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How to Save Money on a Road Trip

Updated on October 12, 2011

Save Money on Your Road Trips With These Budget Friendly Travel Ideas!

Learn how to save money on a road trip and spend less on gas, food, car maintenance and hotels with these easy road trip tips! From saving money at the pump to spending less on food and at restaurants, there are many ways that you can save money while still having the road trip of a lifetime.

This page will shed some light on cash back rewards programs, membership programs that can save money, online coupons, online reviews, and saving money on car rentals. With the money you save, you might be able to plan another trip soon!

Top Left: Los Angeles 110 Freeway at Night.

road trip food
road trip food

How to Save Money on Food During a Road Trip

Tips to reduce food costs on the road

Restaurant eating will wind up being one of your main expenses for road trips. There are a couple of things that you can do to curb this cost.

  • Bring a cooler. This will allow you to bring meat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and other things you just simply can't find on the road. Make sure to get an ice pack and freeze it!
  • Stop at grocery stores and stock up. Get any quick, healthy food that's suitable for meals and snacks and you'll be save LOADS of money compared to a restaurant.
  • Use the hotel microwave, and on occasion you can get frozen entrees, or you can microwave canned soup.
  • Cut down on fast food as much as possible. Not only does the cost add up fast, but it will make you feel terrible if you eat it too often, and is generally horrible for you.

These foods are easy to pack up and take along on your road trip, and are very inexpensive:

  • Canned tuna
  • Canned soup
  • Cheese and Crackers
  • Pre-cooked dinners by you in tupperware containers!
  • Pre-made salads by you, also in tupperware. Put the dressing on the side so it doesn't wilt!

restaurant food
restaurant food

How to Save Money at Restaurants

Pay less and eat better on the road

Restaurants are one of the fun parts of going out on the open road. Trying new restaurants, cafes, and eateries is really essential to experiencing all that any certain region has to offer. Why deprive yourself? To get the best meals at the best prices, you can just follow these simple, easy to remember tips:

  • Check restaurant reviews online at Zagat or simply search for the name of the town/city you are currently in plus the keyword "restaurants." You'll likely find plenty of reviews from local places to dine from assorted online critics and regular people. A quick browse with your Blackberry, iPhone or Droid will pull up the best places to eat, along with which ones are the most reasonable. Mobile phones really have changed the way that we do everything -- including how we eat!
  • Use Your Cash back reward credit card. I know I'm started to sound like a broken record, but one long road trip I went on paid for a new laptop for me, so I really think you should use a cash back card!
  • Don't order entrees all the time. If you something that you like on the menu from the appetizers section, go for it! Who says you can't order that as your meal? It's often cheaper, too, and you won't be stuffed. You can also try splitting meals if the restaurant allows it.
  • Download a tip calculator to your phone
  • .
  • This will allow you to figure out exactly how much you want to leave, whether it's 15%, 20%, or some other percentage (and you'll know if you're overtipping, too).
  • Look for coupons at rest areas and local attractions. You can usually find plenty of coupons here for local restaurants.

saving money on hotels
saving money on hotels

How to Save Money at Hotels

Find the cheapest hotel around for your road trip destinations

Booking in advance for your trip can save you money in some instances. Usually, this pays off in larger cities. Sites like Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire negotiate deals with hotels to save you a little bit of cash. Also, always try booking directly from the hotel's website, since sites like Priceline don't always have the cheaper price.

Here are some well known hotel comparison websites that offer deals on stays of any length:

  • Priceline.com

    Priceline is at the front of the pack for deals on hotels and accommodations. Search by major city or search for any small town across American and internationally, as well as flights and rental cars. Often Priceline's rates stack up amongst the best.

  • BedandBreakfast.com

    Staying at a B & B is a great experience, and perfect for those destinations where you really want to kick back, relax, and really get to know the town or city that you're traveling to. Often times these are the best places to stay in small resort towns.

