Road trips are a fantastic way to take a vacation, but they can also be expensive.
The good news is that you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy yourself on a road trip.
We first started road tripping to save money on our travel costs. And over the years, we learned a few things about saving money on the road.
With these simple tips and tricks, you can plan a road trip within budget and still have a fantastic time! We promise that when all is said and done, your wallet will thank us later.
So sit back, relax, and read our tips below.
How to Find Cheap Road Trip Activities
Part of the fun of road trips is the amazing things you get to see and do along the way. But if you are trying to stick to a budget, you may find yourself struggling to find something to do that is wallet-friendly.
Here are some ways to save money on road trip entertainment.
Find Free Things to Do
One of the biggest things we’ve learned through the years is that there are many free things to do both in nature and larger cities.
To help you find free things to do, try Googling “Free things to do in X” for each destination on your road trip.
You’ll be surprised at all the free things you can do! You might find a free concert in the park, public artwork displays, or tours of local businesses and manufacturers.
Go To National/State Parks
One of our favorite ways to see cool new places is by visiting national or state parks.
National and State parks are absolutely gorgeous and highly affordable. And many of the National Parks, like the Smoky Mountains, don’t charge entrance fees.
Check the National Parks you are going to and see if they charge an entrance fee. If a few of them do, save money by purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass.
Also, if you plan to visit multiple State Parks on your trip, consider buying a yearly pass for the state’s park system.
Check Discounted Tickets at Museums and Attractions
If there are museums or attractions on your to-do list for your road trip, check to see if they offer discounts.
You’d be surprised to find that many offer discounts for certain days of the week or early or late entry into the attraction.
Avoid Larger Cities on the Weekend
When planning your road trip, try to avoid stops in larger cities on the weekend.
Instead, try to stop during the week, when you are more likely to find discounts at restaurants, bars, and attractions.
PRO TIP: if you find yourself in the city on a weekday, adjust your eating schedule to take advantage of some of the many early happy hour deals.
Join Facebook Groups for the Areas You Plan to Visit
Facebook groups are fantastic resources for both planning your trip and finding ways to save money.
Who better knows where the good deals are than the people who live or have traveled to a destination?
Before your trip, join Facebook groups and ask for advice on how to see the destination on a budget.
How to Save Money on Road Trip Gas
From the early days of our road trips to today, one thing remains true: fuel is one of your most significant expenses when you are on a road trip.
Here are some tips that will help you save money on fuel while on your road trip.
Road Trip in Your State
The ugly truth about a road trip is that the more miles you drive, the more money you spend on fuel.
So when planning a road trip, consider staying close to home. Sticking close to home may not sound like the most glamorous vacation, but you will be surprised at all the hidden gems you can find within a few
hours of your home.
We’ve found mom-and-pop wineries, fantastic hiking trails, and secluded lakes only hours away from us.
We often feel like we need to travel across the country to experience something new. But really, all we have to do is travel to an unfamiliar spot a few hours drive away.
Download the GasBuddy App
The GasBuddy app helps you locate the lowest-cost gas around you.
Finding the lowest cost gas around you can help you save a few dollars on your fill-ups, but make sure that your cost savings aren’t negated by driving farther to the gas station.
How to Keep Your Road Trip Food Costs Down
Food is another considerable expense for any road trip. But with a bit of creativity and planning, you can significantly reduce your food expense for your next road trip.
Bring Meals and Snacks
One of the most significant ways to save money on food for your road trip is to stock the car with meals and snacks before you leave.
Bringing food with you will prevent you from pulling off into the nearest fast-food joint when hunger strikes. It will also allow you to eat at some beautiful lunch spots you find along your route.
Consider bringing an electric cooler and portable stove to make it easier to pack and cook food on your road trip.
Check out this massive list of road trip meal and snack ideas to get you thinking about what foods to bring on your next road trip.
Avoid Restaurants and Utilize Grocery Stores
If you don’t want to bring a lot of food with you on your road trip, another way to save money is to skip the restaurants and buy meals at grocery stores.
Many stores have great delis, and some even have hot bars to get a nice warm meal on your road trip.
Find Hotels With Free Breakfast
If you are staying in hotels, look for ones with complimentary breakfast.
Free breakfast is a perfect way to get your first meal of the day for free and to snag a few snacks for the road trip ahead.
When searching for hotels, you can filter by “free breakfast” to only show you options with this amenity.
How to Find Cheap Road Trip Accommodations
Road trips are a fantastic way to get out there and see the country. But staying at hotels can start to add up, especially if your road trip is more than a few weeks.
Use Booking Services To Find Low-Cost Hotels
With Priceline, you can name your own price and choose the exact hotel you want. Or you can search for hotels in your destination city and find the best deals before you arrive.
Hotel Tonight is another great option for finding last-minute hotel stays. You can often find heavily discounted rooms that hotels want to fill.
Both of these options are great for finding affordable lodging while on a road trip.
Travel Hack Hotel Stays
We are big fans of travel hacking our hotel stays with credit card rewards. And it’s been years since we have paid for a hotel room with money out of our own pocket.
Through credit card bonuses, we earn points that we can use to book our hotel stays. It’s a great way to save money on your road trip if you are willing to spend some time travel hacking.
Our favorite card for travel hacking is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. It does have an annual fee, but we make that fee back in one hotel stay.
A great resource of travel hacking is The Points Guy.
Disclaimer: Travel hacking with credit cards is only a good option if you can pay off your credit card bills in full each month. I can not stress this enough.
Camp Instead of Staying in Hotels
If you don’t mind camping, staying at campgrounds is one of the best ways to save on your sleeping accommodations.
Campgrounds are often very affordable and sometimes even free if you are open to wild camping.
Sleep in Your Car
If you have a smaller budget, consider sleeping in your car.
You’ll be surprised that there are many options out there to sleep in your car safely and legally.
Spending your nights in your car will save you the most money as you can easily find free places to park overnight and get your z’s. You can find websites and apps such as FreeCampsites.net to help you find the perfect place to sleep in your car.
While sleeping in your car may not be the most comfortable option, it can be worth it to save money. And if you really want to make this work, there are plenty of mattresses and hacks to help you make your car a comfy haven on your road trip.
Get a KOA Membership
KOA Memberships are a great way to save money on sleeping accommodations, even if you aren’t a camper.
KOA is a network of over 500 campgrounds across North America. Many campgrounds in the network have cabins and hotels to stay in for a fraction of the cost of other similar accommodations.
If you plan on taking many road trips, this membership will pay for itself over time since it includes your first night’s stay for free at any location.
You Got This
Road trips don’t have to break the bank.
With some careful planning and a few of the tips above, you’ll be able to experience an amazing road trip on the smallest of budgets.