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How to Save Money on Road Trips

How to Save Money on Road Trips
Written by Irina Vasilescu

If you think that only college kids go on road trips these days, think again. Families, groups of adult friends, couples – many still go on road trips simply because of the experience that goes along with it. For those who know the real essence of a road trip, it’s all about the journey and the destination is merely secondary.

Here, we will take a look at the reasons why you should consider going on a road trip at least once in your life, and how you can save money while you’re at it.

Why Should Anyone Go on a Road Trip?

First, let’s make the distinction between a long car ride and a road trip. If you hate flying or if you have no other option but to drive to save money going to your destination, you might consider the journey to be a long, arduous car ride.

Road trips, on the other hand, are indeed long drives – but what you most look forward to is the journey. Naturally, it pays to go on a road trip with a group of friends who you would like to spend some bonding time with. But once you realize that what makes a road trip fun is the journey itself instead of arriving at your destination, you might just take a liking to it.

When going on road trips, there are a few rules to follow to make it really fun. Number one is that you should take your own sweet time arriving at your destination. If you’re on a strict schedule, your focus would be more on arriving at your destination on time, and that’s taking the fun out of the equation.

Next, make sure to enjoy the pit stops and don’t hesitate to pull over if you see a funny road sign, breath taking scenery or a herd of animals crossing the street.

Other things that would make a road trip really worthwhile are detours, a soundtrack which is a must-have, pranks, road trip games, and shopping for keepsakes of the trip.

Ways to Save Money on Road Trips

Now, if you are going on a road trip specifically to save money on more expensive modes of transportation like airplanes, how can you go on one without breaking the bank?

If you will not take a rein on your spending, the costs of being on the road for several days can really add up. To make sure that you will not break the bank while going on a road trip, here are a few tips on how you can save money:

Gas and other car-related expenses

When you’re on a road trip, majority of your expenses will go towards your car. Everything from gas to toll fees to making sure that the vehicle does not break down in the middle of the road – these are the things that you will be spending on to ensure that your car is in tiptop shape during the road trip. Let’s take a look at how you can save money on these individual car-related expenses.

First, know how to maximize your car’s fuel economy. If you’re going on a road trip with family members, you can trade your gas-guzzling van or SUV for a hybrid with a friend or a colleague. Doing so will save you lots of gas money. If you have a new car and you would not like to overuse it for a road trip, you might consider renting a car for the duration of the trip.

After making sure that you’re using a vehicle that will not consume a lot of gas in the first place, make sure to follow tips from travel websites like AAA.com. On their website, you will be given tips on how you can maximize a car’s fuel economy by keeping the tire pressure at the recommended PSI, removing the excess load from the car, using cruise control and not rushing for the entire drive. You can also turn off the AC and ease off the pedal way before a stop sign to save gas while driving.

Second, know where you can source cheap gas. Depending on which part of the country you wish to explore and drive through, some areas have cheaper gas prices as compared to others. Even if the difference is just 5 to 10 cents, it still makes a huge difference considering the fact that you need to drive the car with a full tank of gas.

You can use websites like GasBuddy.com to determine which gasoline stations near your location offers the best prices. If you have a gas rewards card, use that as well. When you go online, you can even take advantage of discounted gift cards for gas stations. Check out sites like CardCash, Gift Card Granny or Cardpool.

Third, be aware of how toll fees can add to the overall cost of your road trip. Highways and turnpikes may be easier roads to pass through, but they’re not necessarily scenic! Also, the costs of the toll fees that you would have to pay eventually add up.

Instead of paying tolls, download Internet mapping sites or use the GPS device on your car or smartphone to check out alternate routes. If you want, you can even take the old fashioned route of using a crumpled map or guidebook to get you from point A to point B. Navigating manually should be half the fun of the road trip!

Food – main meals and on-the-road snacks

If your main source of main meals for the entire duration of your road trip is fastfood drive throughs, the costs can immediately go up. Whether you’re travelling with a group of friends or a family with kids, it is best to bring a cooler and stop at supermarkets along the way to refill your food supply. Pack your drinks and snacks in the cooler instead of buying individual items at convenience stores or gasoline stations.

It’s not really a good idea to make dinner reservations at certain restaurants because you can easily miss it if you take your time arriving at your first pit stop.

The good news is that you can always rely on your smartphone to lead the way, and tell you which diners, local restaurants and eateries you can go to. Check out apps like Yelp, MenuPages to find cheap eats. You can also scour the net for coupons and discount codes when eating at local haunts.

Lodging

If you’re passing through the town of a friend, make an ‘announcement’ on your Facebook or Twitter feed of when you might be arriving. You might be surprised at how many people would be more than willing to play host for your group and lend you their couch or air mattress.

Another option is for you to bring a tent, stow it at the back of your car and use your GPS or maps app to find a campsite along the way. Visit FreeCampsites.net or Recreation.gov to find the cheapest camping sites near your route.

