The open road, the rolling hills beckon to you. As you pass the farm, cows wave to you, well not wave, but let out deep, resounding ‘Moos’ to let others know of your journey. As the hours wear on and you get further and further into your trip, you reflect on life and breathe a sigh of relief. You are sure glad you spotted this article, How to Save on a Road Trip: a Tips and Advice Guide. Patting yourself on the back, you smile with a sense of a job well done.
Let’s get started.
Planning – It’s the Key to a Good Time
People who think ahead are better off. That is just a fact. You need to ask yourself some key questions.
Where are you going? Is it just going to be national parks? Or are you going to see museums? People? Concerts? You need to plan out your itinerary and what you want to see. Where are you staying? It might seem fine the first few nights to sleep inside your car, but it will get old after a week or so.
How much do you want to pay? Not all trips are equal in length or cost. Some of us, well, have more to fork out than others to the toll man. Others among us are beach bums who can couch surf for days.
When you write down and take in the whole of your trip on a single piece of paper, you get a better grasp of what awaits you. It will not take everything into account. The unexpected often becomes a surprise, but you can anticipate a good deal of what you will encounter. The trip becomes something that was not spur of the moment, but planned with careful anticipation and fore thought.
Visualize your journey and write it all down. You can then better manage the trip ahead.
Bring Your Own Food and Skip the Starbucks Latte
If you go to a Starbucks seven days a week, those $4 lattes are going to add up. If you want the free WiFi, then just grab an empty latte out of the trash when no one is looking, plop it on your table, and fire up your laptop to start web surfing. I have done this before. Well maybe I did not reach into the trash (but bought once and came back with the same mug again and again). You get the idea though. You only get one trip to Starbucks.
Otherwise, bring your own food along with you. McDonalds, Burger King, Carl’s Jr., Taco Bell, and Jack-in-the-Box might seem convenient, but their cost is an inconvenience to your wallet and your health. You save time and energy by eating out, but multiple trips to a fast food place add up fast.
When you choose to eat the food you bring along with you, you also eat better, healthier that is. A lot of Americans go out to eat every single day and it reflects in the poor health throughout the country.
Be different and prepare your own food. You just might find out you like to cook.
Speeding Might Save You Time, But There is More to the Equation
On a road trip, time is one of your biggest expenses. It might save you big to speed, but it won’t. Hear me out.
Police know the tricks of the trade on the road. When my friend and I traveled to Yosemite together, I thought it was smart to start speeding to get us there quicker. Little did I know there was a CHP officer hanging out underneath the overpass. It cost me $500 because I clocked in at 81 MPH. Do not be like me. Slow down and appreciate the journey. A vacation is an opportunity to reflect, not get stressed out.
When you speed, you lose money from all the extra gas you are burning. Stick your car in cruise control and you will save money.
Avoid tolls with a special button on the Google Maps’ app. If you go on Google Maps and plan your route, there is a button which allows you to toggle on ‘avoid tolls.’ Click that button. The route might seem a little longer, but you will save $5 here and there. The tolls add up over time and, well, take a toll on your wallet (that was a joke :)). No one wants that.
If you have more money to spend, then you can also get a ‘fast track’ pass to stick on the dashboard of your car. It does cost a bit to get, but you save money if you travel through tolls often.
My Top 5 Tips for You to Save Big
1. Prepare Your Car for the Rigors of the Journey.
When you are packing on hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles onto your car, the engine will take notice. Halfway through your journey, if you are not careful, your car will be huffing and puffing and then suddenly break down on you. Uh oh! Then you will be left to call your car insurance company for a tow.
Check the tires beforehand. Put in some fresh oil. And when you are about to fuel up the night before your journey, pour in some carburetor cleaner fluid beforehand. You want your car to be in tip-top shape for the journey ahead.
2. Alternative and ‘Freeish’ Lodging is a Real Possibility.
Did you know you can sleep in Walmart parking lots for free in your car? Well it might not be the best because it is Walmart after all and it can seem sketchy to sleep in your car at a Walmart parking lot, but it is a real possibility if you are in a pinch and need a place to sleep at night.
You can couch surf. This would be a good opportunity to reunite with friends and spend a night or two at their place. Be sure to download the ‘couch surfing’ app. I have not yet tried it out, but it is free and lets you travel like a local. Just be sure to repay your hosts with a gift or two. It goes a long way. You never know when you might need their help again. It is the courteous thing to do.
In a previous article, I wrote about how to find campsites for free throughout the US and Canada. It is a real thing and let’s be real here for a moment. Camping and backpacking fees can really add up over time, especially at the most visited parks. Learn how and reduce your ‘free’ lodging costs.
3. If You Need to Refuel, Pull off Where a Lot of Stations Are.
More gas stations in a small vicinity means more competition and lower prices for you. As a result, your wallet takes less of a beating. You can also get your gas in more, let’s say, less expensive places. If you are in a rural area, you are bound to pay less for gas. If you are in San Francisco, the gas prices can get pretty high.
4. Factor in All Costs Beforehand, so You Can Plan Ahead.
If you can attach a hard dollar amount to what your trip will cost instead of spit balling it, you can reduce your stress. You can lay out what you need to do beforehand from working extra to get more bread in the bank to living more modestly.
Your future self will pat you on the back.
5. Get More Done in Less Time. But How?
It might be tempting to see ten national parks in ten days, running and racing from one park to another and yelling at the kids to keep it down and screaming at your spouse for directions. If you read this past sentence like me, then you were probably stressed by the end. No one wants that.
It is better instead to hit two or at most three national parks in those same ten days. Why? You might ask. Because not only will you spend less on gas traveling to and fro, but you also will get to explore those parks in greater depth. You can get a greater feel for the place.
Do You Want to Save Money on Food?
Like I said earlier in the article, you should not be eating out a lot on the road if you want to save money. When you bring your own food, you not only eat healthier, but you also save more money. If you want your bacon to be fresh, then I suggest you check out one of my previous articles, The Best Ice Coolers for Camping in 2019. (Do not fret if it is 2025 and this article still reads 2019; I update the “best of” articles on an annual basis :)). Invest in a cooler and you will save big in the long haul!
If you have any thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please share the article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!