How To Save Money On A Road Trip – Top 9 Useful Tips
Road trips are fun, which is one of the many reasons they are considered by those looking to travel. A road trip can be an exciting means to experience the world. You can simply jump into a vehicle and get transported from one location to another, getting intimately familiar with the scenery.
One important aspect of a road trip is that it can also be quite budget-friendly. A road trip is relatively cheap, especially when considered against the two options of air and sea travel. As already mentioned, with a good vehicle and some money in your bank account, you can drive around the country and back without paying much more.
However, it may interest you to know that there are even more ways you can save money on a road trip. If you’re looking to take a road trip on a budget, there are some money-saving tips you can implement. That’s where we come in, we’ve done the research for you! In this guide, we’ll share how to save money on a road trip so you can hit the road while keeping your pockets loaded!
How to Save Money on a Road Trip
While some may choose to take a plane ride or go by boat, a road trip is the best way to travel far while spending less. So, let’s get straight to the tips you can use while taking road trips to save big on vacation. These money-saving tips are general, which means that they will work whether you are in the United States, Canada, or someplace else. Furthermore, the type of vehicle you use may not necessarily be important when it comes down to it. So, how do you save money on a road trip? Let’s get to it!
Plan Ahead of Time
Saving money while on a trip is not something that happens as a matter of course. You will have to be deliberate about cutting costs as much as possible. Hence, the first step here is to plan ahead of time. Road trippers often embark on trips on the spur of the moment. However, except you are a regular road traveler and have become conversant with saving, you will hemorrhage money if you follow this route.
Before embarking on a road trip adventure, you need to do your research. Find out the best possible locations or routes to follow. Your intended route should be fuel-friendly and not just any that strikes your fascination. Furthermore, create a packing list. There, itemize all that you believe you’ll be needing. The list should include drinking water, your debit card, etc. Consider the nature of the road you plan to take. This is an important tip for saving money on gas. Also, it will inform you if there is a rest stop along the way and what to do when you encounter any of such, especially the paid ones.
You may also want to consider researching before starting out. Check out those who have taken a road trip before and reach out to them for tips. At every point, you should be thinking along the lines of saving money.
Create a Road Trip Budget
After planning ahead and carrying out your research, the next thing to do is create a budget. There is hardly any way you can save money on a road trip without creating a budget. This is because a road trip budget lets you know the important things and those that are not.
You create a hierarchy of needs, developing the ability to eliminate anything that is not essential. For instance, it will be important to spend money on food and gas. Thus, you need to factor in your car’s gas mileage and the gas prices generally available in the market.
Your budget should also consider the sort of road trip you are taking. This is because you can save money if you avoid taking road trips when everyone plans to do the same, such as during the summer when everyone will be taking a summer vacation.
While it is indispensable that you have a budget if you are looking to save money on your road trip, it is necessary to be flexible. This is in acknowledgment of the fact that some unforeseen situations can arise along the way. Thus, while planning your trip on a budget, put aside some money for miscellaneous expenses. If you are going with cash, you may want to have your credit card handy in case of an emergency.
You can always simply write a budget using pen and paper. Alternatively, though, there are quite a few budgeting and personal finance tools and apps out there that can also help you organize your finances such as YNAB and Every Dollar.
Save Money on Fuel
One of the ways to save money on a road trip is to manage your fuel well. There are several road trip tips to employ in this area. The first is to check out your car before setting out. Eliminate everything that gulps down the gas for your car. Car trouble could affect how much fuel you spend. Taking your car to an auto shop could save you further complications later. Furthermore, if your car breaks down and you have to pay parking fees, this adds to the money you have to pay. If you are moving across states, you would have to pack a lot. This could up the amount of gas your vehicle will consume. You should eliminate as much extra luggage as possible.
As already mentioned, you should identify your road trip route ahead of time. Even if there is no credible source you can reach out to, GPS systems are useful in this regard. Bear in mind that fuel efficiency decreases if your route includes steep inclines or hills. This will force you to make stops at a gas station frequently.
