48 Money-Saving Tips for a Cheap Road Trip

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In this article, we’re sharing our top money-saving tips so you can plan a cheap road trip (without sacrificing fun and adventure!).

Cheap Road Trip Tips

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of setting off with a full tank of gas, open road and lots of adventures ahead of you. Road trips can actually be a great way to explore on a budget because you don’t have to deal with costly flights.

That said, planning a road trip ain’t always cheap. Gas can add up and eating out for each meal will start to take a toll on your wallet (and waistline!).

If you don’t stay on top of your spending, you could be looking at crushing your budget in just a few days… But fear not, we’re here with some money-saving tips to help you stay on top of your road trip budget, while still having the time of your life.

You see — we’re kind of obsessed with road trips, and it’s our preferred way to travel (most of the time!). In fact, we’ve taken road trips across the USA and all over the world including places like New Zealand and Iceland!

Over the years, we’ve picked up a ton of super handy money-saving tricks. Because another thing we’re obsessed with is traveling on a budget (so we can do more of it!).

In this article, we’ll walk you through some practical and creative tips so you can plan a super cheap road trip without sacrificing fun!

Article Contents

Intrigued by #vanlife? Why not consider renting a campervan on your road trip?! We put together an entire guide to the best campervan rental companies in the US, including exclusive discounts just for you!

Average cost of a road trip

Cheap Road Trip Tips

If you’re planning a road trip and you don’t have a bottomless bank account (wouldn’t that be nice?!), you’ve probably found yourself wondering, “How much does a road trip actually cost?”

The answer is going to vary a lot depending on many factors:

  • a) Where in the world are you road tripping? Even the region you’ll be exploring can make a huge impact. Road tripping in California will come at a higher cost than say, Wisconsin.
  • b) How big of a distance are you planning to cover? If you’re driving from New York City to Miami, you’ll have to fill up your gas tank a lot more than someone who is only covering a small area.
  • c) How many people are on your road trip? If you’re traveling solo, you’ll have very different expenses than a family of four!
  • d) What is your plan for accommodation? You see, “road trip” can mean a lot of different things depending on who you’re talking to. Someone who is planning to stay in hotels the entire trip will have a much different budget than someone who is camping in a tent along the way.
  • e) How would you describe your travel style? Some people go all out for vacations, signing up for every imaginable tour and eating at the finest restaurants in each location. Others find road trips to be the perfect opportunity to save money by finding free things to do and packing a cooler full of food. There’s nothing wrong with either mindset, and likely, you fall somewhere in the middle (I know we do).

And these are just some of the factors that go into determining how much money a road trip will cost.

Cheap Road Trip Tips

But we’re not gonna just leave you hanging there with nothing…

We tallied up every single expense we incurred on a 3-month long road trip, and we’ve broken it down just for you.

A few things to note about the type of road trip this was:

  • Length: 3 months (mid-May through mid-August, 2017)
  • Location: Washington State, Idaho, Utah, Nevada & Arizona (just a little bit of each!), California, Oregon, Vancouver area
  • People: 2 of us
  • Type of road trip: We were living and traveling in a campervan, so we rarely paid for Airbnbs or hotels (we typically camped for free, with paid campgrounds every once in a while)
  • Travel style: We were pretty strict with our budget, though we splurged every once in a while on bucket list experiences, like a tour of Antelope Canyon, a night out in Las Vegas, and a whale watching trip in Vancouver.

We spent roughly $85 a day on this road trip.

Want more info? Find out exactly how much money we spent on this road trip. Plus, you’ll see our costs broken down by category so you have a good idea of what to expect for your own road trip.

Now, let’s jump into some practical tips that’ll help you save money and stick to your budget…

Before your road trip, do these things to save money…

One of the biggest pieces of advice we can give you is to plan ahead.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should plan out every hour of your trip (in fact, definitely don’t do that!). Allow for spontaneity, but giving the major logistics some serious thought will ensure that you don’t waste unnecessary money and you have an incredible time.

Here are some things to do before your trip so you set yourself up for the best (and cheapest!) possible road trip…

Cheap Road Trip Tips

1. Set a Road Trip Budget

We’re huge fans of setting budgets in order to hold ourselves accountable. If sticking to a budget is important to you, we’d highly recommend coming up with your own spending plan based on the type of trip you’re taking.

