CHEAP ROAD TRIP TIPS: HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON THE ROAD
During a road trip, life on the open road can be freeing, full of fun times, and epic diversions, it’s an all-around exhilarating adventure — until you run out of money. Here at Bearfoot Theory, we are all for getting out there and living it up but when it comes to road trips a wrong turn could cost you time and money that you simply can’t afford to lose. We’ve put together the ultimate guide to planning a cheap road trip that doesn’t feel “cheap”.
Whether you are driving cross-country or to the next state over there are plenty of ways to save money and enjoy a fun, inexpensive road trip. All you need is a little preparation and planning ahead to make your budget-friendly road trip the best ever without breaking the bank.
In this new blog post, we share some of our most helpful and practical tips for planning a cheap road trip, including how to save money on food, gas, lodging, and activities while you are traveling.
Bring Your Own Food
On a road trip, you need TWO kinds of fuel: one to keep the car running and the other to keep you going, too. The cost of the latter can quickly add up and push your spending way over budget. So, think about it this way: It may seem cheap to grab a bag of chips and a drink here and there but after a week on the road, you could have easily spent $10 a day and an extra $70 in total on snacks alone. Factor in the cost of three meals a day and you’ll have already made a dent in your savings.
The #1 tip for a cheap road trip? Bring your own food! Go to the store ahead of time and buy a variety of snacks in bulk. Nuts, granola bars, dark chocolate and other hearty snacks that are packed with protein and fiber will keep you happy and full. Since you’re going to be on the road for a few days don’t buy individual bars, buying a mixed assortment pack is cheaper. If you have a Costco Membership, that’s a great place to load up. This will save you money on food during your road trip and keep you from mindlessly munching on junk food along the way.
To take it a step further, save money on meals during your road trip by bringing a cooler full of easy to prepare meals. You can even bring a camp stove to cook your main meals. Grilled cheese and tomato soup is one of my favorite easy dinners while road tripping on the cheap.
At the same time, part of traveling is experiencing the local cuisine, so allow yourself a meal or two out. Generally eating breakfast or lunch out is less expensive than dinner prices. We like to use Yelp to find highly rated local joints that aren’t overpriced.
Check out some of our favorite snacks that are great for when you’re feeling hangry in the middle of a long road trip.
Bring Plenty of Water
Road trips and salty pretzels can make you thirsty. Avoid impulsively purchasing drinks and hoarding a ton of empty plastic bottles in every nook and cranny of your car by bringing your own water. Take at least two reusable water bottles and fill them up before you head out. Even better, store a 5-gallon jug in the back of your car that you can use to refill on the way. This will not only save you money, but it’s safe to have extra water in case of a breakdown. Plus you’re recycling & reusing vs. creating more waste.
If you plan on doing any activities like hiking, biking or walking around, or, if the weather will be warmer, be prepared and bring extra water. As a bonus, drinking water can also curb snack cravings, which is sometimes your body’s way of telling you that you’re dehydrated. So, sip away!
Don’t buy coffee
Coffee is one of the easiest things to cut back on to save money on your road trip. It might not seem like a lot, but a $4 latte every day spread over 2 weeks could be the equivalent of another night at an Airbnb or two nights at a campground. But what if you’re a big coffee person and need your daily fix? Make your own! I’m a huge fan of the Aeropress for road trips (it’s also my go-to coffee making contraption at home). Not only does it make a very strong and smooth cup of coffee, cleanup is very simple and the Aeropress itself is very compact. Give it a try, and you’ll see that you can make better coffee off your tailgate with a Jetboil and an Aeropress than you can get at any Starbucks.
Minimize Alcohol Consumption & Avoid Going to Bars
While cracking a cold one during sunset at the end of the day might be on your agenda, drinking can quickly turn your cheap road trip into an expensive one. If you want some tasty libations during your road trip, bring your own booze to enjoy rather than buying $10 cocktails at the bar. Also, think about the type of booze you are bringing since those IPAs can add up fast.
At the same time, exploring the bar scene may be part of the way you like to travel. When you do want to splurge, ask the locals where the cool hangouts are, search for happy hour deals, or hit up the local brewery and take a growler to go.
Map Out a Budget-Friendly Route
While we are all for getting lost and going off the beaten track here at Bearfoot Theory, going an hour in the wrong direction is simply a waste of time and money when you’re planning a cheap road trip. Map out your route ahead of time and do your research to see if there are any good shortcuts or more efficient ways to get where you are going. A great tip is to use two different GPS systems because navigational tools can give you vastly different routes to the same place.
Check out the Road Trippers App that helps you save locations on-the-go, find destination points along your route and locate lodging, gas, restaurants and more. Also, before you hit the road, download the iExit App to determine the best areas to take a pit stop on major highways while you’re traveling.