You can also save money on gas by using cruise control, limiting air conditioners in your car, and using gift cards at gas stations. Generally, you cannot totally eliminate buying gas. However, you can limit how much you have to spend on that.
Here are some more tips to save money on fuel:
- Plan your route: Optimize your route to minimize mileage and avoid traffic congestion. Choose the most direct and efficient path to your destination.
- Maintain steady speed: Avoid rapid acceleration and heavy braking. Maintaining a steady speed conserves fuel efficiency, especially on highways.
- Observe speed limits: Driving at or slightly below the speed limit can improve fuel efficiency. Higher speeds generally result in increased wind resistance and fuel consumption.
- Avoid idling: Turn off the engine if you anticipate being stopped for more than a minute. Idling consumes unnecessary fuel.
- Check tire pressure: Keep your tires properly inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure. Underinflated tires increase rolling resistance, decreasing fuel efficiency.
- Travel light: Remove unnecessary items from your vehicle to reduce weight. The heavier the car, the more fuel it requires to move.
- Use cruise control: On long stretches of highway with little traffic, cruise control can help maintain a steady speed and conserve fuel.
- Avoid roof racks: If possible, avoid installing roof racks or cargo carriers. They increase aerodynamic drag, negatively affecting fuel efficiency.
- Choose the right fuel: Use the fuel type recommended for your vehicle. Using premium fuel in a car that doesn’t require it offers no significant benefits and can be an unnecessary expense.
- Compare fuel prices: Use smartphone apps or websites to compare fuel prices along your route. Take advantage of cheaper gas stations when available.
- Combine trips and consolidate errands: If you need to run multiple errands, plan them efficiently to avoid unnecessary backtracking and multiple trips.
- Consider carpooling or ridesharing: If traveling with others or going to a common destination, carpooling or ridesharing can help share fuel costs.
- Use apps for navigation: Utilize navigation apps that provide real-time traffic updates to avoid congested routes and reduce fuel wasted in stop-and-go traffic.
- Take advantage of loyalty programs: Some gas stations offer loyalty programs that provide discounts or rewards. Sign up for these programs to save on fuel costs.
- Consider alternative transportation: Depending on the distance and availability, consider other transportation options like public transportation or renting a fuel-efficient vehicle for certain portions of your trip.
This should not be a problem if your road trip routes are mainly in rural areas. However, if your route is not, then one of the road trip tips you should consider before you head out is identifying the tolls you’ll have to pay and making adequate arrangements on how to pay them.
Find Car Alternatives
One of the things road trippers have to consider is the cost of using their vehicles. Indeed, your car can be the major source of expenses for you. Thus, if you are traveling cross country, you should consider renting or driving someone else’s car. This is especially of your car, for some reason, is unsuited for such trips. For instance, some cars are not nice for driving on the open road. In any such situation, you can simply borrow someone else’s car for your trip or rent with a service like Turo or HyreCar. While it may not seem like it, it could actually cut down costs.
Take Advantage of Gas Station Discounts
Reputable gas companies have gas discount cards. Typically, they are to encourage and incentivize customers to patronize their brands. When you have such gas discount cards, you can use them at any of the brand’s gas stations. Thus, apart from getting discounts at gas stations when traveling, you also get discounts at home. It is a win-win on both ends.
Here are some more ways to save money on gas:
- Loyalty Programs: Many gas stations offer loyalty or rewards programs. These typically work by giving you points for each dollar you spend, which you can later redeem for discounts.
- Credit Card Rewards: Some credit cards offer cash back or points for purchases at gas stations. Be sure to pay off your balance each month to avoid interest charges, which could negate your savings.
- Fuel-Saving Apps: Apps like GasBuddy or Waze can help you find the cheapest gas in your area or along your route.
