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Saving Money On A Cross-Country Road Trip

Updated on January 30, 2011
You can always sleep in the car - as long as you aren't driving!
You can always sleep in the car - as long as you aren't driving!

With the popularity and ease of flying the cross-country road trip has become an endangered species. But I love to travel and road trips are the best - even when we travel with four small children. Traveling can be expensive, even when you drive yourself. But it is worth it to me and I have found plenty of ways to save money.

  1. Plan, plan and plan some more! Once you set a destination you need to figure out what you want to see along the way and determine the best route to get your there. When we do road trips we like to take in some special sites along the way so we take our time and plan for these things. Sometimes though, getting there as quick as possible is necessary and could require a different route. Whatever your situation, planning ahead will help you save money. Going right through a major city? Plan to go through mid-day when traffic is lighter. Try not to hit a major city when you need to be stopping for the night. Hotels there will be much more expensive than small towns. Try to avoid toll roads if you can, those tolls can really add up quickly.
  2. Keep a list of what you want to do most on your trip. This way you will make sure you have the most important things taken care of. You don't want to end your trip and realize that the one thing you really wanted to do, you ended up skipping for some reason.
  3. Get a rough idea of where you want to stop for the night and look into hotels ahead of time. Either try to book a room ahead of time using a discount travel site or get an idea for the going rate. If you don't want to get locked into a particular city each night, you can still benefit from having a rough plan. Figure out where you think you might be at nightfall and call some of the local hotels. Get an idea of the going rate for the night you are interested and ask if there are any large events going on in town that day. This will definitely effect the availability and price of a room. You can either go ahead and book early or you can take your chances and try to get a cash discount when you get there.
  4. Take a lot of cash and ask for cash discounts. Businesses love it when people pay with cash and though it isn't always advertised, many places like gas stations and hotels will give you a discount if you pay with cash. Why? When you use a debit or credit card they have to pay a fee for that transaction.
  5. Consider camping. We are planning a road trip for this summer and plan to camp the entire way. This means we will be stopping earlier each day, but after a day in the car, getting out and stretching our legs for awhile will sound very good. You can usually reserve a campsite for under $30 a night - much, much cheaper than a hotel room.
  6. Pack food and drinks. We always take a cooler when we travel and keep our own drinks cold. I keep a stash of snacks as well and we stop at rest areas and exercise a bit and have our own snacks.
  7. You probably won't be able to pack all the food you need, but when you do need more, consider the grocery store rather than a restaurant. For my family to eat out at a restaurant (even a cheap one) it is between $20 and $40 a time. Many grocery stores have salad bars or delis in them that you can purchase food at and eat right there. This is usually cheaper than a restaurant. Many rest areas have microwaves as well. You can purchase some microwavable meals at a grocery store and keep them in your cooler until you are ready to eat. It won't take long to heat them at a rest area. Our family can eat this way for $10 or so. Instead of stopping for ice cream on a hot day you can pop into a grocery store and buy a box of popsicles for much cheaper.
  8. Download some apps. Technology these days is amazing. There are so many applications for your Smartphone or iPhone that will help you save money. You can get all the latest traffic information and avoid spending an hour parked on the interstate. You can find out the cheapest gas station nearby as well.
  9. Never get gas right off the highway. We always drive into town a ways and usually within half a mile we can get gas for $0.10-$0.20 cheaper per gallon.
  10. Set a budget and keep track as you go of how much you have spent. Then you will know if you can afford to splurge on a nice restaurant meal for dinner or if you need to hit the Subway instead. The last thing you want to do is come home from vacation to a large credit card bill.

Road trips are so much fun! You get to see so much of your country and really get to experience new things as a family. They might not always be cheaper than flying, but use these ideas to save money and have a wonderful vacation.


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    • DPJake profile image

      DPJake 6 years ago from Manchester, New Hampshire

      I can relate to your hub as I travel have great points to help many travelers and wanna-be travelers. Awesome hub!

    • runrchic1 profile image

      runrchic1 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Really great post with fanastic ideas for those (like me) interested in road-tripping with their family. Thanks for the tips.