We’ve got a plethora of cheap road trip routes & itineraries already mapped out if you want to save the stress. These road trips are full of great outdoor destination stops and advice for maximizing your sightseeing:
- The Ultimate Utah National Parks Roadtrip Itinerary
- The Ultimate Florida National Parks Roadtrip Itinerary
- 7 Day Yellowstone & Teton Roadtrip
- 3 Day Death Valley National Park Roadtrip
- Fall Colors Colorado Roadtrip
- 10 Tips for Driving in New Zealand
- The 12 Best Nevada Road Trip Stop
Plus in most of our itineraries, we mention a few budget-friendly tips specific to the routes to help you save even more!
Do More/Drive Less
Even the savviest of planners can’t beat driving less as a great way to save gas and money. Ignore the call of the open road for a day or two and spend your time covering more miles on foot than on four wheels. For example, rather than trying to cross off five National Parks in a week, focus on one or two. You’ll save lots of money on gas, and by digging deeper you’ll leave the destination feeling more satisfied, saving the other parks for another trip.
Maximize Your Mileage
Think back to your days in Driver’s Ed class. The way that you drive makes a difference in how efficiently your car uses gas. I’ve noticed this especially in my Sprinter Van. Here are a few basic tips to remember:
- Drive 55 mph on highways or as close to the speed limit as possible to save gas.
- Use cruise control to automate the amount of fuel your car uses.
- Try not to start and stop abruptly on roads with traffic lights. Accelerating from a full stop over and over again will suck up more gas than it would if you slowly pressed on the brakes and gradually began moving again.
Use the customizable AAA app, TripTik to help you map out a budget-friendly route with gas stations. Simply enter in your destination points and TripTik will show you which gas stations are on that route, plus, the estimated prices of gas that day. Be warned: Gas prices can change rapidly so it isn’t always 100% accurate. Gas prices also tend to increase on weekends and holidays, so filling your tank on Monday rather than Sunday will help you pinch a few pennies.
Depending on the size of your vehicle and how many people you are traveling with, this can be a simple (or not so simple) solution to saving money during the overnight portion of a cheap road trip. So, if you’ve got the room, bring along pillows and extra blankets for some a quick, improvised night of shut-eye. If your car isn’t roomy enough, consider renting a campervan for your trip. It will give you a taste of van life, and depending on the region and length of your road trip, renting a camper van can still be less expensive than renting a hotel every night.
If a campervan is out of your budget, and you can’t sleep in your car, you can always sleep in a tent. You can score a cheap Coleman car camping tent on Amazon for as little as $40. Or this REI Backpacker Bundle is a greater starter kit for those looking to get into camping for the first time.
In order to find a campsite, check out our ultimate guide to finding campsites, which shares our favorite apps and tools for finding free camping around the US. While some campsites are free, others campgrounds require a small fee for staying there so keep some cash on hand just in case. If there’s a water hookup at the campsite you can also fill up your water jug and bottles here, too. Just make sure to be mindful of the area’s rules and regulations, whether or not you need a pass and if there is a check out time.
Staying the night at a hotel or B&B?
Some places offer packages that include gas gift cards or discounts as an incentive to book a room. Do a little research and see what you find!
Another great option is to find an Airbnb along your route with a full kitchen that allows guests to rent a room in a shared house. It’s a great way to pinch pennies and potentially even make some new friends!
Reunite with Friends
Chances are that if you are passing through a major city, there aren’t ample spaces to camp out for the night. It may seem obvious, however, staying with a friend or relative is perfect for the frugal explorer, just remember to be a good houseguest and offer to help out around the house where you can.
Up for an adventure? Reach out and see if there are any friends of a friend in the city you’re visiting who would be willing to host you for a night or two. If it’s your first time in the area, getting a local’s advice on cheap (and tasty) places to eat, things to do or places to go is priceless. Plus, you might make a new friend who you can extend the same offer to someday should they need it.
Looking for local knowledge? Join our Bearfoot Theory Outdoor Adventurers Facebook Group to link up with other outdoor enthusiasts.
Visit Free Attractions
Spending time in the outdoors is the most budget-friendly option out there. In many places, it’s absolutely free and you’ll gain a lifetime worth of memories, great photos and rewarding experiences all for a great cost. Visit a National Park, take a long day-hike, have a picnic or spend a day on the water to make the most of your time out of the car. Luckily, these naturally beautiful destination points also happen to be the most scenic drives, too. So, go ahead and drive off into the sunset.
Get a National Park Pass
If you plan on visiting three or more National Parks in a single year, the National Park’s Annual America the Beautiful Pass will pay for itself. The Pass covers entrance for your car and all of it’s passengers saving you money on admission. It doesn’t cover camping or other permits, however, and reservations can fill up far in advance. Plan ahead and see if there are campground openings or if the Park has any first-come, first-served campsites available.
Find out the deadlines & reservation processes for popular trails & National Parks in 2018!
Travel During the Offseason
If you want to stay in hotels, chances are you’ll save some money by traveling outside of peak season. The shoulder season still has nice weather, all the same attractions, is free of crowds, and way less expensive to boot. Consider this quieter time a better way to get to know a place. The offseason is also a great way to meet locals and really see what a town or city is like when it isn’t high time to be there. Take a chance and see what you can find.