7 Tips for a Cheaper Road Trip

I love the road trip. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy flying quite a bit as well. However, there is something freeing about a road trip. You can stop when you see something interesting, and there is a little more flexibility involved. The road trip I took recently with my son only reinforced my love of road trips.

Unfortunately, with rising gas prices, many families are concerned that they can’t afford to go on a road trip. While rising gas prices can cause some difficulty, it is still possible to take an affordable vacation. As you plan your road trip, here are some tips for keeping some of your costs down while you are away from home:

1. Proper Car Maintenance

Before you leave, make sure your car is in good shape. Have the oil changed. Make sure all of the maintenance is up to date on your car before you go. Paying a little bit to have your car checked out now can save money on tows and repairs later, when you’re 300 miles away from home. Plus, a car that is properly cared for is more fuel efficient.

2. Plan Your Route

It’s true that one of the joys of road trips is that you can go a little off the beaten path. But you still want to have a general idea of where you’re going, and how far it is. Plot out your trip online, using tools from TripIt to Google Maps to Yahoo Trip Planner. Look to see what attractions are nearby, and recognize that you might make stops. Be realistic about how far you are going. Planning your route can help you save gas, and it can help you book ahead for discounts at different hotels.

It also helps to know your route so that you don’t get lost. If you are uncomfortable with a map, or worried about unfamiliar landscapes, bring a GPS. Personally, I prefer a good map, but my husband likes to use the GPS. And, it can be helpful. My parents once wasted the better part of a tank of gas driving around after getting lost.

3. Look for Discounts, Promotions, and Coupons

Find out about discounts and promotions in the towns you will be visiting. Find out from the hotel if they offer coupons to local attractions and activities. Usually, you can find discounts on stays, as well as activities, and even coupons to local restaurants if you plan ahead of time.

4. Bring Your Own Food

When I was growing up, my parents loaded up a cooler with deli meat, sliced cheese, condiments, drinks, fruit, and other food items when we went on a road trip. It’s much cheaper to stop and eat a picnic using sandwich stuff you bring yourself than it is to pay for meals at a restaurant. You can keep the cooler stocked with ice from the hotel, or buy a relatively inexpensive bag of it when you stop for gas. Bring some of your own food, and your dollars will stretch further.

5. Consider Camping Some of the Time

Depending on the make-up of your family, it’s possible to save on accommodations by camping some of the time. Instead of staying at hotels, bring along tents that you can pitch at campgrounds. A $10 or $20 nightly camping fee is much cheaper than $75 to stay the night in a hotel. Some campgrounds even offer shower facilities. Consider this option to save money on a few of your nights during the road trip.

6. Avoid Buying Expensive Souvenirs

One of the habits I got into during my travels was buying an inexpensive postcard of places visited. My husband and I like to buy small, inexpensive magnets as well. These magnets are great because they are small, and don’t take up much room — and they don’t cost much. You don’t need to buy $20 souvenirs on your trip. You should have plenty of pictures, and small mementos, costing $3 to $7 apiece, will save you a great deal of money.

7. Consider Doing Laundry

My last road trip was only five days, so I didn’t need to do more than pack a bag and go. However, for longer trips, it can get expensive, inconvenient, and heavy (reducing your fuel efficiency) to pack a lot of clothes. Instead, choose a few clothing items appropriate for the climate and plan to do a little laundry. If you are staying with relatives and friends for part of the time, it’s usually not a problem to do a couple loads of laundry.

What are your tips for saving money on a road trip?

About the Author

By , on Apr 30, 2012
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

Leave Your Comment (8 Comments)

  1. The laundry one is key. We just do our laundry in the shower at a hotel one night and let it dry on the a/c or hang it from the windows in the car the next day, no problem! You can pack lighter and do laundry for free!

  2. Thad P says:

    We are about to take a road trip. Not looking forward to the cost of the gas, but we plan to map the gas purchases to be at Walmarts along the route (assuming they still have the 10 cent per gallon discount).

  3. Deacon says:

    I think the bringing your own food is key. Otherwise you get stuck paying gas station prices which are high because it is located in the middle of nowhere.

  4. Great article! and so timely, people in the Philippines have all sorts of roadtrips (for a quick surf, hike up a different mountain, cliff diving, looking for an isolated haven). A lot of preparations, small things will come a long way for your trip. Lessen the stress over who forgot to bring this and that and focus more on enjoying the trip!

    -Anthony

  5. Cherleen says:

    You said, magnets? I love them! My fridge door is full of ref magnets from all the trips we had. Whenever my friends go on a trip, I only ask for one thing. You guessed it right — ref magnet. LOL.

  6. Jenna says:

    Consider getting AAA, not only will they come rescue you if you need it, you can save a bunch at hotels as well.

  7. Jonathan says:

    I like to keep my car well serviced as in the long run it’s amazing just how much you can save on expensive repair costs. Great article, fab tips

  8. J.B. says:

    I’ve heard that renting a car can sometimes be cheaper. Especially if you have a tank for a vehicle that consumes a ton of fuel.

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