If you’re preparing to return to college in the next few days -- or are a  Freshman heading away from home for the first time -- your preparations probably include a long road trip. 

But with every cent you spend on gasoline diminishing your college fund, how do you make that heavily-packed journey as fuel efficient as possible? 

Fear not. We’ve all been there, and have some handy hints to help you plan a fun and frugal trip back to college. 

1) Pack light

You can often tell the difference between a Freshman and a Senior by the amount of stuff they take to college. 

Although you want to take as many familiar things from home as possible, you risk not only overpacking your dorm room, but severely affecting your car’s gas mileage on the way to college. 

Pack the essentials for your first few weeks instead, such as clothes, a few small personal items, your computer, and your course equipment. 

That way, you’ll avoid overloading your car. The less weight your car has to carry, the more efficient it will be.

If you’re a Freshman, the chances are you’ll have family visit in a few weeks, so you can always ask them to bring up anything you’ve forgotten later. 

Even if that doesn’t happen, you may find it more economical (and less stressful) to have larger items shipped to you after you’ve arrived. 

2) Plan your trip

With classes to find, luggage to pack and friends to meet, you may be tempted to let satellite navigation take the strain.

Google Maps traffic - New York area

Google Maps traffic - New York area

Even if your car’s GPS system does most of the work however, it’s a good idea to at least look over the route before you leave, being careful to note if there are any planned road closures on the day you want to travel. 

Plan regular stops and allow extra travel time too, ensuring you’re as calm and relaxed as possible on the trip. Remember, a slightly slower overall speed will improve your car’s gas mileage too, reducing your overall fuel bill.

3) Prepare your car

As with any long road journey, you should make sure your car is ready for the trip, especially if you’ve only driven around town all summer. 

Check the condition of the engine, oil and coolant levels, and don’t forget to ensure the tires are properly inflated. 

If you’re carrying much additional weight, check your car’s owner’s manual to see if your tires require additional inflation to cope with the extra weight. 

And while it won’t affect your car’s gas mileage, make sure your car has a suitable spare tire -- if applicable -- along with some basic emergency equipment in case of breakdown. 

Three Old Gas Pumps Near Waldo, Ohio, by Flickr user The Upstairs Room

Three Old Gas Pumps Near Waldo, Ohio, by Flickr user The Upstairs Room

4) Fill up off the freeway

Everyone knows that gas prices fluctuate from city to city and state to state, but gas prices also vary depending on which road they are located. 

Traditionally, rest stops on the freeway have some of the highest prices, because they charge a premium for the convenience of filling up without a detour. 

But if every cent counts, planning your route to include refueling at cheaper gas stations may cost you less. 

Sure, you’ll likely take longer to make the trip, but using a site like GasBuddy to find cheaper gas stations a few miles off the freeway could add up to a few dollars saved on a long, cross-state drive. 

5) Consider hiring a car

If your college campus contains most of what you’ll need on a daily basis, you may find that you don’t use your car much while there. 

In that case, it may be cheaper to leave your car at home and rent a car to take you back to school. 

Zipcar will add the 2012 Ford Focus to its college car-sharing locations

Zipcar will add the 2012 Ford Focus to its college car-sharing locations

Most likely, a rental car will get much better gas mileage than your car, and have more up-to-date features. 

You’ll also have a choice over which type of car you hire, meaning you can hire a car that can easily take your things without having to sit a geometry class. 

By leaving your car at home, you’ll probably also find you have more money every month, thanks to not spending money on gas. 

And with many campuses now home to car-sharing schemes like ZipCar, you'll still have access to a car when you really need one.

It may even help your health too, by encouraging you to walk, cycle or even skate to class more often. 

What are your tips?

If you’ve just left university, or you’ve made the trip a few times in the past, what tips do you have for Freshmen and their parents preparing for that first, long trip to college?

Let us know your tips, suggestions and green-themed road-trip stories in the Comments below.


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