Costs to consider for your own road trip:

  • Gas: this category is pretty straightforward
  • Accommodation: this could be hotels, Airbnbs or campgrounds
  • Food: this could include restaurants AND groceries. You’ll also want to think about the cost of snacks, coffee, alcohol, ice cream… ALL the good stuff!
  • Entertainment: any fun things you plan to do along the way — hiking permits, entry fees, tours, rental equipment, excursions, etc.
  • Miscellaneous: these are little expenses that don’t really fit elsewhere — like ice for your cooler, paying for showers (if you’re staying mostly at campgrounds), electricity hookups (if you have an RV), propane, parking fees, tolls, medicine, paying for WiFi, toiletries, souvenirs, gifts, etc.
  • Emergency: we all hope you won’t need to pay for unforeseen circumstances, but it’s a good idea to be prepared. This might mean getting your vehicle serviced on the road, parking or speeding tickets, tow truck, medical expenses, etc.

What’s your daily budget?

Remember, we spent roughly $85 per day on our USA road trip.

  • If you, too, will be camping, this could be a good number to start with. If you aren’t so budget-focused, you may want to increase this number. And on the other hand, if funds are very tight, you could likely spend less.
  • If you will be staying in Airbnbs and hotels along the way instead of camping, add the average amount you plan to spend per night to your daily budget.

Psst! Get motived and inspired for your next adventure with this list of road trip quotes (+ graphics!).

2. Be prepared to keep track of it all

Cheap Road Trip Tips

If you have followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that we love keeping track of our travel budget. It is the best way for us to stay on top of our spending and hold ourselves accountable.

There are many apps out there that can give you a visual of how much you’re spending and what you’re spending it on. We love Trail Wallet because it was designed by travelers and has some pretty sweet features. You set your own categories, so you can see a visual breakdown of how much you’re spending on food, gas, and even beer! 

Insider tip: If we go over our budget one day, we try to make up for it the next day by spending less. It’s all about balance! And when you make it sort of a game, it’s almost kind of — dare I say — fun!

3. Avoid holidays (if possible)

If you can, skip traveling to popular places over holiday weekends, and possibly the week before and after, as prices will be inflated (plus, it’ll be extra crowded).

For example, our road trip brought us through Las Vegas over the Fourth of July… That was a pretty terrible move on our part because the prices of just about everything were much higher than usual. (Spoiler Alert: We were still able to find some sneaky ways to enjoy Vegas on the cheap!)

4. Be prepared

Think about the places you’ll be visiting and start collecting tips that are specific to that location — everything from things to see and do, where to eat, and also budget tips.

If you’re going to a notoriously expensive place, do a quick Google search like “Vegas on a budget” to get location-specific tips. You could find some good insider tips or even deals on hotels, flights and restaurants. 

5. Put some thought into your packing

Think ahead of time what gear and supplies you will need. For instance, if you want to go from the desert to the mountains, you’ll have to make sure you have the appropriate clothing for each climate. This will save you from having to buy clothing items on the road that you already have at home.

And it goes beyond clothing… Planning on backcountry camping? Make sure you bring your tent and sleeping bags on your road trip so you don’t have rent from an outfitter. If you think you’ll be tubing on a river, be sure to pack that tube that’s collecting dust in your garage.

Even if there are some pieces of gear that you need to buy, it’s better to do this before your trip because you can do proper research, choose the best brands, and maybe even score a deal. If you are on the road when you discover you forgot to pack something, you’ll be left with whatever’s available — sometimes it’s not the best quality or price!

Speaking of packing…

We created a road trip packing list just for you! No matter what type of road trip you’ve got planned, we’ve got you covered with an ultimate packing list that’ll ensure you don’t forget essential items (there are some things on this checklist that you probably haven’t thought about!). Plus, we’ve included insider tips and advice on making your next road trip go as smoothly as possible!


Find cheap accommodation on a road trip

Accommodation is one of the most expensive portions of a road trip. We traveled the US in a campervan for more than 3 months, so we rarely had to pay for hotels. It saved us money and added to the adventure!

In this section, we break down how to find free campsites as well as how to save money on hotels if camping just isn’t your thing. 

6. Swap your car for a campervan

Cheap Road Trip Tips

If you’re at all curious about #vanlife, we’d encourage you to give it a try!

Traveling in a campervan can actually save you a lot of money:

  • no need to pay for expensive hotels
  • it’s easy to find free camping in a van (more on that below!)
  • you can easily cook, saving money on meals

We’ve built two of our own campervans and it’s safe to say we’re obsessed! If you don’t have the time (or interest!) in building your own conversion but you still want to give van life a test drive, you may want to consider renting one. Check out our list of top companies for USA Campervan Rentals, from budget to bougie.

