Got wanderlust but don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on a trip? I have taken lots of cross-country (and shorter) road trips over the years. Here are my BEST tips for road trips on a budget. Let’s save money and keep traveling!
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Related post: How to Save Money on Travel – 6 Smart Hacks for Budget Travelers.
How to Road Trip for Cheap
Road trips and camping have the reputation of being cheaper vacations. They can be! But it’s easy to overspend even on thrifty vacation ideas, especially with the price of gas these days.
Related post: 7 Ways to Save Money On Gas You Need to Know.
Q: How do you budget for a road trip?
One of the best ways to budget for a road trip that works well for many people is to have a separate account for travel. If saving for a road trip or another type of trip is a priority, having a dedicated bank account just for travel will help make that happen.
Otherwise it’s too easy to spend any extra money you have on clothing, entertainment, Uber Eats, etc.
Set up a new high-interest savings account (this one is great), so you’ll actually be making interest on the money you deposit, instead of pennies like a typical bank savings account.
Helpful posts on budgeting:
- The Best Budgeting Apps for 2023 to Manage your Money
- 5 Best Budgeting Tools You Need if You’re Bad with Money
- 15 Best Budgeting Books You NEED to Read Now
Road Trips on a Budget – 10 Tips You Need for Your Next Trip
Road trips can add up fast; it’s that simple.
If you’re not careful and don’t plan ahead, you’ll wind up paying too much for everything. This will make it less likely you’ll have money available to be able to take another trip!
Here are ten tips to help keep your road trip budget-safe.
1. Bring Your Own Food for the Beginning of Your Road Trip on a Budget
At least for the first few meals of a road trip, you should be able to bring your own meals and snacks.
Hungry vacationers make for unhappy vacationers, so plan ahead with lots of food.
If you don’t have ample food while traveling, you’ll wind up cranky or having to spend more at gas stations and overpriced fast food chains.
Here are some ideas for make-ahead road trip meals:
- 10 Easy and Quick Canned Chicken Recipes Your Family Will Love
- 10 Cheap Meal Ideas That You’ll Want to Make Again and Again
2. When Possible, Choose Grocery Stores over Restaurants
You have to eat, even while on vacation.
But you don’t have to eat out every meal for the duration of your road trip.
Buying food at grocery stores for many of your meals can save you a lot of money.
Even if you’re splurging a little more at the grocery store than you would at home, there are still reasonably priced meals and snacks to choose from, keeping your food budget in check.
Deli meat sandwiches and fresh fruit can easily be eaten on the go. You can even get inexpensive frozen dinners as many grocery stores provide microwave use and an area designated for eating.
3. Time Your Trip Right for Road Trips on a Budget
Seasonally prices can fluctuate and economics tells us in general that the time to buy is when demand is low. A lush Park City resort, for example, is going to be a whole lot cheaper in the summer than in the winter.
And if your road trip isn’t going to be snow oriented anyway, you should try scheduling your vacation for your destination’s off season.
Gas prices can similarly fluctuate seasonally so plan your vacation accordingly. Fuel is often highest in peak summer months of July and August.
If you can get away for your budget road trip in June or September, you can avoid the annual summer gas price hike.
4. If You Can, Stay with Friends and Family
The kind of guests that don’t want to impose are the kind of guests people don’t actually mind hosting.
If you’re courteous, grateful, and neat, it’s doesn’t have to be that much of an imposition on your family or friends to have an extra couple of house guests.
And you can likely get a nice gift for your host for much less than the price of lodging.
Here are some gift ideas they’ll love: Minimalist Gifts That Are Good for the Environment.
5. Road Trips on a Budget Hack: Plan Ahead with Supplies
There’s nothing like paying ten dollars for a Band-Aid because you didn’t think about needing one.
Stock up for emergencies before you leave on your road trip on a budget, that way enabling you to buy things on sale and escape the trap of predatory pricing.
I always head to the Dollar Tree before I take any trips. You can get lots of road trip and travel essentials for super cheap.
Related post: Dollar Tree Haul: Cheap and Fun Travel Activities for Kids.
6. Talk to a Travel Agent
This road trip on a budget tip might sound counterintuitive, but hear me out.
Even though you’re planning a road trip, it can still be beneficial to consult with a travel agent while planning your vacation.
It’s a travel agent’s job to know about special offers and package deals.
Even if you’re not booking flights this time around, a travel agent will likely help you plan a budget-friendly trip so they might get your business in the future.
7. Look for Free Events and Locations
Every place I know of has free events and locations. Even if you end up choosing not to take advantage, look for what’s free in the area before starting off your road trip.
Many times vacations are so cluttered with fancy schedules and big agendas that everyone is exhausted by the time you’re supposed to go to some money-guzzling activity anyway.
See what free events may or may not fit into your road trip schedule.
8. Check Online Forums and Local Websites for Insider Secrets
With the internet the way it is, don’t plan road trips on a budget without getting some inside information from locals first.
You can find all sorts of insights online about the best places to eat on a budget or which stores can you stretch your dollar most at.
Read all you can from insider sources about your travel destination.
Here are some resources that will help your road trip on a budget:
- Booking.com – I use this site all the time to save money on travel accommodations
- Undercover Tourist – #1 deals site if your road trip includes theme parks in Florida or California
- Rakuten – to get up to 10-12% cash back on travel expenses
- Travel Insurance Direct – Protect yourself and your upcoming road trip (easy-to-navigate site!)
9. Don’t Buy Souvenirs at Gift Shops
We all know gift shop souvenirs can be ridiculously marked up.
Don’t even bother.
If you’re driving to Disneyland, pick up your Mickey souvenirs from a local Wal-Mart.
The same goes for college towns and exotic resorts and everything else I know of.
Sure, it may not be as glamorous, but in the long run it probably won’t matter.
Related post: My pandemic impulse buys that were totally worth it.
10. Be Intentional for Road Trips on a Budget by Prioritizing Spending
It’s a vacation and you don’t want to stay in a cardboard box eating bread scraps all week.
But you can make concessions here and there without sacrificing what’s most important to you for a fun trip. Pick and choose.
If good eating is really important, maybe you could stay at a cheap motel instead.
Or if the trip is all about being with family and friends anyway, you don’t need to take in some expensive show just to prove you can.
You can splurge here and there without wasting money on everything.
Check out these other resources for your next road trip on a budget: