A great way to explore the United States is to hit the open road. The best way to enjoy a long road trip without spending too much money is to take a look at these 10 practical tips to help you road trip on a budget.
Practical Money-Saving Tips for your Next Road Trip
Plan a beautiful road trip hitting all of your must-see locations while also staying within your travel budget.
Here are 10 proven ways to save money on your next road trip vacation. These are all strategies that allow my husband and the ability to travel as often as we do for as long as we do. If you’re willing to make a few minor adjustments to your typical travel style, you’ll be saving money in no time.
Rent A Camper Van
One of the best ways to road trip on a Budget is to rent a camper van! This will save money when traveling in a number of different ways.
If you’re flying to a location to road trip, your transportation costs and accommodation costs become merged when you rent a camper van. If you can combine the rental car fee with the accommodation costs, your overall travel budget will decrease and you’ll find yourself s[ending less time overall booking for your trip.
If you plan to road trip from home and choose to not take your own car, you’ll not only be saving money on your accommodation costs, but you’ll be saving on personal vehicle wear and tear by renting a camper van on your next road trip.
When you travel in a camper van, you can sleep just about anywhere. Paid and free camping opportunities are almost always cheaper than other accommodations such as hotels and air bnbs. Additionally, you can sleep in rest areas and Walmart parking lots while traveling from one location to another with ease!
Accommodation costs make up the bulk or a road trip budget but they don’t have to! Free camping allows you to road trip on a budget.
Free campsites might lack amenities such as plumbing, electricity, and water, but with proper preparation, you won’t need them anyway. We honestly enjoy the lack of amenities. It usually means the sites are less crowded, more aesthetically pleasing, and incredibly affordable.
We use apps and sites such as freecampsites.net and campendium to learn about new sites. It’s important to always cross-reference this information to make sure you are properly prepared for your stay. A quick Google search of the campground or area should do the trick!
If you need access to some of the amenities listed above, check out developed campgrounds in National Forests and Monuments. These campgrounds are often incredibly road trip budget-friendly as they will cost way less than hotel rooms and vacation rentals.
Hotel Rooms with Free Breakfast
If spending the night in hotel rooms is a must, make sure it has free breakfast.
Even if you’re someone who’s down to camp, book that room with free breakfast every once in a while to enjoy a little luxury.
Staying at hotels with free, continental breakfast can save you a ton of money over the course of your next road trip. Fill up on free food, make yourself a coffee to go, and leave with a car snack to really get your fill. Being able to take a shower, wash your clothes, and grab some mindless food will always boost your travel spirits!
Please don’t abuse the free continental breakfast. Fill up and snag a snack for the road and get on your way. It’s an amazing way to lower food costs and enjoy a hot shower so don’t ruin it for other travelers.
There are several gas apps available to help you lower gas costs and road trip on a budget. Fuel costs take up a large part of any road trip costs, but with the help of these three apps, you will find yourself spending less.
- Upside helps you save money every time you fill up. Download the app to find gas deals on regular, premium, mid-grade, and diesel. The cashback earned can be redeemed in the form of a gift card, direct deposit, or PayPal.
You can also earn on restaurant and grocery deals through Upside. They will show up in the area you’re searching. Additionally, you can also earn through their referral program.
- GasBuddy can help you save up to 25 cents per gallon! Using this app is a little more of a process though.
Download the app and join the program for free. They will then send you a GasBuddy card in the mail. Link your GasBuddy card to your checking account and then start activating deals. Paying with your GasBuddy card will automatically apply your deals.
- Waze will help you find the lowest gas prices along your intended route. Once you have your route, you can filter gas stations by price.
The Waze app is also one of the most-used route guidance apps available. It will provide user alerts about traffic, accidents, speed traps, and construction delays.
Being able to find the cheapest gas in an area might seem less worth it than some of these other suggestions, however, when you’re road tripping you are driving for a long time and often filling your tank multiple times a day. Making sure you’re getting the best deal is a good idea for long-term savings.
Travel Outside of Peak Season
Traveling off-peak isn’t an option for everyone and we get that. It isn’t something we’re able to take advantage of at this point in our lives either. If it is an option for you, I highly recommend taking advantage of shoulder season deals!
The time of year plays a huge role in how much travel to a specific location will cost. Not only are flights, car rentals, and accommodations cheaper when traveling in the off-season, but you will be fighting fewer crowds for experiences as well. Whether this means having a hike all to yourself or snagging a campsite with stunning views with ease, it’s worth it to travel off-peak.
Additionally, certain types of experiences adjust their pricing for off-peak visitation. This might even include weekday versus weekend pricing. Mid-week means less visitors, so you might find yourself a deal even when traveling in-season.
Traveling outside of peak season is a simple, yet effective way to road trip on a budget and save money!
