Food and lodging are the biggest road trip budget busters. Plan ahead on eating and sleeping to save money on road trips, and use a few simple tips to save some big money on road trip gas, too. Check out these top five money saving road trip tips below to find out how to save big.
Eschew the Drive-Thru
One of the biggest lessons I learned from road tripping is that the food you think will be cheapest almost never is.
Stopping for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at McDonald's, KFC, and Taco Bell is a surefire way to waste a ton of money while making yourself feel like crap.
Instead, you should look to stop in at Mom's Apple Pie Cafe-type places for mega meals on the cheap. Keep an eye out for early bird specials, as well -- if you skipped lunch and are starving in the early evening, you and the old folks can find big dinners for a few bucks. When I'm road tripping, I often go for the big meals at lunch, when dishes are often much cheaper, then save by eating a much smaller amoutn for dinner.
If you don't have a huge appetite, get your leftovers to take away and eat them for breakfast and/or lunch the following morning. And speaking of breakfast: if your hostel has a free one, make sure to take full advantage of it and eat your fill to stay full for longer. And sneaking a break roll or two for lunch will help keep your costs low, too.
Read more on how to save on food when road tripping.
How to Save Money on Snacks
Snacks are big budget killers on road trips -- racks of Cheetos and Fritos for 99 cents are irresistible in convenience stores, and let's face it: road trips are all about the snacks. However, these aren't the best way to keep your costs down, and those bags of chips quickly add up.
To save money, plan to stock up on cheaper chips at grocery stores like Safeway in economy-sized bags instead. It may not sound like much, but this alone should net you twice as many chips for your money.
Another thing you can do to keep the costs down, is to bring a cooler (styrofoam varieties are cheaper at Walmart than convenience stores) and load it up with sodas from the Publix rather than 7-11. Even better: bring a bottle of water with you and top it up whenever you're anywhere with a faucet and clean drinking water. You'll help the environment by not contributing to plastic waste and save money on drinks while doing so.
Did You Know You Can Score Free Accommodation?
Camping for free is as easy as pulling off into a National Forest and stretching out under the stars.
If you prefer a roof above your head, you can crash for free on a couch with a like-minded host in safety with Couchsurfing's database. Couchsurfing is available to everyone, and allows you to stay in a local's home for free for a couple of nights. It's free, it's safe, and it gives you an insight into the local culture that you wouldn't have otherwise had. If you do decide to try Couchsurfing, remember to bring a small gift for your host, or to offer to cook dinner for them one night -- you're staying for free so it's worth giving something back to the person who lives there.
If you're particularly sociable and love to meet the locals, you may find yourself getting to head away from the official free accommodation route when someone offers to let you spend the night at theirs. Proper etiquette here is to wait to be asked, but if you can trust the person offering their room, there's no reason why you should turn it down.
How to Find the Cheapest Gas
Before you hit the road, check out some of the best options for cheap gas in advance with these gas cost calculators. Once you're driving, you'll probably forget specific stations, so jot down town names from your research, or pull off at big clover leaf exits to compare gas prices at several spots. It's surprisingly easy to save money on gas if you have enough time to shop around.
How to Save on Gas While Driving
One of the big ways to save gas as you drive is to turn off the air conditioning and resort to using the fan.
The A/C burns through the gas faster than you can say, "Four dollars a gallon?!" (Leaving four-wheel-drive engaged is also a gas-drainer, so be sure to keep that off when you don't need to use it.)
Another way to save on gas is to ease off the pedal well before a stop sign and coast to a stop, then to take off in a mellow manner. Burning rubber burns gas needlessly.
Before you leave, you'll want to inflate tires to close to the maximum, as this helps you burn less gas, too.
Avoid cruise control if possible. You wouldn't think so, but this actually uses more gas than controlling your speed manually.
Don't speed. Not only is it dangerous and potentially trip-ending if you suddenly find yourself without a valid license, but it wastes gas so costs you more.
This post was edited by Lauren Juliff.