How to Road Trip On a Budget

Road trips are synonymous with  singing along with the radio and playing car games to pass the time. They can...

Road trips are synonymous with  singing along with the radio and playing car games to pass the time. They can be fun and easy on your pocketbook if you take the time to plan them. If saving money while on the road is your goal but you don’t know where to begin when it  comes to planning for your journey, then feel free to grab a pen and paper because this guide will help steer you in the right direction.

roadtrip

Maps are Your Best Friend

Mapping out your road trip is the key to opening your budget doors and keeping your spending in check. You may have your destination figured out but what about the roads leading to said destination? Before you pack up and get in the car, you need to map out your route from start to finish, including any stops that you may need to make along the way. This includes the mileage and number of days it will take you to complete your trip. Once you have the distance and time taken care of, you can then move on to creating a budget for your trip. In this day and age, mapping out your journey is easy thanks to web mapping services such as Google Maps that show you the restaurants, gas stations and motels available along your upcoming route. This will help you create a tailormade journey that caters to the needs of your trip companions. For example, a route that has a large number of  gas stations and rest stops  is more suitable for families with children who may need  more than one bathroom break.

If you are not in the habit of embarking on long and winding journeys with your car, investing in a GPS will keep you from getting lost and wasting time and fuel while you make your way down dangerous and unfamiliar terrain. Planning out your road trip and programming it into your car’s GPS is now possible thanks to a number of software applications that can help you navigate uncharted territory, especially at night.

Calculate Your Budget

Calculating the budget for your trip is essential and creates a solid foundation that you can use to plan a successful journey. First, you need to figure out how much money you are willing to spend on your road trip. Afterwards, you need to take this sum and divide it into smaller chunks before assigning it to your trip essentials. Things like food, gas, and sleeping accommodations all fall under the same umbrella and need a mini budget of their own. This way, you will avoid overspending or wasting money on unnecessary purchases. Entertainment and souvenirs also need their fair share of budgeting in case your road trip takes you to a famous landmark or museum. Setting some money aside for emergencies is also a smart and proactive choice. Nowadays, you can easily calculate the estimated cost of your trip using a road trip budget calculator. All you need to do is supply it with your trip details and it will do the budgeting for you.

Avoid Car Troubles

Imagine having to spend all of your road trip money on your car because the engine decided to break down halfway through your trip. This is the worst case scenario and can turn into a full on nightmare if you happen to be out of town or in a different state. This means having to call a tow truck to come pick up your car and take it to the auto repair shop. Not having a car also means that you have to cough up money for an overnight stay at a hotel. All of these added expenses will obliterate your dreams of going on a budget friendly road trip and may even force you to return home. Now press the rewind button and go back to the days leading up to your road trip. What would you have done differently in order to avoid such a terrible situation? Giving your car a tune up should be the first thing that comes to mind when answering this question. This includes checking your tires and making sure that they are properly inflated. It also means changing your oil and inspecting your headlights as well as keeping an eye out for any warning signs in the dashboard. All of these proactive measures will put your mind at ease and get your car ready for its upcoming journey.

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Keep an Eye on Fuel Costs

If your road trip plans involve driving a rental, then make sure you choose one with a good mpg or Miles per Gallon. Saving up on fuel will allow you to spend money on other things like snacks and roadside attractions. Moreover, cars with better mpg are good for the environment and help reduce your carbon footprint as well. There is a wide selection of cars with high mpg to choose from such as the Chevy Cruz and the Jeep Renegade.

Calculating your gasoline costs is also important and this can be easily done using a fuel cost calculator. This handy calculator will use the information you provide to estimate the fuel cost for your entire trip. All you need to do is supply it with the distance of your trip and the fuel efficiency of your car in addition to the gas pricing if needed and it will take care of the rest for you. Fuel saving habits can also help you spend less. Below are some tips you can follow to make the most out of your car while saving money at the same time:

  • Driving at a steady pace is highly recommended and according to the U.S Department of energy, gas mileage usually falls down rapidly when the speed is above 50mph. So every 5 miles per hour over this number will cost you an extra $0.19 per gallon for gas.
  • Using cruise control on the highway also leads to saving fuel because it lets you drive at a consistent speed.
  • Keep idling to a minimum and make sure that you turn off the engine when you car is parked. Idling is capable of draining a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour from your tank, depending on your air conditioner use and the size of your engine.
  • Highway gas stations generally inflate their prices, so try to fill up your tank at official rest stops or stations that offer competitive prices.