Or, if you’re planning on exploring a certain region and want more specific recommendations, click on one of the links below.

If you’re renting on a super tight budget, one company we’d recommend looking into is Escape Campervans. They have 12 different locations across North America and come fully loaded with all the gear you need for an epic road trip. Plus, their rates are fair and affordable. BONUS: We’ve partnered with Escape to give you a 10% off discount when you use our link!

Considering building your own budget-friendly campervan? We’ve explained exactly how we built ours (with tutorials you can copy!) for SUPER cheap!

7. Find free campsites

Cheap Road Trip Tips Tent at sunset

Camping might seem like a much cheaper alternative to staying in hotels, and it is. But sometimes it’s not as cheap as you might think. Some campsites can cost up to $35 – $40 per night.

If you’re on a long road trip (or just on a super tight budget!), those accommodation costs can add up. Fortunately, there are tons of free camping opportunities!

We’ve written an entire guide to free camping in the USA, but here are some quick takeaways:

  • National Forest campgrounds are often much cheaper and sometimes free.
  • Also, try searching for BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), which is free to camp on, but varies in facilities. Sometimes these sites have pit toilets, and other times BLM sites are primitive and don’t offer any facilities.
  • Some states have lots of land that is solely for free dispersed camping(We found that the west coast of the United States has a lot more free camping opportunities than elsewhere in the country.)
  • Stay in a Walmart parking lot! (No, we’re not kidding!) Many Walmarts across the US allow customers to stay overnight in their parking lots for free. Bonus: You can use the restroom (this works best at stores that are open 24/7) and stock up on anything you might need. And head out first thing in the morning – it’s not really a place you wanna linger, if you know what I mean! But before you park, be sure to read the signs in the parking lot and make sure camping is allowed in that particular store.

8. Download THIS camping app

Cheap Road Trip Tips

We’ve already given you the skinny on some of the places you can camp for free… but here’s something you should know: Finding the best places to camp can be difficult unless you know exactly where to look.

For that reason, we love camping apps that show us GPS pins exactly where we can set up camp for the night (legally).

Our favorite camping app is The Dyrt because they have the largest network of campsites in the USA. Simply set your filter to only show you the free campsites, and voila — free camping is made easy!

Want a major bonus?! (Yes, you do!) Use this link to get 30 days of The Dyrt’s Pro Membership totally free (no strings attached).

TWS The Dyrt banner (30)

9. Compare hotels & Airbnbs

Depending on where in the world you are, your accommodation options can vary quite a bit. In some cities, Airbnbs are a fantastic option, and in other places, the selection leaves a lot to be desired. And in other locations still, rental properties may be illegal. Do some research on each place you intend to stay.

We personally compare Airbnb and Booking.com for each location and see what options each gives us.

Some things to consider:

  • Airbnbs sometimes give you access to free laundry, which can be a big perk
  • Booking an Airbnb likely means you’ll have a fully-stocked kitchen and can cook meals to save money
  • Look into parking costs for both Airbnbs and hotels

Hotels sometimes have perks that Airbnbs can’t offer and vice versa, so compare them fully!

Want more tips? We have loads of info on how to book Airbnbs, red flags to look out for, and other tips in our Guide to Airbnb.

10. Loyalty can pay off

Be loyal to your favorite hotel booking system. Your loyalty will sometimes pay off with a free night or another great deal.

Personally, we typically book with Booking.com for hotels in the USA. 

11. Try Hotel Tonight

In big cities, like Miami, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and LA, Hotel Tonight can be a great money-saving app to try.

How it works: Hotels that aren’t fully booked will offer up their vacant rooms to users of this app for a steep discount. The only tradeoff is that you can’t book too far in advance – 7 days max. But sometimes this works out well on a road trip if you don’t know exactly where you’ll be each night. 

Save money on food

Sampling amazing food is one of the best parts of any trip. But, it sure can add up quickly!

We actually have a ton of ways we save money on food, while not denying ourselves of trying new dishes along the way. We’re about to share all our tips with you!

Cheap Road Trip Tips Outdoor cooking

12. Be prepared to cook

Having the ability to cook meals along your road trip can save you hundreds of dollars along the way. Plus, you probably won’t want to be stuck going to Taco Bell or Hardee’s for every meal because there’s no other option.

Additionally, you can make your camping meals special by buying local ingredients, like fresh clams on the Oregon coast (pictured above) for a deliciously cheap meal!

