Most road trip expenses will come from food, lodging and gas. Therefore, if you want to save money throughout your road trip it is necessary to acknowledge what you are spending your funds on.
You have to have a budget and you have to prioritize what’s important when you spend your money. You don’t need to be rich to travel. But, you do have to make choices accordingly to make it happen.
Keep reading to learn how I’ve saved hundreds of dollars on my 2 month USA road trip experience.
I traveled over 15,000 miles around the USA visiting gorgeous locations for well under 3k. An average of 50 dollars a day for two months.
Use these 19 tips described below when planning a road trip for a longer life on the road.
1. Check Your Vehicle Before You Leave Your Hometown
If you decide to use your own vehicle bring it to your local dealer and tell them you are going on a lengthy trip. They will check to make sure everything like tires, fluids and brakes are ready for a couple thousand mile trip. Not only is this incredibly important for your safety but out of state mechanics might take advantage of passing travelers who have no other choice. Getting any work your car needs before hitting the road will save you money and time in the long run.
If you are getting a rental, choose a sedan or hatchback, something that is better on gas.
2. Use Gas Buddy To Find Cheap Gas
Gas Buddy is an app you should download before leaving on your trip. Gas Buddy will automatically locate you and show you what the gas stations around you cost. You can also check off cheapest, nearest, diesel, etc to be more specific. Having an app like Gas buddy is extremely helpful in cities to avoid. It can help to show how many miles away cheaper gas stations are without worrying if you will make it. Use Gas Buddy to ease your mind of worry and keep money in your pocket.
Save up to 25c/gal on every fill up with a free Gas Buddy discount card. Do this before you leave and have it shipped right to your address at no cost to you. Never pay full price again.
In addition, when planning use a Gas Trip Calculator to estimate your total trip cost to give you a perspective on how much you will need. All you have to do is enter where you’re going and what kind of car you drive. Of course it’s hard to be exact so plan for extra mileage, road blocks, detours, getting lost and expensive gas. Always plan ahead.
3. Travel With Someone And Split The Costs
Not only is it more fun to travel with someone but it helps to split the costs. Taking turns paying for things is extremely beneficial. So extend the invite to a friend or family member that might be interested in where you are going. It’s more expensive traveling alone and can be dangerous to drive alone for long distances. Make a new adventure pal, carpool and save money.
4. Skip Eating Out, Grocery Shop & Cook
The second best way to save money for the fun things is through cooking your own food. I suggest picking up any miscellaneous items at a dollar store. Do most of your shopping at a Walmart or grocery store to look for sales and deals.
If you see a farmers market, grab some of your favorite ingredients from there. It’s a huge waste of money to buy snacks and drinks from overpriced convenient stores.
So stock up the car with road trip snacks so you aren’t eager to buy something every time you go into a gas station to use the bathroom or pay for gas. You will save a lot of money cooking your own meals. Buying three meals a day will take up time out of your day and money out of your travel funds so be conscious about how often you eat out. Make eating out special.
5. Less bar nights
Depending on the kind of person you are, you might enjoy going out. However, it won’t be a cheap trip trying a new bar in every city. It’s a nice idea to break away from being on the road and sit at a bar, although, it’s up to you to decide how much you want to spend on nights out. Have a budget in mind and stick to it. After long days of hiking or driving, a cold one can be a nice treat. Skip the bar, grab some liquor, and drink it back at the campsite or where you are staying. Safer and cheaper.
6. Don’t buy overpriced souvenirs
Most of us love bringing home souvenirs from the places we been but if you are on a budget, be mindful when you see something you “must get”. Half the time you can order it online for cheaper or might not ever think about it again. There will always be something we want.. stick to your budget.
Many of us enjoy window shopping, especially in unique places. If you see something you like, take a picture of it and check back later to see if it’s still something you wish to have. Most of the time, you will be thankful you didn’t buy it.
It’s a cool thought to bring home something from each place, but remember it doesn’t have to be bought. A picture, rock, sand, flower, map are other good ways to remember a place.
7. Avoid Tolls
Since you are planning on taking a long, scenic road trip a few extra minutes to avoid a toll bill goes by pretty much unnoticed. With our advanced technology, you can plug in your first destination with and without tolls to see the difference.
If you are near a city and the route looks extremely off and entirely too long, you might need to change the phone setting and pay the toll to enter the city. Use your best judgement when choosing the avoid tolls.
8. Buy an Annual National Park Pass
If you plan on visiting multiple national parks in a one year, it is worth buying annual park pass for 80 dollars. Considering each park is typically 30 dollars per vehicle to enter.
You can purchase one online or in person at any federal recreational site such as the visitor center of a park. They are valid for one full year from month of purchase through the end of the month. Photo identification will be required to verify ownership. You will also save money on camping inside parks as a pass holder.
9. Make Your Own Coffee
We are all guilty of spending too much money on a cup of coffee. If you buy a Dunkin coffee once a day for two months it will roughly be 240 dollars you could of saved for something more worthwhile.
I like to get my favorite instant coffee, some cinnamon, little sugar and mix it with some hot boiled water. It’s cheaper and quick to make while stopping for gas, before leaving camp, or stretching at a rest stop.
More Road Trip Saving Tips
10. Drive The Speed Limit
If you speed half the time then get stuck behind a slower car or at multiple lights you will be right back at the time you started. It might be fun to drive fast on straight country roads and highways but remember it will drain
your tank. Same thing happens when you are constantly braking and going in traffic. A ticket will also only drain your bank account. Be careful, do the speed limit and get to your destinations safely.
