11 Inexpensive Road Trip Tips

Are you taking a road trip for Spring Break this week? Explore inexpensive road trip tips.

Road trips are one of my favorite types of travel. It’s a different type of travel, you see things you wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and spend a lot of quality time with the friends or family you’re traveling with. Another reason road trips are popular is because it seems like a great way to save on a vacation since you’re eliminating plane tickets. But if you don’t plan ahead and know the tricks, road trips can actually be quite costly. Here are 11 simple ways to save on a road trip.

Photo Courtesy: Kristen

Inexpensive Road Trip Tips

  1. Be conscious of your gas.
    Gas is going to be the most expensive cost of your road trip. Save money on gas by driving smart, keeping your car well maintained, avoiding traffic, and choosing the most efficient route. Also, when you’re exploring an area, try to park and get out and walk instead. Besides a nice break from the car, it will save you gas.
  2. Avoid tolls.
    I took two road trips last summer. One was through the East Coast and one through the mountain region of the west. I spent approximately $200 on toll roads in the east and less than $4 on the west. Avoiding tolls isn’t hard at all with many of the navigation systems that are currently available. Many navigation systems have the option to choose to avoid tolls completely. But before you do that, be sure that the route you are taking didn’t add many more miles to your trip. More miles equals more gas which defeats the purpose of trying to save money.
  3. Bring a cooler.
    A cooler is a must on any road trip. This way you can buy water and drinks at the grocery store instead of paying a huge mark up at a convenience store or gas station. Having a cooler also allows you to store leftovers from restaurants, items to make a quick sandwich, or even food to throw on a grill to cook.
  4. Pack a grill and cooking utensils.
    Speaking of grilling, pack one to take with you. Bring a small, portable charcoal or gas grill along to cook your meals. You can pick up food from a grocery store and cook it yourself to save money. On my last road trip, we bought local meat from Colorado that there’s no way we could ever get in Illinois. It made it a unique experience for a third of the cost what we would have paid in the store.
  5. Pack storage containers with you.
    Whether you pack a grill or not, be sure to pack storage containers with you. Bring a water bottle so you can fill up on water whenever you can. Bring a coffee thermos to fill up when you have the opportunity at hotels or other places that serve free coffee. I always bring reusable storage containers and plastic bags. This is great for storing leftovers from a restaurant, leftovers from grilling, or even storing up on items from a free breakfast at a hotel.
  6. Bring snacks.
    Whether you decide to cook meals along the way or not, definitely bring snacks. Having food on hand is essential to avoid impulse purchases at overprices gas stations along the way. Having snacks is even more mandatory if you’re traveling with kids. As tempting as it is, skip the chips and cookies. They won’t fill you up, and they’ll take away your energy. Instead, grab granola bars, nuts, dried fruits, baked chips, and crackers.
  7. Invest in AAA or road side assistance.
    Making a purchase with a program like AAA or road side assistance is a good idea if you’re a frequent road traveler. You’re driving through many unfamiliar areas and putting a lot of miles on your car. Having a safety net in case of a flat tire or other emergency is a good idea.
  8. Use spontaneity to your advantage.
    My first long road trip was from Chicago to Fort Myers, Florida. I had booked a hotel in Nashville for one night and a hotel in Atlanta for the other. But road trips are very unpredictable, and I wish I hadn’t booked them in advance. Weather can hold you up, you may want to stay in an area longer, or might want to leave an area sooner. But you can use this spontaneity to your financial advantage. Hotels and motels offer great last minute deals. For starters, download the HotelCoupons App. This pulls up a walk-in rate that could have saved me hundreds of dollars of my last trip. Also, call hotels directly and ask what the best rate is. Sometimes if it’s later in the day and they’re not booked up, they can give you a deal. Another great thing about being spontaneous is using the free Groupon App. The Groupon App has a Groupon Now feature that uses your current location to show you restaurants and other businesses that are offering a deal in that very moment. Most deals only last a few hours to take advantage of them while you can. See the entire list of Free Travel Apps to Save Money.
  9. Camp instead of hotels.
    Even though you can find ways to save on hotels, consider camping instead. Camping is an affordable option that is available to you on a road trip since you can pack your tent and other gear. Even if you’ve never camped before, give it a try, and you may realize that camping is fun for beginners as well.
  10. Consider renting a car.
    If your car is in bad shape, consider renting a car instead. Renting a car on a road trip I took last summer allowed me to not have to worry about spending a bunch of money fixing my car. They even reimbursed me for oil changes. See 13 Tips to Get the Cheapest Rental Car.
  11. Stop at the rest areas.
    Rest areas aren’t just a good place to use the bathroom, stretch your legs, and have a picnic. They are also a hidden gem for savings. You can find coupons for hotels, local restaurants, amusement parks, and other nearby tourist attractions. If there is an attendant working, they are the perfect person to ask for suggestions on what to do and where to go.

Do you have a road trip planned? Where are you headed?

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