Stay in Small Towns
Staying in small towns has many benefits. Small, unassuming towns are less expensive than neighboring popular destinations. They will also, undoubtedly, be less crowded and have a special charm to them that larger destinations lack.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on hotel rooms, fast food, and expensive attractions. Get off the beaten path and stay in a small town bed and breakfast. Eat breakfast at a mom-and-pop diner. Experience the not-so-little views many small towns have to offer.
Major cities might have a lot of budget options as far as restaurants and hotels are concerned, however, the cheapest way to experience high-quality stays within your budget is to ditch the big cities and enjoy the small towns.
This may seem like a silly suggestion, but you will save a lot of money and extend your travel budget by finding the small town’s hidden gems.
Cook your Own Food
One of the easiest ways to road trip on a budget is to cook your own food. Cut down on food costs by making meals yourself.
Pack a two-burner camp stove, one pot, one pan, and a few utensils and now you’re cooking with fire! There are so many simple, delicious, and cost-effective meals you can make when you make your own food when you travel. Find local grocery stores and snag the best road trip snacks as well as the goodies you need to cook your own meals. The total cost of your snacks and groceries will be the lowest at a grocery store as compared to a gas station.
Don’t forget about foods that don’t require a stovetop. Sandwiches, fruit, yogurt, and salads are all great ways to fuel your body on a road trip while saving money and time! Also, a reusable water bottle will help you save money and the environment. Fill it up at campsite spigots, water fountains, and free water fill stations throughout your road trip.
This strategy not only helps with your travel budget, but it also allows you to eat healthier on your trip. This often helps you to maintain appropriate energy levels for all of the adventures you have planned!
PRO TIP: When you do decide to eat out, try the local cuisine! Eat at street markets and talk to the locals. Ask someone who has spent time in that area, your cashier, tour guide, etc., for a good option for last minute eats and they’ll likely point you in the direction of an inexpensive restaurant with delicious dishes.
Find Free Things to Do
There are so many ways to experience a new place that cost little to no money!
Sometimes a blanket fee, such as a National parks pass, is all you need for endless fun. Pay one price for endless drive-up views, thousands of miles of hiking trails, icy lake swims, and the opportunity to experience State and/or National Parks. The initial fee for the America the Beautiful pass for National Park Service areas is worth it!
There’s also free access to beautiful trailheads and lakeside beaches that are sure to check off the beauty box. Some of the best places for free activities can be found in nature. Look into hikes at historic sites, on BLM, and within National Forest boundaries for free nature access. Although most State Parks include entrance feeds, there are also a handful of states with free admission to their state parks.
If you’re visiting a city and looking for a budget-friendly activity, there are plenty. Take a free walking tour, visit free museums and galleries, explore street markets and local festivals, and stroll the city parks. Free walking tours may sound a bit lame, but they’re an easy way to become familiar with an area and learn about its history for no additional cost.
I’ll always advocate for splurging on that once-in-a-lifetime experience (and for a few tasty meals) but you can usually get a good feel for a location and road trip on a budget by planning free excursions.
Avoid Toll Roads
Use Google Maps to plan a road trip route that avoids toll roads. For obvious reasons, this will save you money.
Although tolls are a necessity for road maintenance, they can really be a pain. What seems like a few dollars here and there can really add up over the course of a long road trip. Staying off toll roads means that $$ won’t add up.
Avoiding toll roads often leads you to the more scenic route which will totally enhance your road trip experience. You will find yourself stopping in smaller towns which often leads to the discovery of hidden gems and wallet-friendly pricing.
The extra cost of cross-country road trip toll fees can really add up. It is important to note that if you’re traveling in North America, those toll roads can save you a lot of time and lower overall fuel consumption. Transportation costs are part of the road tripping budget and you’ll have to decide which option is best for you!
Credit Card Travel Points
Find yourself a credit card that provides incentives for travel activities.
We have a Wells Fargo Autograph card. For zero annual fee, we receive three times the points on travel (flights, hotel stays, and rental cars), restaurants, gas, transit, and more! We use this card on all of our vacations and then pay it off after the trip.
Many travel-specific credit cards also have no foreign transaction fee. This means that if you travel abroad with your card, it won’t charge you for transactions made in a currency other than U.S. Dollars. Most debit cards have a 1%-3% foreign transaction fee which can really add up if you’re road tripping abroad.
There are a variety of cards available to travelers that have different offers. Choose a credit card that works best for your style of travel and use those points to help pay for your trip.
Planning a Cheap Road Trip
Planning a cheap road trip is possible. There are plenty of ways to find the best deals and save money; it all depends on your travel style.
Camping is a great option, but it isn’t for everyone. Some travelers might prefer reserving private rooms in big city hostels or splitting the cost of a hotel room with a bunch of friends to cut down on costs. At the end of the day, cheap places are cheap places and expensive locations will require more effort to experience on a budget. One of the best tips I can give you is to always plan a trip you’re going to love and spend as much time planning as you can to find the best deals and make the most out of your road trip costs.