Tips for cooking on the road

When you’re traveling in a campervan, it’s easy to cook many of your meals. You’ll likely have a stove, pots, pans and everything you need to prepare most meals. And there’s nothing quite like cooking up your favorite meal with a stunning view to match. (Honestly, it’s one of our favorite parts of vanlife!).

You don’t have to have a fancy kitchen setup to be able to cook some pretty amazing meals!
You don’t have to have a fancy kitchen setup to be able to cook some pretty amazing meals!

But we’ve also been on road trips in our car where we don’t have the luxury of a kitchen. We have tips for both situations below: 

1. Traveling in a campervan or RV? Lucky you! Cooking a variety of meals will be really easy.

  • Be sure you have lots of spices to add variety to your cooking. If you have lots of options, you’ll actually want to cook instead of getting bored with campervan food.
  • Also, pack plastic containers so you can save leftovers or portions of unused vegetables to prevent waste.
  • A good knife will go a long way.
  • Want some suggestions for things to include in your kitchen? (We’ve built 2 campervan kitchens!):
    • If you’re considering building a campervan, check out exactly how we made our dream vanlife kitchen.
    • Doing things pretty simple? We built a super easy and cheap kitchen for our first campervan, which made it easy to cook on the road without being too complicated.

2. Traveling in a car? This will make cooking a little more tricky, but it’s definitely doable. 

  • A cutting board and a good knife will make it possible to snack on fruits and veggies, as well as have fresh salads for meals. Even if you don’t have a stove, a cutting board and knife should definitely be on your packing list.
  • A stove is a good investment, as it allows you to cook hot meals and boil water for coffee or tea. Here are 2 good options for a small space:
    • Mini Backpacking Camp Stove: It is tiny, so it hardly takes up any space. This is best if you have a small car or are planning to go on backcountry trips. You will only be able to cook simple meals with this device.
    • 2-Burner Coleman Stove: This is what we had in our campervan, but if you have a larger vehicle, it is a good option. You can cook a couple of things at once, and it will allow you to use bigger pans and cook more interesting meals.
There are so many healthy, delicious, easy AND cheap meals you can make on the road. Like this shakshuka skillet!
There are so many healthy, delicious, easy AND cheap meals you can make on the road. Like this shakshuka skillet!

Want camping meal ideas? You’re in luck because we’ve compiled a handful of our favorite road trip meals. Each of these meals is pretty simple to make, healthy (we’re all about the veggies!), and cheap. Bonus: Most of these meals can be easily adapted to be vegetarian and/or gluten-free, so they’re suitable for many people.

13. Keep it chill

With a cooler, you can save leftovers or just keep your produce fresh and ready for your next meal. Saving food saves money. And food waste just sucks in general for so many reasons. So avoid it as best you can!

We have this insulated cooler (and are obsessed!), and wish we’d had it on our first road trip, as we wouldn’t have had to deal with so much melty ice! That said, even a cheap cooler is better than nothing!

14. Stock up on staples at home

Cheap Road Trip Tips

Before you leave on your road trip, stock up with your favorite staple snacks and shelf-stable items. You know what grocery stores around you have the best deals.

We are admittedly addicted to Trader Joe’s, and we’ve found they have some of the best deals on healthy snacks like dried fruit and nuts. So before any road trip, we hit up TJs to stock up!

15. Get grocery discount cards on the road

If you’re road-tripping far from home, chances are you’ll be shopping at grocery stores you don’t have in your neck of the woods.

Many big chains, like Safeway and Kroger, have free loyalty cards that give you discounts on all your groceries.

We were surprised how much money we saved by getting a Safeway card while traveling on the west coast. On a previous trip out east, we saved a ton of money with our Kroger card.

16. Learn to love picnics

Cheap Road Trip Tips | Picnic

Picnics can be super cheap and will allow you to enjoy your lunch with a view.

Insider Tip: Picnics will be so much better if you’re prepared and pack a blanket, a small cooler, utensils, plates and perhaps even a bottle opener (for all that wine!).

17. Have meals “on deck”

You can make some epic meals on the road… But not every meal has to be fancy or overly planned out. In fact, we’d recommend having some meals on hand that are just that — super simple to make.

We always have a couple of “reserve meals” that don’t require much preparation in case we end up somewhere where everything is way overpriced or closed.

