With 50 states and thousands of miles of open road—there’s nothing more American than a sprawling road trip. A road trip is a budget-friendly way to see all the unique sights and landmarks spread across the U.S., but any road trip requires proper budgeting to get your money’s worth for every mile.
If you want the most savings to use these ten tips before setting out and during your trip. A well-planned, budget-friendly road trip will take you to the sights and sounds of this amazing country without spoiling your savings.
Save Big on Snacks
Want to slowly drain your money throughout a road trip? Buy snacks at every stop. Snacks are a large part of every road trip, but three to four dollars every refueling stop will quickly eat into your budget. Instead of picking up a new pack of chips every few miles, buy your snacks at bulk at a big box retailer before you get started. Bring a cheap cooler to store an array of snacks and cold beverages for discounted munchies throughout your trip.
Say No to the Drive Through
Snacks can quickly drain your road trip money, but fast food joints are worse. Every stop at a drive-through can cost you a few dollars to 30 bucks—three stops a day, and your budget is in trouble. Instead of a drive-through stop at a grocery store for cold cuts or other cheap, quick meal options. When you do go out stop somewhere, you can get more bang for your buck like mom and pop style diners. Use your snack cooler for leftovers and meal supplies so nothing goes to waste.
Be Thorough on Accommodations
Road trips don’t always stick to strict itineraries (heck, that’s half the fun) but if you want to save money, you need to be strict on your accommodations. All road trippers should pre-book any RV parks, motels, hotels, or vacation rentals to secure the best rates. Get creative when searching for accommodations by looking at all options, including public parks where you can pitch a tent or Airbnb rentals at cheaper than hotel rates. Be careful about where you stay you can net tremendous savings.
Stay for Free
It won’t be as luxurious as a hotel or offer as many amenities like a bed and breakfast but if you’re camping, RVing, or can sleep in your car, there are several places you can score free accommodations thanks to federal lands. Check out the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for public lands with free camping across the United States. If you prefer free indoor accommodations try couchsurfing.com for friendly strangers who’ll let you crash on their couch for a night.
Get the Most Out of Your Miles
Slightly increasing your miles per gallon doesn’t seem like a savings boon much but better fuel efficiency can save you three figures across a long road trip. There are several ways to score extra miles per gallon including watching your speed, using high-quality gas, no A/C, keeping your tires properly inflated, and having your vehicle inspected before venturing out on any long trips.
Save Your Stops for the Cheapest Gas
Refueling: the make or break of your road trip’s budget. You can focus on getting the most out of your miles, but if you’re buying overpriced gas you’ve got nothing to show for your careful driving. Smartphones have made scouting and finding the cheapest gas easier than ever before. Download helpful free gas apps like GasBuddy to actively sniff out affordable gas no matter where you are.
Pre-Plan Your Parking
A few poor parking choices can turn your day in the city into a budget buster. Major cities are notorious for hefty parking fees and meter maids that patrol city parking like a hawk. Head to your favorite search engine and type in “city name” followed by “parking” for a list of free and paid spaces around your destination. If you know you’re going to a specific place, make sure you know about parking rules and if space is included in admission. RV drivers especially need to pre-plan their parking to find accommodating spaces on the cheap.
Only a few years ago you needed fancy equipment or a meticulously planned route to dodge tolls, but modern smartphones and their mapping software can help you steer clear of tolls and paid-use roadways. If avoiding tolls puts too many miles on your route, consider a transponder or the appropriate quick pass so you can use toll roads for the cheapest rates.
Don’t Get a Ticket
A ticket will ruin your entire day and can create future headaches, especially if you’re cited far from home. Use common sense to avoid tickets, like watching your speed and inspecting your vehicle before you get on the road. Make sure all lights and turn signals are working correctly, your insurance and tags are up to date, and closely monitor local traffic laws and regulations to avoid a trip killer.
Inspect Vehicle Before Rolling Out
The easiest way to end your trip prematurely is by being lax on your vehicle’s health. Road trips put a lot of strain on a vehicle so always get your oil changed and inspect the vehicle for potential issues before rolling out. Repairs at an unfamiliar auto shop are likely to be more expensive than your home shop, not to mention any towing fees if you break down in the middle of nowhere. A healthy vehicle in good repair will take you where you need to go instead of costing you your whole road trip.