Last updated on June 29 2021
Unless you are travelling at the luxury end of the scale, knowing how to road trip cheap can save you heaps of money, and allow you to splurge on some special things along the way.
Knowing how to save money on a road trip isn’t always obvious, so we’ve put together some of our best tips for saving money when you travel.
Have a trip planner
Hitting the road in full freedom mode is exciting, but let’s face it, not everyone can do that. For most of us, we get short periods of time to hit the road and explore the USA. However long the trip is, it’s a good idea to start with a trip planner. This allows you to set up a high-level framework of the key things you want to do on your road trip, adn the items that you are likely to spend money on.
Plan the route including the exact directions for getting there. Getting lost, or having to retrace your route, adds not only a level of frustration, but it has a time and cost impact as well.
Also remember, the further you travel, the more it will cost, so take the time to really consider how far your funds will go and how you want to travel.
Try using the Road Planners app to help with your road trip planning. Google Maps is also useful, as are the inbuilt map apps in smartphones.
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Create a budget
With your road trip route and outline completed on the trip planner, now it’s time to plan your budget. Depending on your own circumstances, this will either become your go-to where every cent must be accounted for, or a good guide that covers the large expenses, but provides you with some flexibility for others.
Create a spreadsheet for your budget and then track all of your expenses as they arise, so that there are no surprises. It’s a good idea to do this at least once a day.
Main expense items
- Gas – use the Fuel Economy website to help you accurately plan for fuel costs
- Maintenance on vehicle (this will depend on the age and condition of the vehicle)
- Accommodation costs (only if you are traveling in a car). If you have an RV for example, then you may only have RV park costs
- Incidental/other expenses
Always have a separate fund for emergency expenses.
Prepare and cook your own food
It is always going to be less expensive to cook your own food. Even better, take as much food with you, particularly staples, that you have room in your vehicle for. This is obviously much easier if you are doing a road trip in an RV. But, even in a car and camping, you can still make some really great food.
This also includes making your own coffee. Buying coffee is one of the largest expenses for individuals and is growing. Buy a thermal mug and make your coffee quickly and cheaply before you start driving again.
Stock up at grocery stores along the way, to avoid running out of food and having to spend money on items that you haven’t budgeted for.
Boondocking or camping for free
Free camping comes in many forms and is called many things; boondocking, free camping, wild camping and primitive camping.
This is one of the biggest areas of saving money on a road trip and it’s also lots of fun. Saving money by not having to stay in paid lodgings really helps the budget, and sometimes, you can make up more funds when you get an unexpected free night.
Note – free camping is not always legal so be sure to find out the local regulations before you pull up for the night.
Free camping in the USA is generally easy to find. We’ve had many occasions where the free camping sites are way better than ones we’ve paid for.
This is primitive camping at its best though. There’s no official toilet facilities or electricity.
If you aren’t free camping, the best way for anxiety-free road trips is to plan your accommodation ahead of time. Booking hotels and camprgrounds ahead means you have the security of knowing where you are going to sleep. Booking accommodation ahead of time also usually means you are able to get a cheaper rate.
We use TripAdvisor mostly when we travel as this gives us a variety of different options to choose from, making sure we get the cheapest place to stay. Comparisons are the best way to make sure you are getting the best deal. Always try the hotel directly first, as they are often very competitive with the booking portals. Air BNB are another good option.
If you are booking hotels, always enquire about parking as this is quite often left out of the room rate and can be quite expensive. If there is no parking available, or it’s too expensive, you can try Parkme or Parkopedia.
The best app for finding cheap campgrounds is iOverlander.
Pack what you need
Whilst we always try to taked as much of our own stuff as possible to avoid spending extra on the road, sometimes you can just take too much. Use a paacking list and only pack what you will actually use, and what you can’t buyf for a reasonable price along the way.
Get your vehicle checked first
Before any road trip, make sure your vehicle is in tip-top shape. Get it serviced and make sure all the important aprts work. Breakdowns and other mechancial issues when you are far away from home usually mean an explosion of funds.
Make sure you belong to an appropriate automobile association (like the AAA) and that it covers where you will be road tripping, vehicle breakdowns, emergency towing and overnight emergency expenses.
Buy gas when you see it cheap
Don’t always wait to fill up until you need it. Fill up when you see gas at a good price. This means you will be taking advantage of good prices and also not pushing the limits and opssibly getting caught which will end up costing you more.
Erratic driving uses more fuel. Stick to the speed limits, keep up a constant pace, and you’ll conserve your fuel.