Frugal Food Choices

There is no escape from hunger during your trip, but you can definitely save up money in the food department by packing smart before your journey. This means stocking up on snacks such as granola bars and dried fruits from the grocery store. These snacks will come to the rescue on the road. Investing in a large cooler is a wise move in case you wanted to pack homemade sandwiches and drinks for your trip.

When it comes to breakfast, search for hotels that offer complimentary breakfast in case you plan on staying overnight. A hearty meal in the mornings is not to be missed. Free food is also available during happy hours at many bars across America. All you need to do is search for the nearest drinking establishment using your phone and quickly  head over to the bar before the happy hour window closes.

Another way you can save up when it comes to food is by having lunch instead of dinner at restaurants. Lunch is much cheaper, especially in places that are less known to tourists, so do not hesitate to ask the locals about reasonably priced hidden gems in their area.

Cheap Accommodation

Sleep is also an essential part of  long overnight trips, and that is why you need to make the right choice in terms of sleeping accommodations. There are many options to choose from depending on the amount of cash you are willing to spend.

  • Camping

Camping is free in places like national forests just as long as you camp outside established recreation areas and developed campgrounds. If sleeping outdoors is one of your hobbies, then you can pull over and choose a pleasant area to set up camp in. Travelers who own trucks can benefit greatly from a truck air mattress. Nothing screams comfort like a mattress, especially when your second option is to spend the night cooped up inside a small sleeping bag. Truck air mattresses are a great alternative to tents and can give you a good night’s sleep so you can wake up the next morning fresh faced and ready for your road trip.

  • Hotels

Nowadays, searching for cheap accommodation and comparing prices is easy thanks to search engines that are designed for the sole purpose of booking rooms and suites all over the world. You can use any of those aggregators to browse for accommodation based on your destination and budget. You can even call hotels directly and ask for any special offers that are on the table, especially during public holidays or special occasions. Check your wallet in case you own a hotel chain credit card. Some hotels offer rewards and loyalty points when you use your credit card to book a room at any of their branches. These points eventually get you a free night in addition to other perks that you can take advantage of during your future road trips.

  • Vacation Rental Sites

If you happen to be traveling with a large group of people, then renting an apartment via a vacation rental site is a budget friendly option that allows you to kill two birds with one stone. First of all, staying in an apartment means you have access to a kitchen where you can save up money by cooking your own meals instead of dining out. You can also do your laundry for free and split the accommodation costs with your friends or family members.

Stay Away from Peak Hours

Peak hours are synonymous with more expensive food, fuel and accommodation. Embarking on a road  trip during holiday season or during weekends can take its toll on your savings. Weekends give people who are  eager to escape the city a chance to  flood the highway in search of fresh air elsewhere. Families travel across the country during public holidays to visit their loved ones and this means more traffic on the road and less time spent being productive. Therefore, timing matters and that is why you need to plan ahead because even driving at night can make a difference when it comes to road trip planning. For example, traveling during summer means more heat, so you might want to stock up on coffee and drive at night instead. Driving at night  means less stress on the engine and better fuel efficiency. The cooler weather will also encourage you to roll the windows down and turn off the air conditioner.

Save Up on Sightseeing

Road trips are a great opportunity for travelers to do a bit of sightseeing and take a detour for the sake of visiting a landmark or a famous monument. Websites such as Roadside America provide you with a comprehensive guide to unusual attractions to keep you entertained on your way to your final destination. You can look up interesting places worth visiting depending on your route. If you are a fan of national forests, then chances are you will be interested in a national park pass. This pass costs $80 and gives you all year access to all 59 national parks including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Redwood National Park.

City tourism cards are another great option for people who love museums and other city related attractions. These cards often include free public transportation and  restaurant discounts so you can take full advantage of your detour and use the card to get VIP access to museums and other fun destinations.

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Invest in an Emergency Kit

Emergency kits were born out of necessity and since no one knows what kind of bumps or surprises they may encounter along the road, it is always better to be prepared by purchasing one and placing it in the trunk of your car. Nowadays, emergency kits include first aid supplies, food rations, survival blankets and light sticks in case you were stranded in the dark. Roadside kits are also your best friend if you plan on taking a long road trip. These include a flashlight, heavy duty booster cables, extra batteries and many other essentials.

Road trips can be both frugal and fun with the right planning and the right company of course, so make sure you have both crossed off your to-do list before embarking on your  upcoming journey.

Also be sure to check out our guide on the best car rental companies.

Sources:

  1. How to Plan a Cheap Road Trip With Multiple Stops – Tips & Ideas – Money Crashers
  2. How to Plan a Road Trip – wikiHow