  • Check online reviews of hotels. Sometimes pictures can be deceiving and that grand hotel that you're looking at might be a photo from fifteen years ago under different owners.
  • Avoid weekend stays at the most expensive places to stay. Weekend rates skyrocket at big travel destinations like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Washington DC, Orlando, Las Vegas, and New York City. Try to plan your road trip so that you are staying at these big name spots on a weekday if possible, and you'll enjoy lower rates and less crowds.

pumping gas
pumping gas

How to Save Money on Gas

Saving money at the pump every time

Gas is expensive, and it's likely always going to be expensive. While we wait for prices to come down or some other alternative source of energy to replace wallet siphoning fossil fuels, you can use these tips to save at the pump while on the road:

  • Gas up outside the city. Gas stations in towns far away from major cities are usually cheaper than in city gas stations by far. Plan on filling up in smaller towns to save substantially.
  • Don't use premium gas if you don't need it. Your owner's manual will tell you if you need premium gas. If it doesn't say that you need it, then you are just wasting your money. Some giant SUV's like the Yukon or small sports cars (but sometimes other random vehicles and foreign cars) recommend using premium.
  • Use a rewards credit card if they don't charge more for using credit. Let's say you drive from Boston to Los Angeles and back, which is roughly 5970 miles. If your car gets 25 miles per gallon and holds 16 gallons, that's 400 miles per tank -- about 15 fill ups. At $3.75 per gallon, that's $900! Get 3% cash back (or sometimes higher) using your credit card and you could get $27 back on your gas purchases.

Have Gas Prices Slowed Down Your Summer Vacationing? - Do you still travel as much now that gas is as expensive as ever?

There's no doubt about it that gas plays an important role on how well the tourism industry does in the summer and all year. Are gas prices impacting your travels?

Have the gas prices hindered your summer road trips?

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Charge it, Earn Rewards...but watch out! Some stations charge more for credit!

Charge it, Earn Rewards...but watch out! Some stations charge more for credit!
Charge it, Earn Rewards...but watch out! Some stations charge more for credit!

If you're not using this easy way to pay, you're simply paying more than you have to. Some gas cards offer discounts on certain brands of gasoline, but other cards offer rebates on any type of gas purchased. Take these cards up on their offer by applying in advance so you'll have the card for your trip, and you could wind up seeing some cash back when you arrive home.

  • Check gas stations for individual credit cards and rewards programs. Some gas stations offer rewards with a simple swipe card (like the grocery store) to rack up savings and rewards. Others offer cash back incentives for using their own line of credit cards. These are usually advertised right at the pump.
  • Use Discover Card for extra Cash Back Bonuses. Every so often, Discover will offer a cash back bonus incentive to customers above the standard 3%. This could be 5% or higher, and often includes gas stations. Check your latest statement or call 1-800-DISCOVER for their latest deals.
  • Plan on paying off your card every month. If you let the balance sit on your card, it's going to negate any potential savings you have accrued using that card, so plan on paying off the balance as soon as the bill arrives in the mail.

How to Improve Gas Mileage - Quick tips to get your car more energy efficient

You can spend a lot less money on your gas if you have the proper tune ups done and if you follow these easy to remember rules. You'll really be surprised at how many little things you can do to get better gas mileage.

The Most Scenic Drives in America - Take a journey on the most beautiful backroads of the USA

There are hundreds of beautiful scenic drives across the USA, but this one narrows them down to the very best from California to Maine. Find well known roads like the Overseas Highway, Coastal Route 1 in California, and the beautiful Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire, as well as lesser known but equally awe inspiring majestic views all over the country with this stunningly gorgeous guide.

hybird cars
hybird cars

Fuel Efficient Rental Cars

Save money by getting a more fuel efficient car

Yes, rental cars cost money, but if you're driving a Hummer from Florida to California it might be a little expensive than a small gas efficient car. If the car you own is an SUV, consider using a rental car on your road trip. The price of a rental car varies, but a more fule efficient model usually only winds up being around $250 per week, and much less to fill the tank. Now size that up against the cost to fill the tank of an SUV several times, plus the wear and tear on your own vehicle! It may make sense to rent a smaller car. Dealerships often have hybrid rentals, but ask in advance--they tend to disappear quickly. Two of the best hybrid cars right now are the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic for mileage, as well as the Lexus CT and the Ford Fusion Hybrid.

