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Road tripping can be a great way to see the country and visit some amazing attractions. Before you hit the road, it’s important to have some sort of plan and budget in place so you know what to expect. You don’t have to plan everything down to the last detail but having a general sense of how long you want to be on the road, the type of accommodations you are comfortable staying in, and some of the places you want to see can help to narrow things down.  

How to create a budget for your road trip 

When creating a travel budget for your road trip, there are a few big-ticket items you should plan for, including: 

  • Fuel. How far are you planning to travel? If you know this then you can easily come up with a budget for fuel. 
  • Food. What do you want to eat and where do you plan on eating? Are you going to pack all of your meals and road trip snacks into a cooler in the car? Or, do you plan to pull over and eat at restaurants for most meals? The answer to this question will result in dramatically different food budgets.
  • Accommodation. How many nights will you be on the road? Are you going to camp? Stay in a motel or hotel or stay with friends? Maybe it’s some combination of all of these things. Regardless, you will want to create a realistic budget for your nightly accommodation expenses.
  • Activities. What do you want to see and do on your road trip? Are there any major tourist destinations that you want to stop at? An amusement park? Or, are you planning to hit a few national parks and beaches along the way? 
  • Emergency costs. You can’t predict the future but you can budget for it. So make sure you have some money set aside in case of an emergency. Be it a blown tire or a medical issue, you don’t want to be unprepared if something unexpected happens.  

What to do before your road trip to save money 

Once you’ve created a budget and you have a general idea of your road trip costs, how are you going to save up? There are some simple things you can do before you depart to save money, including: 

  • Start a road trip fund. If you are still a few months out from your departure date, consider starting a road trip fund. Put whatever you can afford into a separate “road trip” account, or a shoebox, or a jar — whatever works for you. 
  • Look for coupons or deals. If you know where you want to stop on your journey and some of the sites you want to see, start looking for relevant coupons and deals. For instance, if you want to stop at a particular zoo or museum see if they offer a free entry day. If they offer free entry on the first Sunday of every month, see if you can coordinate your road trip to accommodate.
  • Gather equipment. If you plan on camping during your road trip but don’t currently own all of the necessary equipment, start looking for deals early. Look for second-hand items or see if you can borrow things from family or friends. 

How to save money on food on a road trip

bring food to save money on a road trip

The easiest way to save money on food when you’re on a road trip is by preparing it at home and bringing it with you. If you are camping, create a simple meal plan and prepare as much of the food as you can. Pack the prepared food into freezer bags or Tupperware and store them in a cooler. This preparation will not only save on cost but will also save you time and effort when you park for the evening and don’t want to spend tons of time prepping and cooking a meal.  

If you are staying in a hotel, look for places that offer a free continental breakfast. You can also get creative with hotel room cooking ideas. As long as you have a mini-fridge for food storage or even a portable cooler to bring into the room then there are many easy rice cooker recipes you can put together instead of heading to a restaurant. 

If you need a few extra cooking essentials, make a quick stop at a grocery store instead of breaking your budget at a restaurant. If you want to dine in, that’s a great choice too, as long as you’ve planned for it in your budget. 

Tips for finding cheap road trip accommodations 

There are a few ways you can keep the price of your accommodations down. First, camping or staying with friends or family will greatly reduce the amount you spend on accommodations versus staying at a hotel. 

If you decide to camp, booking in at smaller campsites with fewer amenities will be cheaper than staying at a national park campsite that has more amenities.  However, it really depends on what you need. If you are road tripping with a truck camper or RV, then maybe you won’t need access to a shower or freshwater. However, if you are staying in a tent, that hot shower might be necessary. You can also look into purchasing a camping membership such as Good Sam which start at $29 for 1 year and give you camping discounts at Sam Parks. Passport America is another membership option which starts at $44 per year and gives you 50% off the night rate on campsites. 

If camping and couch surfing is out of the question, then there are a few tips you can use to find cheaper hotel accommodations. 

  • Travel in the off-season. A stay at a hotel will typically be much cheaper during the low season than during peak tourist season. 
  • Go basic. Another easy thing you can do is choose a hotel room without a view. Choose a basic, no-frills room if all you are after is a good night’s sleep at an affordable price. 
  • Room share. If you are road tripping with friends or another family, see if you can share some sort of accommodation. Splitting the cost will help to keep expenses down. 
  • Get creative. If regular camping is off the table, what about glamping or staying in a yurt? Look for alternative accommodations if you want to save. 
  • Stay on course. Look for accommodations that keep you on route. You don’t want to drive miles out of the way to save on accommodations if it means using up more time and fuel. 

Enjoy your trip!

If you’re planning a road trip hopefully these road trip budget tips can help you to stay on target. Try to start planning your trip as early as possible so you have lots of time to prepare and save. Wishing you happy travels!


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