11.Turn Off AC When Possible
AC and heat both waste a lot of gas. If it’s warm where you are, save a little cash by driving with the windows open. Nothing quite like driving through the country with the windows down, blasting music and singing along to your favorite songs.
12. Pack What You Need To Avoid Buying Something You Have At Home
We all have packed for a vacation and forgot something we needed at home. Avoid the extra expense by triple checking the ultimate road trip checklist before leaving.
Go through your daily routine to make sure you packed everything you might need weather camping or not. If you plan to camp you will need a lot more and should also take a look at the checklist for a comfortable camping trip.
Forgetting something like your charger, bluetooth speaker, stove, tent poles will cost you a big extra bucks for something you have sitting at home. It’s worth it to pack everything, then unpack it all as if you are going to use it to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything.
13. Shower With A Gym Membership
Depending on if you plan to camp each night or lodge at a hotel/airbnb a monthly gym membership is great for a quick shower. If you already have a subscription for a gym, might as well use it while you are traveling state to state.
If you enjoy the gym, stop at one you are passing to get your sweat on and then get clean, it’s a win win.
14.Campsites Instead Of Hotels
Driving through the country is a great way to experience the outdoors. To top it off there’s nothing quite like camping each night in gorgeous locations, especially one’s that are free. Staying at free campsites will save you a lot of money and bring some amazing once in a lifetime memories.
Save Money By Boon Docking
Boon docking is an off the grid alternative to staying at paid campgrounds. You can pull off the highway to stay at free locations in your RV, car, tent with limited facilities. It’s a nice way to stop and rest before getting to
your destination. Search on your smart phone for boon docking near you.
Dispersed camping is another great way to camp for free. A national park ranger spilled the secret with us that it is okay to camp anywhere in a National Forest OUTSIDE of a designated campground. This is a good back
up option when National Park campgrounds are full. There won’t be any services or amenities, however, if you have everything you need it won’t be an issue.
If you prefer amenities, paid campgrounds are anywhere between 10-70 bucks a night still much cheaper than hotels.
These Campsite Websites Will Save You Money
I used a website called freecampsites.net that took us to some gorgeous campgrounds, many with bathrooms, running water and picnic tables all for free. It is easy to use and no reservations are necessary. Zoom in to what
state you are in, where you want to camp around and it will highlight where you can camp for free. It provides an exact location you can plug into the GPS, tells you what kind of cell service is there, what to be wary of when arriving and even provides pictures and reviews to look over.
Campendium, Hipcamp and Airbnb are other great sites that lists cheap and free campsites around the USA.
Throughout my two month road trip, we paid for two campgrounds and two hotels. We pretty much camped in all dispersed camping locations and stayed with friends which brings me to the next way to save money, stay with friends or family.
15. Stay With Friends And Family
If you know others in different cities and states, plan your route so you can sleep there a night or two between exploring. When visiting San Francisco, an expensive city and hard to camp near, I stayed with a friend saving us a lot of money. It’s also just nice to see a familiar face when traveling through unfamiliar places for so long.
You can post on social media where you are or heading to see if anyone is interested in having you over. Bring them a bottle of wine or some tacos as a thank you.
16. Walk When You Can To Avoid Parking Expenses
Being from New Jersey, it’s obvious parking in city areas can be pricey. We visited a total of 15 cities and if we parked in each one we could of wasted a lot of money. Instead we parked a couple miles away and rode our bikes or walked. You can always try to find parking and see where the cheapest parking lot is.
However, if you enjoy exploring a new area, I suggest parking further away for free and enjoy the scenic route. Besides, after being in a car for a long time, nothing feels better than moving your legs. Enjoy the walk and save a couple bucks.
17. Compare Prices
Think of being on a road trip like saving money in the grocery store. Before booking something big like an excursion or a hotel, shop around to find the best deals. Do a little research to save some money, it might not be much but deals do go a long way.
18. Seek Free Events And Things To Do
My favorite way to experience a new city is look up free events and things to do. Many places have recommended parks, monuments, overlooks and even live music.
Look up the place you are visiting on google to see what’s happening for the dates you will be there, you might get lucky with a live band in a park. You don’t have to spend money to experience a new place, a simple stroll around people watching can be just as fun.
19. Have A Budget And Stick To It
If you’re going to take anything from this post, in order to save money on a road trip, you must establish a budget and stick to it. And that doesn’t mean tweak it as you go. Write down exactly how much you have to spend and then dedicate a certain amount to each category such as; gas, lodging, food, activities, bars, shopping etc. and of course a fairly large emergency fund.
A budget allows you to keep track of your spending and tells you when your spending too much too soon. Slow your roll, write down every expense on a notepad and add them up after a couple days to see where you are with your funds.
Creating a budget does require doing some research. You should know an average cost for a majority of your expenses like gas, food, and lodging before going. Then you can think of how much you have to spend on the fun stuff because those activities are necessarily essential. However, a road trip should be fun and full of trying new things so have some money saved for it.
Just do not forget about the importance of an emergency fund. It’s so important to have money when your car needs a new tire, you lost your wallet, you need spark plugs or a new sleeping pad. You will have less stress knowing if something goes wrong, you won’t be stuck.
Travel Cheaper And Longer
You don’t need to be rich to travel, although you may need to sacrifice some comfort.
In the end, it’s the memories that you’ll have to keep so don’t worry about not bringing home material items or sleeping and eating outside. You’ll never forget waking up to epic sunrises, visiting awesome National Parks, swimming in new oceans and the many experiences along the way.
If you’re reading this i’m sure you’re adventurous or looking for some adventure, I hope this helps you save so you can stay on the road longer and keep your hard earned money in your pocket.