This summer George and I are taking a road trip to Florida. We’ve been talking about taking this trip for years and I am so pumped that we finally ponied up and planned the thing. I often visited the gulf coast of Florida on family vacations as a child. And I can.not.wait. to (annoyingly) sing entire Jimmy Buffett albums in the car and experience the first time George swims in the warm, clear water of the gulf.
This isn’t our first road trip. Oh no. One summer I lived in California and we drove all the way across the country. I learned quite a bit about road trippin’ and money from that excursion. This time we won’t be traveling quite as far but my budget is still tight. Here’s some of my best tricks and tips to save money on your (and my!) next road trip.
- Plan, plan, plan
Planning is one of the most important aspects of saving money– especially on a road trip. First, create a list of the stops on the trip. Google Maps has a great multiple destinations feature. Using your ideal stops and mileage, create a budget. I’ll have more tips about the details of creating a road trip budget tomorrow. Knowing where you are going and how much you think it will cost is one of the most essential ways to keep your road trip on the cheap.
- Travel with friends
By traveling with several people, you’ll be able to split more of the expenses like fuel and hotel rooms. If you like to do your own thing, just let your group know that you like your space too. There’s no shame in needing a little me time.
- Expect the unexpected
So many unexpected things will happen during a road trip– good and bad. You might have car trouble, prepare for that. You might also see something so kitschy that you just have to stop. The world’s biggest ball of twine, anyone?!
- Pack your own food
Eating on the road will eat through your budget like pac-man eating dots. By packing your own snacks and some meals, you manage to fight the lure of the gas station pretzel and Slurpee. Some of my favorite road trip snacks are: peanut butter and apples, dehydrated fruits and instant coffee! I’ll, of course, have another post about road trip food closer to my trip.
- Eat out for lunch instead of dinner
There comes a time on the road trip when jerky just isn’t going to cut it. Plus, the local cuisine is part of the experience. To cut down on the cost of eating out, try eating at restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. The prices will be lower at lunch time, but you still will be able to savor that local cuisine.
- Grocery stores
Gas station food isn’t very healthy and it’s expensive to boot. Sometimes eating out isn’t much better. Find the local grocery store for healthy and inexpensive fare. George and I will go to the grocery store as one of the first stops when we get to our destination. We stock up on things we couldn’t pack on our road trip like yogurt or milk and store it in our hotel fridge– if we’re lucky enough to have one. This is great for those late night snacks or hotels where breakfast isn’t free.
- Stay with people you know
Relatives and friends have an obligation to let you stay at their house for free. Kidding. But it never hurts to ask if you can stay with relatives or friends who live in cool locals. Offer to cook dinner for them or do other household chores while you are there. Be a good guest and offer the same in return.
- Stay with people you don’t know
If you don’t know anyone in your desired travel location, you could always try couch surfing. I’ve never tried it, but if I was going to couch surf, I’d be take precautions. I’d only couch surf with a friend and through a verified organization like Couchsurfing.org.
- Collect experiences, not things
Stay away from souvenirs. You don’t need them. Rely instead on pictures to remember your trip. If you must bring back something for your loved ones, look for something free and memorable. I brought my mom a rock from our trip to the Grand Canyon. Shells from the beach are another total classic.
- Take advantage of your smart phone
What would I have done traveling without a smart phone? Probably eaten at a bunch of crappy restaurants and seen a lot less sights, that’s what. Yelp is one of my favorite tools for scoping out delicious (and cheap!) restaurants in a new city. I also just downloaded the Gas Buddy app for this trip. Gas Buddy helps you find the cheapest gas in your location.
- Make some money on the way
If you are going to travel a long distance, you might as well make some money while you do it! There are a couple of different ways to make money on your road trip. Barnacle uses drivers to deliver packages all over the U.S. If you have a truck, you could also become a carrier for things like furniture and motor vehicles. Check out U Ship for more details.
- Camp along the way
America is a beautiful country with lots of free or low cost camp sites. Even if you aren’t a happy camper (I’m not!) just knowing that I have a hotel booked for the next few nights would soften the blow of spending a night at a campground. It might soften the blow to my wallet too! Recreation.gov is a great place to start your camp ground search.
Kayak is my favorite site for travel discounts because it searches all the major travel sites at once. No more going to Priceline to compare it with Orbitz. Kayak does all the work for you!
- Ask hotels for discount
It never hurts to ask for a discount. I highly recommend AAA for roadside assistance. They’ve helped me when I’ve locked my keys in my car– more than once! With AAA, you’ll often get discounts on hotels too!
- Don’t forget stuff for the actual trip
I never leave for a trip without sunscreen, cash and paper towels. Sunscreen is always more expensive at the beach or touristy locations. My bank’s ATM or a Cash Points may be no where in sight. (I hate ATM fees!) And paper towels are a must for quick clean up in the car. In general, all of these items are going to be cheaper for me to buy at home than to buy on the road.
- Pack light(er)
I know, I know, I just said that you need to bring all kinds of stuff. And you need to bring stuff to a point. But packing light(er) will help you to save on gas. I’d consider things like shoes. Do I need 5 pairs of shoes for this trip? Probably not.
- Keep your car in tip top shape
Before you leave on a road trip, get your car checked out by an expert. There is nothing worse than having to buy a big unexpected thing, like tires, on the road.
- Keep your tires properly inflated
By keeping your tires properly inflated, you’ll save on gas. Properly-inflated tires also are more environmentally friendly and believe it or not, help prevent accidents! Periodically check them at gas stops and you could save a cost of $300-500 per year!
- Maintain steady speed
Keeping a steady speed is essential for achieving optimal fuel economy. Tests from The Energy Conservation Japan show that “varing your speed up and down between 75 km/h and 85 km/h every 18 seconds can increase your fuel use by 20 percent.” So, put on that cruise control and ease on down the road, baby!
- Make travel a priority
Travel is a big priority in my life. I save for it just as I save for retirement. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and regret not taking George to see the clear, blue-green water of the gulf coast. That’s why each month I sock a little bit away just for travel.
What are your best road trip money saving tips? Let me know in the comments!