Cheap Road Trip Tips | Cheap Meal Ideas

Here are some simple meal ideas:

  • One favorite of ours is Indian meal packets. We typically buy them at Trader Joe’s (pictured above), but you can find the Tasty Bite brand in most supermarkets. We typically cook minute rice, quinoa or couscous to have along with the packet. In a pinch, you can even cook these packets in a microwave.
  • Another idea is gnocchi and pesto. It requires just a few minutes on the stove, and both ingredients are shelf-stable and don’t need to be refrigerated. Regular pasta works well too, but requires a bit longer cooking time. If you have other ingredients, you can add them, but it’s good on its own too.

“Reserve meals” may not be our favorite on the road, but they have saved us when we arrive in a campground late at night and the only option is overpriced (and gross!) gas station sandwiches.

18. Have snacks on hand

Pack high-protein snacks so you can keep hunger at bay and aren’t tempted to get that box of gas station donuts in a moment of weakness. This will help your waistline and your wallet. And it’ll keep you from getting hangry. You’re welcome.

Need some ideas? Check out this list of some of our favorite on-the-go snacks!

19. Make eating out special

When you’re in a location known for a specific food (like clams on the Oregon Coast!), make sure you try it! But balance out your budget by eating simply for other meals.
When you’re in a location known for a specific food (like clams on the Oregon Coast!), make sure you try it! But balance out your budget by eating simply for other meals.

Eating out for every meal can be tempting, but it’ll drain your wallet more quickly than betting on the lottery. Don’t get me wrong… Eating out is part of the fun of traveling, but our advice is to do so only at places you don’t have at home.

Research the restaurants in towns you’ll be passing through, and make an effort to dine at those that are super unique, serve up local specialties or are places that residents rave about.

  • Driving on the Oregon Coast? You’ve gotta try some fresh and local seafood!
  • In Los Angeles? Don’t miss authentic Korean food in K-Town and some pretty damn good tacos.
  • Exploring Portland? Hit up the food trucks with the longest lines (the wait is usually worth it!).

Those are the eating experiences that you’ll remember. Avoid places like McDonald’s (unless you need AC and an ice cream cone on a hot day #beenthere!) or chain restaurants that could be in any city.

20. Eat out for lunch instead of dinner

If there’s a restaurant you just have to try, but it’s known for steep prices, plan to go there for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner.

We’ve sometimes found that restaurants will have items that are similar to their dinner menu, but are smaller portions sizes and therefore have smaller pricetags! This is a great way to try a specific restaurant while still sticking to your budget.

21. Split your splurges

When there’s a local specialty or an ice cream shop that looks amazing, don’t pass it up.

But if you want to stay under your budget, split it with your travel companion (if you have one!) so you can both try it, while only spending half the money.

22. Ask locals where they eat

A lot of times the top-rated restaurants on Trip Advisor are the more expensive restaurants locals seek out on special occasions. But if you’re on a road trip, “special occasion meals” every night will add up FAST.

Asking where locals flock on a regular night out is a good way to find hidden spots that are reasonably priced and not packed with the “Trip Advisor tourists”.

23. Seek out local specials

If your road trip falls over some weekdays, check out the town calendars, browse local Facebook Groups, and ask your hotel/Airbnb if there are any local specials nights.

Oftentimes there are fun events, like Trivia Nights and many small restaurants even have a local’s night where they have a special, less expensive menu.

24. Meal plan

Planning your meals ahead is going to save you time and money. It’ll also ensure you don’t miss out on local specialties. Again, with all road trip planning, this doesn’t have to be super-specific. You don’t need to know exactly what dish you’re going to order or even which specific restaurant you plan to eat at (though, if that’s how you roll, more power to you!).

Instead, on your itinerary make notes for which days you know you definitely want to eat out and which meals you plan to cook.

Like pretty much every other aspect of your road trip, having a game plan ahead of time will help you save money in the long run.

25. B.Y.O.C. (Bring your own Coffee)

Cheap Road Trip Tips | Make your own Coffee

If you’re a coffee drinker like us, pack your own French press (or Aeropress!) and favorite grounds. You could also stock up on beans from local coffee roasters along the way (and what a perfectly practical souvenir to bring home with you!).

These items don’t take up much space and it will save you time and money from stopping at Starbucks every day.

26. Stay hydrated on the cheap

One thing that might not be on your mind as you’re planning your road trip is where you’re going to get water from along the way.

Buying bottles of water is not only costly over time, but it is terrible for the environment.

Instead, get a large water jug and fill it up at parks, campgrounds and drinking fountains to avoid buying new bottles all the time. This saves money and plastic waste too, which is a win-win.

