How to Save Money On a Road Trip

by | Sep 11, 2019

Each year my husband, my four-year-old and I head out on a month-long road trip in the summers to visit friends and family across the U.S and in Canada. It’s a lot of fun — including the fact that my son is super spoiled by everyone and we end up carrying in an extra suitcase or two with presents he receives— and we always look forward to our annual pilgrimage. 


Road trips can be one of the best ways to travel for a longer time. Sure it can be cheaper than flying, but if you’re not careful, costs can add up (gas and food ain’t cheap people!). Even if you’re traveling for a week or two instead of a month like my family and I do, you want to be mindful of your budget or else you could be headed straight to Broke-ville.


Here are a few ways to stretch your travel dollars without feeling like you’re sacrificing your road trip.


Don’t Drive Like a Maniac


Ok, I may have been a bit dramatic with that subtitle, but driving sensibly can save you some cash. First off, if you stay at or close to the speed limit (or around 65 mph if you can legally do so), this will help your car run more efficiently — aka your gas won’t get used up as quickly. If you’re on a long driving stretch, use cruise control if your car has this feature. 


I’ve got a lead foot as much as other people, but if you drive too fast or even end up on local roads (or during rush hours)  where you have to constantly stop, you’ll use up your gas more quickly.


Besides, if you drive sensibly, you won’t risk getting a speeding ticket. Those things aren’t cheap, and the hundred bucks or so you could pay could really put a damper on your trip. Plus, different states may have different driving rules (some places won’t let you turn right on red) so planning ahead (get your passenger to remind you if necessary) can save you from getting fined as well.


Prepare Your Own Food


Foodies, don’t freak out just yet. I’m not saying you can’t eat out at all on your road trips. I personally drool over the mecca of Ethopian and Asian restaurants when I’m in a more urban area.


That being said, food is one of the most expensive line items for a road trip. The best way to do so is to bring your own. That way, you can eat out at a nice restaurant and balance it out during other days on your road trip by cooking or packing snacks.


One of the ways I save money is to prepare some easy meals and snacks for the go. For example, we try to eat breakfast before we leave, or at least have a few protein bars packed. Lunch can be a simple as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or veggie sticks and dip. If you have leftovers, bring those too! Some rest stops or gas stations that see a lot of travelers may have a microwave you can use if you want to heat food up.


I also like to freeze some water bottles and bring a cooler along, or fill up reusable bottles with ice and let it melt in the car so I have plenty of cold water. I do the same with juice boxes for my son. If we do need food, we plan a stop to the supermarket to stock up — we avoid buying packaged foods from gas stations or convenience store as much as possible. That way we don’t feel like we need to eat out if we don’t want to, saving us money.


Consider Alternative Accommodations


You may not be able to stay with friends and family like I do. If you can, that’s some serious savings right there — you never know if someone will say yes, so call them up and ask.


If you can’t or you’re traveling to places that are far away from family and friends, that’s ok. But that doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to spend a ton of money on accommodations. Sure, you can get discounts on chain hotels (more on that in a minute) but there are some fun and adventurous ways to rest your head during your road trip.


First off, if you’re an outdoors person, consider camping. It’s kid friendly and can be quite the fun adventure. In some cases, you’ll need to pay for a camping spot — some can be quite pricey, so do your research. However, there are tons of public land (think BLM land and state parks) where you can camp for free. The downside is that there are no facilities like bathrooms and places to dispose of garbage, but it might not be a big deal if you can handle it for an overnight trip.


Other ways to save include trying out Airbnb and VRBO. These platforms allow hosts to rent out their rooms or entire home for a fraction of what you’ll pay for a hotel room (typically). You can search for a price range you’re comfortable with. Some even offer some incredibly unique experiences like staying inside a potato or a caboose. 


If you’re not interested in any of these choices and would rather spring for a hotel, that’s cool too. Those who like living on the edge can book last minute accomodations through websites like Hotwire and Hotel Tonight and save a bundle.

Enjoy Your Trip


Going on a road trip is your chance to relax (if you’re driving, then alert and relaxed) and have fun with friends and family. The plus side is that you can do so without totally breaking your budget. As long as you plan and prioritize what you want to splurge on, then you can stay in the present moment and not worry about if you’ll have enough to pay for it all.


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