drive Slower And More Efficiently – The easiest thing you can do is to just slow down. For those of you with lead feet, this might actually be the hardest but give it a try. In our Mercedes Sprinter van, we easily see an improvement of 10-15% in fuel efficiency if we drive 60 MPH instead of 70 MPH. It might take you 10 minutes longer to get you to where you are going but I like to think of it as seeing 10 minutes more of scenery out my windows as I drive. If you anticipate a slow down ahead, whether it is a stop light, a turn or an exit, let off your gas pedal earlier and let the momentum of your vehicle take you there. This will not only save you fuel but also extend the life of your brakes.
- Drive with Less Weight – If you are traveling in a camper van, RV or trailer, consider driving with fewer liquids in your vehicle. A full fresh water tank might give you peace of mind but if where you are headed has access to fill fresh water, there is no reason to haul it around. 1 gallon of water weighs 8.33 lbs (1 liter = 1 kg) so it all adds up very quickly if you carry dozens of gallons of liquids around you. Most RV manufacturers even recommend not traveling with full water tanks as they add unnecessary danger to already heavy vehicles. The same goes for your fuel capacity. Unless you know fuel is more expensive where you are headed, get just enough to get you there and fill up as needed.
- Inflate Your Tires and Keep Up Vehicle Maintenance – A tire that is not properly inflated will cause unnecessary drag which will reduce your fuel efficiency. Not to say it will also cause premature wear and tear of the treads. If your vehicle does not come equipped with a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), check the pressure of each tire before any long drives and air them up to the recommended levels. Try to keep track of your vehicle’s fuel economy and replace aging fuel and air filters that can also cause loss of fuel efficiency.
- Don’t Idle and Park In The Shade – It is easy to just leave the car running while you are waiting for someone to run into a store. But if you are not moving for a minute or more, you should shut the engine off so it doesn’t run unnecessarily. Maybe there is a long line at your favorite drive-thru burger joint and you just need to get your fix, consider parking and walking in and place a to-go order at the counter instead. The same goes for leaving the engine on so you can run the air conditioner on a hot day. Consider finding shade to park under instead to avoid wasting fuel unnecessarily.
- Avoid Driving During Commuting Hours – If you have the flexibility of when you drive, consider shifting your schedule a bit to avoid early morning and afternoon commuting hours. Stop and go traffic is a killer on your fuel economy. If you are in an area where the roads are well lit and well maintained, driving at night can often be very pleasant and traffic-free if you are comfortable with that. Use Google Maps or similar services to monitor traffic levels. If you can’t avoid it, consider taking a couple of hours off from driving and waiting until congestion subsides.
- Use a Fuel Price Tracking App – Apps like GasBuddy are crowdsourced databases for comparing fuel prices and telling you where to fill up for the lowest price. Fuel is usually more expensive near the highways and cheaper the farther away from them you go. Some gas stations will constantly change their fuel prices based on market-rate while some will only update them when they are resupplied by a tanker. Be aware that in the United States, paying with cash or debit is often required for the lowest prices at the cheapest locations. If your country doesn’t have apps like GasBuddy, Google Maps will often show the prices of some stations in your area to give you an idea of where it is cheaper.
- Fuel Discount Memberships – Costco often has one of the cheapest fuel prices in the area. But you do have to be a member to purchase fuel from them. If you have no need for membership but know friends who are, a hack to work around this is asking them to buy you gift cards that you can use there. You do not need to be a member to pay for fuel using a Costco gift card. Other than Costco, many grocery stores have loyalty cards that are free to join. You can often get a significant discount upwards of 10% or more based on how much you have spent at their stores.
Save By Driving Less
- Stay Longer – This is one that we have a hard time committing to but are trying to do more with diesel prices rising. On average, we drive around 50 to 100 miles every 2 days. That means we average about 75 miles which comes out to 1,125 a month. If we simply extended our average stay from 2 to 3 nights, we can save 33% on the distance traveled which directly equates to gallons of fuel consumed. This can immediately make a big impact on your monthly fuel budget. The biggest benefit is the ability to take more time to soak in the environment you are in and get to know each place and its people even better.
- Plan Your Errands – When fuel prices are cheap, we often take it for granted whenever we need to run to the store to grab something. If we forget an item, we don’t think twice about hopping back into the car for another trip. But if we can simply keep an ongoing, well-organized shopping list, we can avoid those unnecessary extra trips. Consider combining multiple trips into one. Maybe a run to the home improvement store can wait until you need groceries. Maybe it is only a 2-5 mile drive each way to the store, you are still looking at upwards of a 10-mile drive round trip in stop-and-go city traffic which can cause havoc on your fuel efficiency. A few of these unnecessary trips like this each week adds hundreds of miles a month and a significant increase to your fuel budget.
- Carpool With Friends – For anyone who has ever worked in an office with other people, you know this is a tried and true way of saving money on fuel and vehicle maintenance costs. But this can also work for full-timers as well if they are often exploring with fellow travelers. We’ve done this a lot when winter boondocking for extended periods with friends in the southwest. We all need to resupply our groceries and we all need to make runs to fill water jugs every couple of days. Instead of driving yourself, take turns driving with a friend you are camping with. This can easily cut your fuel cost in half for those extended stays on BLM land.
- BONUS TIP! Bikes, Scooters or Skateboards – Well, this one might be obvious to some of you and I know many of you already do it. But if you have the ability to carry a secondary mobility vehicle like a motorcycle, moped or bicycle, you can use those to make small runs to the store if you happen to be close by. Scooters and skateboards have all become very popular and electrified versions of them can make these trips easier and might I even say ‘fun’!
I hope these give you some ideas of how you can save money and survive these recent high fuel prices unscathed. Even when fuel prices are low, these are still great habits to keep as minimizing fuel consumption directly relates to the well-being of this world we call planet earth. Until we can all wean ourselves from fossil fuels completely and be truly energy independent, we should all do our best in conservation in any way we can. Do you have any other great tips on this topic? Let me know in the comments below.