Related reading: We’ve got lots more eco-friendly tips for your road trip!

27. Seek out happy hours

It’s a good time to get great deals at some of a city’s best restaurants and gives you the chance to brush shoulders with the locals.

How to find local happy hours:

  • Do a simple Google search for “happy hour in [city name]” to find listicles.
  • Search “happy hour” in Google Maps, and you’ll find local spots where people have left reviews including the phrase “happy hour”.
  • Ask your hotel or Airbnb for recommendations.

28. Pack a growler (for beer drinkers)

Cheap Road Trip USA Tips

If you are anything like us, trying local breweries is something you look forward to on road trips. It’s a fun way to experience the local vibe and support small brewers. We typically get one pint at a brewery to enjoy the atmosphere. If we like the beer, we often fill up our growler instead of ordering a second.

It’s cheaper than getting another pint or even stocking up at a liquor store. Our campervan became our favorite happy hour spot!)

29. Take advantage of free breakfasts

If you’re staying in hotels on your road trip, try booking some that include free breakfasts. This eliminates one meal each day that you need to pay for on your road trip.

30. Book accommodation with a kitchen

We love staying in Airbnbs for many reasons, one of them being the access to a kitchen. This allows us to easily cook our meals so we don’t feel the need to eat out every time we get hungry.

Alternatively, some long-stay hotels have basic but nice kitchens too.

Save money on transportation

Gas will likely be one of the largest expenses during your road trip. It adds up quickly, especially if you’re driving a bigger rig, like a campervan or RV.

We’re sharing our best advice for saving money on gas, as well as a few other budget tips to keep in mind.

Cheap Road Trip Tips Van on Highway Mountains

31. Find Cheap Gas

Don’t get gouged on gas prices! There are a couple tried and true ways to find the cheapest gas in your area, no matter where you are:

  1. Our favorite is to use Google Maps (because we always have it open on the road anyway!). Type “gas” in the search bar and you’ll see where the nearby gas stations are along with most of the prices per gallon. Sometimes it’s a matter of a few cents difference, but there were more than a few times where we saved a ton! Once, we found gas for $2.60 per gallon when most of the gas stations nearby were around $3.80. We had to drive a half-mile out of the way, but we saved more than $10, so it was completely worth it.
  2. We secretly get really excited when we save money on gas. One great app to save money on gas is Gas Buddy. Simply input your location and Gas Buddy shows you the cheapest gas around you. This app alone can save you hundreds of dollars when traveling across the USA.

Pro tip: Most gas stations off the highway are more expensive than those just a short drive off the main road. We found that Chevrons usually had the most expensive gas in the Western United States, while AmPm, ARCO and Maverik had more reasonable prices on average.

32. Plan a route

Cheap Road Trip Tips | Plan your route

Map out where you’re going so you don’t have to backtrack. Getting lost along the way can be part of the adventure, but that extra gas money can add up.

33. Make sure you’re covered

We have told you why we never travel overseas without travel insurance, and we think it’s just as important to have really good car insurance before setting out on a road trip.

Choose a policy that offers emergency roadside coverage, so you’re not stranded in the middle of Utah after overheating. Our policy, for instance, covered towing over 100 miles, while others only cover under 5 miles. Some policies even cover hotel stays until your vehicle is fixed. Do your research and find an insurance policy that fits your needs. 

34. Make sure your car is fuel-efficient

Do your budget a favor, check over your car and make sure your tires are at the proper air level and make sure your air filter is clean. Both can affect your gas mileage. Also, make sure you’re staying on top of oil changes along the way in order to avoid car trouble on the road.

35. Get a gas card

Before going on a big road trip, do some research and consider opening a new credit card that has good rewards for gas transactions.

You’ll be filling up your tank a lot, so it is nice to get a little something back. If you’ll be eating out much of the time or staying in hotels, consider a card that rewards for those purchases as well.

36. Steer clear of tolls

Cheap Road Trip Tips | Avoid Tolls

In your Google Maps settings, check the box that says “avoid tolls”.

There are some cities where tolls are unavoidable, but in others, these are only slightly faster and the tolls can add up quickly.

One time on a road trip in Iceland, we accidentally paid a $10 toll by taking a road that was 2 minutes faster than one with no toll.

In cities that are infamous for their tolls, like Chicago, do a little pre-planning, so you find the best route for your trip and don’t get stuck paying unnecessary fees for tolls.