- Grocery Store Partnerships: Some grocery stores partner with local gas stations to offer fuel discounts based on your grocery spending. For example, you might get a few cents off per gallon for every $50 you spend at the grocery store.
- Bulk Buying Clubs: If you’re a member of a club like Costco or Sam’s Club, you can often find lower gas prices at their pumps.
- Pay with Cash: Some gas stations offer a lower price per gallon if you pay with cash instead of a credit card.
- Off-Peak Refueling: While it may not directly offer discounts, filling up your tank during off-peak hours can sometimes get you cheaper fuel rates, as certain gas stations change their prices throughout the day based on demand and competition.
- Take Advantage of Promotions: Occasionally, gas stations run special promotions or sales that can result in significant savings. These are often advertised at the station or through their loyalty programs.
Consider Going to Low-Cost Sceneries
If sightseeing is part of your road trip, you can save money on that also. In this case, also, you should check out such places ahead of time. Compare the costs of each location and go with the cheapest.
One of the other ways of making sure you stick to keep your road trip on a budget is by getting a national parks pass. The national parks pass goes for less than $100 in the United States. It lasts for a year and grants you access to national parks in the country. Senior citizens and disabled people have free passes. Furthermore, it is straightforward to register and obtain one of such. You need to register with your email address and other details required of you.
Here are some additional low-cost sightseeing opportunities and experiences:
- National and State Parks: These parks often offer low-cost or even free admission, and provide a great way to enjoy nature and outdoor activities like hiking or picnicking.
- Historical Sites and Monuments: Historical markers, statues, and buildings can provide insight into local history and are typically free to visit.
- Local Museums: Many towns and cities have museums that are either free or offer discounted rates. Some larger museums also offer free admission on certain days or times.
- Art Galleries: Similar to museums, many cities have art galleries that can be accessed for free or at a low cost.
- Beaches: If your road trip takes you near a coastline, spending a day at the beach can be a great, low-cost activity.
- Farmers’ Markets and Craft Fairs: These offer a fun way to explore local culture, food, and crafts, and browsing is typically free.
- Public Gardens and Arboretums: Beautiful and often free to enter, these sites can provide a peaceful and enjoyable outdoor experience.
- City Tours: Some cities offer free walking tours where you can learn about the history and architecture of the area.
- Street Performances and Festivals: Depending on the time of year and the area, you may find free concerts, performances, or festivals happening.
- Scenic Drives: Part of the joy of a road trip is the drive itself. Plan your route to include scenic byways, which often feature breathtaking landscapes and viewpoints.
- University Campuses: Many universities have beautiful campuses and often feature free attractions like art exhibits, historic buildings, or botanical gardens.
- Local Libraries: Aside from being a source of free books and movies, many libraries host free events and presentations that might be of interest.
- Wildlife Viewing: In many rural or natural areas, you can enjoy bird watching, wildlife spotting, or star gazing for free.
- Factory Tours: Some factories offer free or low-cost tours, which can be both educational and entertaining.
Get Cheap Accommodation Options
You may have to stop over somewhere to spend the night while on a road trip. This could be either because of an emergency, such as if the gas in your gas tank gets exhausted. It could also be part of your plan, such as where you are going camping. In any of the above scenarios, it would be important to find cheap accommodation options. The first option that comes to mind usually is hotels.
A hotel room gives you the privacy and luxury you need. Hence, if you can afford to, just pay for a hotel room to spend the night(s). While at it, you may want to consider hotels that give discounts to users. You can take a look at each hotel’s website to confirm their discount options. Furthermore, you could simply ask an insider how each hotel process works. This is one of the easiest ways to save money while on a road trip because the insider will be in the best position to let you know discounts, promo options, etc.
Here are a few ways to save money on hotels:
- Book in Advance: Prices for hotel rooms can go up as the date gets closer, especially during peak travel seasons. Booking in advance can help you secure a lower rate.