How to Save Money at Museums, Sightseeing, and Local Attractions

Find coupons and savings before you visit

One of the priciest parts of any vacation is the activities. There's usually very little that you can do to save money on these attractions, but it is possible. Try any or all of these methods to save some bucks:

  • Consider buying a membership. Sometimes in cities they will have discounted annual memberships which may not be all that much more than a regular ticket. If you plan on visiting tomorrow, next week, or next month, then it might be a good choice.
  • Check for ticket and tour bundles. Sometimes buying tickets to more than one attraction or museum can yield some savings. The museum itself may advertise this, or you can inquire at the concierge/ticket booth.
  • Check online for coupon codes. You may be able to purchase those tickets online much cheaper. Search Google for the name of the museum or attraction you plan on visiting along with the keyword "coupon" to find coupons.
  • Cash Back Credit Cards. Again, save money with your cash back card to accrue points on purchases.
  • Buy the National Parks Pass. This will save bundle of money and is good at most National Parks in the USA like Acadia, Everglades, Badlands, Great Smoky Mountain, Rainier, Olympic, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, and most others.

  1. Print off restaurant coupons before you head off on your trip to places you know you'll visit.
  2. Limit souvenirs to just postcards. Send them off to family and friends, and they'll appreciate it!
  3. Use public transportation in cities, it's much cheaper and quicker than using your own car.
  4. Know when rush hour hits the major cities you might be traveling through, and avoid them during those hours.
  5. Print coupons prior to the trip to local activities, museums, amusements, anything you might be spending money on!
  6. Cash in your rewards points before your trip to use on the trip. Most rewards credit cards offer gift cards.
  7. Make sure your car is tuned up before you hit the road. A clean air filter and an oil change can go a long way.
  8. Get an AAA card for your trip. It's well worth the investment. You'll have 24 hour towing available to you anywhere, and you'll be eligible for discounts on most hotels.
  9. If you want to save even more money, you can always camp instead of staying in hotels! The savings of this are huge.
  10. Find the most direct route to your destinations before you leave. Check the distances on Google Maps using the "directions" link.

A Few Road Trip Essentials That Will Help Save You Money - Small investments that will pay off in savings

What is it that's been saving you some cash? Share your insider tips and help save other people some money on their road trips or vacation dreams. Whether it's a place to find coupons or ways to save a few bucks at the pump, any tip will be appreciated by readers. Thanks for stopping by!

How Have You Saved Money on Vacations and Road Trips? - Share your money saving secrets!

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    • Kiwisoutback profile image
      Author

      Kiwisoutback 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      @anonymous: You're right. I occasionally order sodas, mostly water. It does add up.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You forgot the best way to save at restaurants it to drink water instead of sodas. For a family of five, ordering sodas often adds up to $10 to our bill. Water is healthier and cheaper.

    • OrlandoTipster profile image

      OrlandoTipster 5 years ago

      Thumbs up for the money saving tips

    • fdurham profile image

      fdurham 5 years ago

      Great lens! Thanks for sharing so many good ideas. I'm working on being better organized so I can accomplish several things in one trip.

    • lefty78 profile image

      lefty78 6 years ago

      Great ideas!!

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 6 years ago

      You are right, that it is a good idea to get gas away from major cities. Lots of good advice here, and timely, especially with gas prices rising like they are.

    • profile image

      ShamanicShift 6 years ago

      Great encouraging ideas to keep folks rolling along -- blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • profile image

      EmmieAnna 7 years ago

      fantastic lens! Very good thoughts. Some girlfriends and I are thinking about a roadtrip I will definitely use this as a resource! :)

    • profile image

      QueSea 8 years ago

      Grocery stores have better deals than restaurants. Even if you don't want to cook, they have prepared sandwiches, salads, and hot food in the deli.

      Good job on the lens. Another for my favorites.

    • familychristian profile image

      familychristian 8 years ago

      Always good to save a few pennies. Great lens, 5 stars all the way. We saw you on the Ebay store board. Please rate our lens if you have time. Have a blessed day.

    • sisterra profile image

      sisterra 9 years ago

      Great ideas!! 5 Stars