How to Road Trip on a Budget

How to Road Trip on a Budget


With gas prices through the roof lately, it’s more important than ever to save money in other areas when camping and going on road trips. A road trip vacation is still preferred over flying for a lot of people, and this short guide is loaded with ideas on saving money during your next adventure.

What are the Costs of a Great Road Trip?

Understanding the potential costs of a road trip holiday is the cornerstone to planning ahead and budgeting accordingly. The major costs of any road trip are gas, food, attractions, and cost of accommodation. Before you head out on the road, here are the big things to keep in mind that will dictate the overall cost of your trip:

  • The number of people in your party. Take into account who is going with you. A solo road trip will obviously require fewer dollars than a family or group vacation, primarily when it comes to meals and admission to attractions. Larger groups may also need more accommodation options.
  • Where you’ll be going. Prices for most things vary by location. Most popular places, whether they be big cities or popular attractions such as national parks or theme parks, will cost more all around. Think about where you’re heading and how prices trend in that region. A little research in this area goes a long way.
  • Length of trip. Consider whether you are planning just a few days or a cross-country road trip. Take into account the amount of gas you’ll need, as well as the number of nights you’ll be away.
  • Lodging options. For RV road trips, where do you plan to spend the night, and how much (roughly) will it cost? Similarly for car trips, how much will motels, cabins, or tent camping spaces cost? All of these options come with varying price tags.
  • Your road trip style. This is different for everyone, so consider the needs and interests of everyone in your group. While some love restaurant dining, amusement park and/or attraction fees, others do just fine cooking all of the meals and finding free or lost-cost things to do along the way. Your personal road trip style is a big component of your budgeting costs.

How to Save Money on Your Next Road Trip

No matter your road trip style, there are many ways to save precious bucks along the way and still have an amazing vacation. Try these affordable tips and tricks for a great road trip:

Set A Budget. Yes, we’re incessantly beating the budget drum, but it’s so important! Setting a budget and sticking to it saves you a ton of money. There will be inevitable unforeseen circumstances, so always budget for a little extra money for ‘just in case’ scenarios and incidentals. A good rule of thumb is adding an extra 10% to your overall budget. As you travel, monitor your budget so you stay on track.

Avoid traveling during holidays, if possible. We know, this is easier said than done. But if you have the flexibility to travel during non-peak holidays, do it! You will realize less expensive prices all around. You will also benefit by avoiding the crowds.

Pack everything you need. Part of planning ahead means planning what you’ll need during the entire trip. This is particularly true when packing clothes and gear for the activities you’ll be doing. If you do need to buy something, you’re more likely to score deals buying from home. It will save you from having to spend extra money buying or renting last-minute when your options are more limited.

Plan out your meals. This includes road trip snacks, which are so important! The best mix is to budget for both restaurant meals and making your own meals. Eating at locally-owned restaurants (not chain restaurants) is a great way to experience the local cuisine. But you’ll save a lot of money by making your own meals, or on-the-go cold sandwiches on the road. Campgrounds and resorts are great for grilling that big steak or juicy burger, which can be just as good (or better) than a meal out.

Get a National Parks pass. If your vacation includes enjoying the beauty of our national parks, getting an annual pass is a great investment, especially if you’ll be visiting more than one throughout the year. Annual passes are often good at state parks, as well.

Enjoy free activities. There are plenty of scenic overlooks that are FREE along a road trip, and many state and local parks are free. Many museums are free, as well. You can still see the beauty of much of the U.S. and Canada without paying any admission fees.

Make the most of loyalty programs. Rewards programs such as restaurants, gas stations, stores, hotels, and campgrounds offer loyalty programs that can save you a ton of money. Sign up for them. This way, you’ll also be notified of special deals, snag extra perks, and road trip discounts. Consider using a rewards or points credit card. Many offer cash back and gas rewards. Just be sure to pay off all credit card spending every month so as not to accrue interest.