- Use Comparison Websites: Websites like Booking.com, Expedia, and Trivago compare prices from different booking sites and can help you find the best deal.
- Loyalty Programs: Many hotel chains offer loyalty programs that give you access to special rates or rewards. You can earn points for your stays and potentially earn free nights.
- Discount Rates: Check if the hotel offers discounts for AAA or AARP members, military personnel, seniors, or other groups that you might be a part of.
- Negotiate the Rate: It never hurts to ask if a lower rate is available. This may be more successful at independent hotels rather than large chains.
- Consider Business Hotels: Hotels that cater to business travelers can be cheaper on weekends when business travel slows down.
- Book a Room with a Kitchenette: If you can prepare some of your meals in your room, you can save money on eating out.
- Stay Outside a City: Hotels in the heart of a city or near major attractions tend to be pricier. If you’re willing to stay a bit farther out and commute, you can often find cheaper rates.
- Book a Package: If you’re also booking a flight or rental car, a package deal might be cheaper.
- Use Credit Card Points: If you have a credit card that accrues travel points, you can use them to book your hotel stay.
- Choose a Hotel with Free Amenities: Look for hotels that offer free breakfast, free WiFi, free parking, or other complimentary amenities.
- Stay Multiple Nights: Some hotels offer a discount if you stay multiple nights.
- Avoid Peak Times: If your dates are flexible, try to avoid staying in hotels during their peak times, such as weekends for city hotels or weekdays for hotels near tourist attractions.
Here are a few cheaper alternatives to hotels:
- Camping: If you’re willing to rough it a bit, camping can be a very economical option. National and state parks, as well as private campgrounds, usually offer inexpensive sites.
- Hostels: Particularly popular in cities and tourist destinations, hostels offer dormitory-style rooms that can be much cheaper than hotels.
- Motels: Often less expensive than hotels, motels can be found all over and typically offer basic amenities.
- Budget Hotels or Inns: There are many budget hotel chains that offer affordable rates.
- Vacation Rental Sites: Platforms like Airbnb, VRBO, or Booking.com often have budget-friendly options, such as renting a private room in someone’s home.
- Truck Stops: Some truck stops have lounges or sleeping facilities that can be rented for a small fee.
- Couchsurfing: This community of travelers offers free accommodation by allowing you to stay on members’ couches or spare rooms. Check out Couchsurfing.com for more information.
- House Sitting or Pet Sitting: Websites like TrustedHousesitters connect travelers with homeowners who need someone to look after their home and/or pets while they’re away, often in exchange for free accommodation.
- Stay with Friends or Family: If you have friends or family located along your route, they might be willing to host you for a night or two.
- University Dorms: Some universities rent out their dorm rooms when students are on vacation, often for a very reasonable price.
- Religious or Community Centers: Some religious or community centers offer accommodations or can recommend inexpensive local options.
- Travel Trailers or RVs: If you have access to a travel trailer or recreational vehicle, you could stay in it at campgrounds or RV parks for a nominal fee.
Save Money on Food
You cannot have a successful budget road trip if you do not save on food. Unfortunately, food is one of those essential things you have to always factor in while taking any trip. However, the idea is to limit how much you spend on food in the cities you travel to. Thus, as stated earlier, you must plan for this contingency.
Limit how you purchase fast food along your route. Consider all the cities you have to go through and identify the places you can buy food along the routes. Also, to avoid buying fast food, you can prepare snacks even before you head out. The benefit of this is that you can also control how healthy your snacks will be. Trail mix and fruits are some of the healthy snacks you could indulge in as you move around the cities.
Here are some other creative ideas for saving money on food on a road trip:
- Pack Your Own Food: Prepare sandwiches, snacks, and drinks at home. This not only helps you save money but also reduces the number of stops you need to make.
- Bring a Cooler: A cooler can keep your drinks, fruits, and other perishables fresh. You can even store leftovers from restaurant meals for later consumption.
