Insanely Easy Ways To Save Money On Your Summer Road Trip

Joan Vinson
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Taking off on a long distance road trip is quite simply my idea of vacation heaven. During family road trips as a kid, my dad would sit behind the wheel, my mom in the passenger seat, and my brothers and I in the back of the car. The steady friction of tire wheels meeting asphalt would rock me into a light sleep as classic country rock tunes drifted over the radio.

As soon as we would make it to the next roadside town, I’d perk up from my clouded sleep, my eyes still heavy from dreaming, to scan the town through my window, my nose pressed to the glass. If someone in the car was hungry, we’d pull into the town diner, or some hole in the wall restaurant. Then, before long, we’d be back in the car, off to the next town, and next adventure.

My parents not only loved the open road, but they liked that driving was a cost effective way to see the country. We lived in Texas and would drive to Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, you name it. Whereas flying would have cost a couple of hundred of dollars per ticket per person, driving was relatively economical. Plus, it was a bonding experience for my family, giving us the opportunity to enjoy not just the destination but the journey. Seriously, some of my best memories comes from those trips.

Here, some tips and tricks for making the most of your family’s summer vacation budget while on the open road.

How much money should I save for a road trip?

If my family of five had decided to fly to the Redwood Forest, for example, instead of driving, we would have been looking at $1,500 in airfare alone, assuming tickets would cost $300 (and that’s a big if). Tack on hotels, restaurants, souvenirs, and day tickets for the various tours and parks, and the sticker shock only grows.

It’s no wonder that most Americans go into debt to take a summer vacation. According to a 2017 LearnVest survey, a whopping 74% of respondents said they’ve gone into debt to pay for a vacation. Think about that for a second, that’s most people.

In order to come up with a budget that works for your dream summer road trip, first map out where you are going to stay, and those costs, followed by the amount that you are going to spend on gas. Once you’ve done that, allot money for daily incidentals like food and entrance fees to museums. Bottom line: there is no reason to spend money you don’t have to go on a great vacation this summer.

How to save money on hotels on a road trip

While there might be nothing better than ending your day of road tripping in a luxury hotel room, there are plenty of other options that can make for a memorable overnight stay.

For instance, look into finding an affordable Airbnb, or plan on staying with friends or family along the way, or even camp. To get creative, take advantage of free resources like websites that help you locate free campsites around the country.

Plan ahead of time, do your research, and you will save yourself from purchasing overpriced, last-minute hotel rooms because you’re exhausted after a day of driving.

And, if you need to stay at a hotel for one reason or another (or just want to), save by booking on sites like Hotels.com or Travelocity, which will allow you to search for the best prices possible.

How to save money on gas on a road trip

Gas is one of the biggest expenses associated with road trips, and you can expect to pay $90 per day on gas on transit days, and probably about $15 a day on gas once you’ve reached your destination. If you go on a ten-day trip and spend four days driving heavily ($90 per day), two days driving a little less heavily ($60 per day), and four days driving lightly ($15 per day), you’re looking at $540 in gas. 

Luckily, there are a few ways to cut that bill. Download an app like GasBuddy which allows you to search for the best gas prices wherever you happen to be. Renting a car? Consider Zipcar which lets you to rent cars by the hour or day, and gas is included. Right now there’s a special promotion that gives you $25 off your car rental!

How to save money on food on a road trip

Eating out can be a vacation budget killer. Here’s the thing: you don’t have to eat out for every meal when you’re traveling. Make a decision to limit how much you eat at restaurants, and when you do decide to eat out, go for restaurants with big portions so you can save the leftovers for your next meal.

This is key: Don’t forget to pack a cooler! That way you can stop at grocery stores along the way and purchase food that you can make at your campsite, Airbnb, or hotel room, or just to prepare an impromptu picnic with while you are on your drive. Download my new best friend app Drop which lets you earn rewards for every dollar you spend, including at pretty much every major grocery store chain. You can thank me later.

There’s nothing more fun than making memories in foreign places. But, instead of blowing through your savings, or even going into debt, budget accordingly and you’ll save yourself the guilt. Just remember: make memories and have fun.

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