37. Use public transportation

In big cities, park outside the city and take public transport into downtown to avoid ridiculous parking fees and annoying traffic situations. 

38. Get a cheap oil change

If you’re on a long-term road trip and need to get an oil change on the road, try Jiffy Lube or Valvoline. They both have locations all around the United States and have coupons available all the time, making either of them a good choice if you’re on a budget and can’t make it to your regular mechanic.

39. Slow down

Cheap Road Trip Tips

One of the most expensive parts of a road trip is the gas. Sometimes a time crunch won’t allow you to take it slow, but if time allows, slow down.

This will not only mean you get to explore each place you visit in greater depth without being rushed, but you’ll also save money on your average gas cost per day.

40. If you need to rent a car…

If you don’t have car of your own, or if you’re coming from very far away, you might be looking at renting a car for your road trip. We’ve personally had really good luck with finding deals with Discovery Cars.

They compare all the top rental car companies and show you the best cars for your dates. We’ve rented cars using Discovery Cars for less than $20 a day. But of course, compare their prices to other platforms for your dates and location to find the best possible price.

Search & Compare Rental Car Prices

  • Discover Cars: We personally use this aggregate site to compare rental car prices from all the big name companies and get the best price possible. 
  • Booking.comWe’ve had good experiences finding rental cars with this site (formerly RentalCars.com) in the past. 

41. Skip the rental car insurance

When you rent your car, don’t buy insurance from the rental car company. It’s almost always unnecessary!

Not only is it wildly overpriced, but chances are if you have a major credit card, it already covers rental cars. And some car insurances (that you already have for your car at home) cover rental car insurance too.

So why waste your money being double or even triple insured? Check with your credit card company or car insurance company ahead of booking your rental car just to be sure. Find the right credit card for you from the list of the best travel credit cards.

How to save money on activities

What’s a road trip if you never get out of the car?! Some of your best memories will be from the things you do on your road trip stops. But some activities can be extremely expensive.

We’ve got some tips that’ll help you save money on your road trip, while still doing some bucket list activities!

42. Get a National Park Pass

Cheap Road Trip Tips | National Park Pass

We’ve done the math for you: In short, if you plan to go to more than 3 National Parks in one year, this is a good investment.

At $80 it might seem kind of expensive upfront, but it easily saves you money in the end. If you plan to spend a lot of time in one state or region in particular, look into those state or local passes too.

Bottom line: If you are headed to 3 or more US National Parks in the same year, it will save you money to buy the America the Beautiful National Park Pass.

National Park Pass

43. Plan out splurges ahead of time

When you’re on vacation, it can be tempting to splurge on just about everything. Ice cream cones twice a day, expensive tours, more souvenirs than you can count… and pretty soon, you’ve spent way more than you were planning to.

Instead, limit yourself by planning your splurges in advance.

Plan to go whale watching, but pass on the double-decker sightseeing bus. And plan to only buy one meaningful souvenir instead of accidentally filling up an extra suitcase.

44. Bucket List vs. Ordinary

Whale watching wasn’t a cheap activity, but being that it was a dream of ours and we were in a place so well-known for it, we knew we’ dregret passing it up. So we splurged and saved money by passing on other (non bucket list) activities.
Whale watching wasn’t a cheap activity, but being that it was a dream of ours and we were in a place so well-known for it, we knew we’d regret passing it up. So we splurged and saved money by passing on other (non bucket list) activities.

Know the difference between a bucket-list-worthy activity and something you could do anywhere. Oftentimes when we are in “vacation mode”, we splurge more easily than we would at home because we’re on holiday.

That’s fine sometimes, but if you’re on a budget it’s important to really think about whether the experience is “once in a lifetime” or something that will fade into the rest of your trip.

Before booking a spur-of-the-moment activity, ask yourself the following:

  • Is this location known specifically for this activity? (A quick Google search like the one we did on Vancouver Island can help answer this question.)
  • Can I do this at home? Anywhere else in the world?
  • Will I regret not doing this activity?
  • Will I regret this splurge?
  • Can I cut my costs elsewhere to account for this splurge?

For example, when we were spending time in Washington state on Vancouver Island, we heard the whale watching was fantastic. We hadn’t budgeted for it, but after a simple Google search of “best places for whale watching in the world”, Vancouver Island repeatedly came up at the top.

Even though this was a splurge we hadn’t planned for, we realized that it was something we would regret not doing. It was an expensive activity, yes, but so worthwhile because it was special.  