- Cook Your Own Meals: If you’re staying somewhere with cooking facilities, or if you’re camping, cooking your own meals can be a significant money saver.
- Eat a Big Breakfast: Many hotels offer complimentary breakfast. Fill up in the morning so you’ll only need a light lunch.
- Look for Deals: Many restaurants have lunch specials, early bird dinners, or kids eat free promotions. Check the restaurants in your area for any deals they might be offering.
- Share Meals: Restaurant servings are often large enough to share. Consider ordering fewer meals than there are people and splitting them.
- Visit Local Markets: Local farmers markets or grocery stores can offer inexpensive fresh produce and local delicacies.
- Bring a Portable Grill or Camping Stove: If you’re traveling in a campervan or going camping, a portable grill or stove can be very handy for cooking inexpensive meals.
- Avoid Tourist Traps: Restaurants in highly touristic areas tend to be more expensive. Try finding where the locals eat.
- Limit Dining Out: Eating out at restaurants can add up quickly. Limit your dining out to one meal a day, or less if possible.
- Carry a Water Bottle: Instead of buying drinks, carry a refillable water bottle. This is not only cheaper but also better for the environment.
- Snack Wisely: Carry healthy snacks like granola bars, nuts, or fruit to curb your hunger between meals and avoid costly convenience store snacks.
Additional Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip
- Rent Smaller Cars: Smaller cars generally have better fuel efficiency and are cheaper to rent.
- Avoid Toll Roads: Use GPS or navigation apps to find routes that avoid toll roads.
- BYOB (Bring Your Own Bedding): If camping or staying in hostels, bring your own sheets or sleeping bag to avoid rental fees.
- Use Free Entertainment: Listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and music downloaded at home for free entertainment on the road.
- Picnic: Make your own meals and enjoy them picnic-style in parks or scenic spots.
- Try Work Exchange Programs: Websites like Workaway or WWOOF allow you to work a few hours a day in exchange for free accommodation.
- Travel Off-Season: You can often get better deals on accommodations, attractions, and even meals by traveling during the off-peak season.
- Redeem Reward Points: Use credit card or loyalty reward points to offset the cost of accommodations, meals, or car rentals.
- Split Costs with Friends: Travel with a group and split costs on fuel, accommodations, and other expenses.
- Geocache: Instead of paid attractions, try geocaching—a worldwide treasure hunt that’s fun and free.
- Find Free Campsites: Use websites or apps like freecampsites.net to locate free camping spots.
- Cook on a Portable Stove: Invest in a portable stove to cook your own meals, whether camping or at rest stops.
- Choose Accommodation with Free Amenities: Look for hotels or rentals that offer free breakfast, kitchen facilities, or laundry amenities.
- Volunteer: Look for local volunteer opportunities that might offer free meals or accommodations.
- Participate in Local Cultural Events: Look for free local cultural events like concerts in the park, outdoor movies, festivals, and art shows.
- Use a Water Purifier Bottle: Instead of buying bottled water, invest in a water purifier bottle.
- Forage or Fish for Food: In some areas, you might be able to forage for wild edibles or catch your own fish. Be sure to follow local regulations and guidelines.
- Travel Overnight: If taking a long-distance train or bus, consider traveling overnight to save on accommodation.
- Swap Houses: Use a home swapping site to trade houses with someone in your destination. You both get free accommodation!
- Use Refillable Travel Size Toiletries: Instead of buying travel-size shampoos, conditioners, and body wash every trip, invest in reusable travel size bottles.
Conclusion: Saving Money on a Road Trip
There is nothing wrong with looking to save money on a road trip. Thus, if you are thinking along those lines, you are on the right path. Road trips are fun. However, they become a lot less entertaining if you get to spend a lot of money on the road.
It might not be a big deal to you at that time, but the repercussions of your actions will eventually catch up with you. Thus, follow the road trip tips and suggestions above to make sure you have a budget road trip.