If you must stay at a hotel, make reservations ahead of time. You can also download an app like the Priceline Negotiator which allows you to bid on hotel rooms and get discounted rates on lodging. The CouchSurfing website or app can also be useful in giving you ideas about where to spend a night in to recuperate your energy after a long date of driving.

Decide where you want to sleep after lunch, so that you can make reservations, get there ahead of time, and not have to waste time or money going back and forth by manually checking on the prices of individual hotel rooms.

Entertainment

Part of the fun of a road trip is crawling through the sightseeing attractions that you will pass along the way. AAA TripTik Travel Planner is an app which gives you a list of attractions, events and entertainment options in an area that you can visit. Yelp is where you can get information about public parks, museums, galleries and other attractions.

Websites offering coupons for sightseeing attractions can also be accessed ahead of time so you’d know where to go, at discounted rates.

Outdoor concerts, festivals, exhibits and the beach are the other stops that you should make during your journey. If you’re bringing the kids along, make sure to pack a Frisbee, a volleyball and some outdoor chairs that you can use to expend some energy in between stops.

Keepsakes

Finally, what better way is there to remember your trip than to buy a keepsake? Ditch the “I Love New York” t-shirts which you may never get to wear, anyway. You can look for something cheaper like small ref magnets, even pieces of rocks or pennies from each city that you visit. Seeing your collection of keepsakes will remind you of all the fun that you had during your road trip, they’re cheap and they can be found pretty much anywhere.

As you can see, there are lots of ways for you to save money on a road trip, so start planning for one now!

About the author

Irina Vasilescu

Irina Vasilescu is our crafty designer. She joined the team three years ago and is also involved in the writing process.

11 Comments

  • The best part of roadtrips is finding local food. And the best part of that is finding cheap local food! Locals know the cheapest spots, so it always helps to do some extra leg work to find the “hidden hole in the wall”. Not only does it allow you to blend in and experience local things, but it saves cash! Great list.

    • I agree! Local food is the best part of road trips. Even better is when you have somebody that knows the place inside out.

    • I so agree! My husband and I are huge Yelp users and have not been let down. From lake perch in Sandusky, OH to German bar food in Virginia Beach, VA we have found some serious gems. It is all part of the roadtrip adventure.

  • Gas is the main deal here it’s pretty expensive especially when you’re driving a gas guzzler. But I think if you really want to save money, check your car before hand. Check everything, the breaks, the engine whatever so you can avoid any major inconvenience along the way.

    • Good advice. Having a smoothly running car can help save on gas and oil and prevent any costly breakdowns on the side of the road. I’ve had that happen before and it was very stressful. It’s hard to find car repairs in an unfamiliar town. It can put a real damper on an otherwise great vacation.

  • Thank you for the great tips! Admittedly, i do fall on that “Keepsake” trap whenever we go on road trips, I really like buying tihings during our trips and giving them to friends and family. But then again, not everyone appreciates this kind of things and the keepsake will only become a clutter to other peoples homes, so you might as well not spend for a future clutter.

  • I like your idea about staying away from useless tourist keepsakes. Really anything you buy in a new town you’re certain to attach the memory to so buy something good or just take photos.

    I try to cut costs by packing my own snacks. Most roadside food is full of chips, soda, fast food and candy…not healthy and can upset your stomach. There’s nothing worse than being sick while traveling.

  • I’ve learned that I never really like my keepsakes after I purchase them. They usually end up tossed within a year or so, or donated to the thrift store.

    Local places are usually the best for eating cheap. They usually have specials and the food is usually always good – especially if you find a local diner. Yelp and those other apps are great to track them down. My advice would be to look for a local bar, they usually have good food and if you ask the locals they will point you in the right direction.

    When I’ve gone on a road trip in the past I always make sure that the expenses are mapped out beforehand – or at least a brief estimate per person. Everyone chips in for gas and food is handled by each individual.

  • Me and my boyfriend are hoping to take a road trip this summer and check some random town and see what is there. We will be taking his car though as he has a Honda Civic which is easy on gas. My car is Buick so it is bad on gas. We have coolers and ice packs. I am not sure how long ice packs last but if need be we could keep some sandwiches cool and eat those and have some dry snack food as well like cereal and such. I don’t want us to spend to much on food if we can help it. I think we are going to probably stay at a hotel though unless hes willing to go camping which is cheaper.

  • Roadtrips! Awesome. I roadtripped from coast to coast in Canada with university friends; we slept in our car and ate grocery food (or Subway sandwiches), stopping in universities to get a shower on the way! I would usually think that there is no way to make it cheaper than this, but actually, on the way back, I hitchhiked with my boyfriend, so no gas money and no repairs on the road (which we had many of on the way there!). Also, people take us up were pretty generous.

    Of course, you have to be young with a good sense of adventure, I guess, to be willing to sleep in the car or on the side of the road. But 10/10 would do it again, it was the best time of my life, including the times I travelled more luxuriously. It just has such a road feeling to it!

  • I always wanted to go on a road trip. My family also got some rocks when we were at the mountains. There are still in my backyard today. Collecting rocks from each city isn’t a bad idea.

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