45. Be wary of heavily touristed areas

It’s not uncommon for these areas to be overpriced and full of rip-offs.

For instance, many times there is free parking not far from paid parking. Sometimes you’ll see people charging a fee to take your photo when you can easily have a stranger take yours for free. And sometimes are often things for sale that aren’t necessary.

Be prepared with a more critical eye in these places, and you’ll be able to spot the scams.

Tip: We’ve put together tons of budget-friendly resources on how to tackle popular destinations like Las Vegas and New York City on a budget. 

46. Avoid tours (most of the time!)

One of the most expensive parts of travel are organized tours.

There are some activities or tours, like whitewater rafting or whale watching, for instance, that you just can’t do on your own. If these are important to you, plan these into your travels as splurges.

But those double-decker buses and guided city tours can easily be replicated. Go to the tour’s website and write down their itinerary. Do a little research on each stop, and voilà – you’ve got your own DIY city tour!

47. Call ahead about discounts

When booking tours and transportation, call the company and ask if there is a discount for booking in person or online. You’ve got nothing to lose, and maybe you’ll score a discount this way.

For example, when we were headed to Vancouver Island and it was cheaper to just show up at the port as opposed to reserving the ticket ahead of time online. On the other hand, many times there is a discount for reserving in advance online. 

48. Find free things to do

We love hiking, and being that it’s usually free (or requires a small permit fee), it is a great activity for a budget road trip!
We love hiking, and being that it’s usually free (or requires a small permit fee), it is a great activity for a budget road trip!

No matter where your road trip may take you, there should be a ton of free (or inexpensive!) activities to do. Simply Google “free things to do in [enter city name here]”, and you should find enough to get you started.

Free activities that we seek out anywhere in the world:

  • hikes
  • farmers markets
  • free live music
  • picnics
  • parks
  • beaches
  • exploring art galleries
  • just to name a few!

Insider Tip: If you’re in a town, type this phrase into Google to get some location-specific recommendations: “free things to do in [city name]”. Alternatively, yo could replace “free” with “cheap” for some more options!

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47 Money-Saving Tips for a Cheap USA Road Trip
47 Money-Saving Tips for a Cheap USA Road Trip

We want to hear from you!

Where are you headed on our your road trip? Have you used any of these tips before? What other money-saving road trip travel tips do you have? Please share in the comments below.

Comments (19) on “48 Money-Saving Tips for a Cheap Road Trip

  1. Drifter Camper Vans says:

    Thank you for sharing the valuable information through your blog as these are the common mistakes that you should avoid while hiring the van conversions company and from my view, the main mistakes that we should avoid are that the price should be checked and just ensure that does not charge any hidden tax as it is the common mistake the customers are facing while choosing the company.

  2. commercialvansolutionsllc@gmail.com says:

    Found your post interesting to read. I can’t wait to see your post soon. Good Luck with the upcoming update. This article is really very interesting and effective.

  3. M & M Flaherty says:

    You have been a great help to two 87 yr. old (active) folks. For 47 years we traveled in an RV Trailer. Just lost it and our car. Now we have a new car and will be tripping in it! Doing the Hotel Motel Airbnb route now. Thank you again for great ideas. Some trips will only be a week or two. Our Winter one in the past was 4-5 weeks in Tucson AZ (mid Jan. to …) We are having a hard time thinking ahead to the one in 2022. Thank you again. Happy trails!

  4. kathie.dempsey@cox.net says:

    Great information! Our road trip will be just getting from point A to point B and then C and back to A, but each leg will be a few days. Unfortunately we had to wait til we were old fogies to do it, but we’ll appreciate it nonetheless.

  5. sulandherb@gmail.com says:

    Very handy list. Do you have a place where you get into more specifics? (Like just WHERE you found places to shower) Love your lifestyle and I’m envious that you didn’t wait till you were old fogies before hitting the road :>)

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Great question! we don’t have a list of the exact spots since it would be so specific and only helpful to people who are going to that same location. The best place to look for showers is on camping apps. iOverlander has a features where you can see shower icons on the map. And The Dyrt (and other camping apps) typically have descriptions of each campsite, including whether or not it has a shower. Also, gym chains (like Planet Fitness) are popular spots to shower for those on long road trips since the membership is so cheap and they are pretty frequent!

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Exactly! This has been our motto for the last several years! Traveling more frugally = more travel (which is always better, in our opinions!).

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      It’s an amazing experience, and definitely worthy of your bucket list! Happy planning 🙂

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