Looking for the best ways to save money on a road trip? You’ve come to the right place. We’re sharing the ways we’ve saved money while traversing the country. From the Saguaro Desert to Glacier National Park, we’ve packed in a lot of sites and haven’t broken the bank.
So here are some of our road trip tips to not only make road tripping affordable, but fun, too!
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But aren’t road trips supposed to be spontaneous? Yes… but you don’t want to be disappointed when you get to, say, the Grand Canyon and it’s closed for renovation. Ha ha. Of course they don’t close the Grand Canyon, but during the peak season you might not get a camping spot if that’s your plan and you’ll having a hard time finding a hotel room. And then you’ll be paying out the wazoo because your choices will be limited. Planning ahead lets you find discounts and deals, as well as get a realistic idea of how much everything is going to cost.
Plan your route
I KNOW, this is all boring adulting sounding stuff, but it’s essential. This will help you calculate your budget for gas and food, and allow you search out nice picnic spots and inexpensive restaurants in advance. A note on gas prices – I would err on the high side since they fluctuate. I would also pad your food budget with a little extra money for the occasional spontaneous stop for ice cream
Will you stay in hotels or camp or both?
My family likes to mix it up when we road trip. We stay on hotels along the highway, but when visiting National Parks we camp because it’s cheap (around $30 a night) and saves time since you’re already in the park. Camping also allows for unique views and experiences: watching shooting stars from our campsite at Mesa Verde National Park, walking by gentle mule deer on our way to the shower at the Grand Canyon, and waking up to coyote puppies howling from a cliff at Palo Duro Canyon. Again, plan early to be able to pick and choose where you want to say (campsites close to the bathrooms are essential for us with three young kiddos).
Use hotel points
My husband travels some for his job and tries to stay in hotels that have rewards programs (Marriott has one of the best programs right now). We use the points to cut down on hotel costs and sometimes save money on food if the hotel includes breakfast.
Invest in a good tent
We get asked if we take an RV or use a tent. Well, an RV is something we might invest in one day, but for our road trips tent camping is the most cost-efficient for now. To make it as easy and enjoyable as possible, we have invested in an “easy up” tent from Coleman like this one that literally pops up in two minutes, saving us time and hassle when we are camping in several different spots. The only downside is that it’s bulky. We have to strap it to the roof of our minivan, so if you have a small car that might be an issue. Then again, if you have a small car, you probably have a small family and don’t need a huge tent! 😉
Plan your food
We keep a small cooler filled with lunch items and snacks and a large one (this one like ours has wheels making it easy to drag to your camp site) with dinner items that I have mostly pre-cooked, packed in freezer bags and frozen. Good stuff like fajitas, bbq, spaghetti and chili. Then we use our Coleman stove to heat it up when we arrive at our destination (sometimes we’re pulling in there late, so it’s nice to just be able to heat and serve with out having to gather firewood, light a fire or mix up a bunch of ingredients. Plus, it’s healthier and cheaper than fast food.
Have kids use their allowance for souvenirs
It’s hard for them at times to be disciplined leading up to the trip, but so worth it when they have money of their own they’ve saved for souvenirs. And then you don’t constantly have to say no to every little trinket or stuffed animal they want to buy.
Use washable cups and plates, especially on long road trips
Also, we have a small drink cooler and fill it with water or powdered lemonade mix. Saves on space (no individual cans or bottles) and cost.
Buy a National Park Pass if you plan to see several parks
The park pass pays for itself if you’re seeing several parks, plus in our area there are several places the pass will get you in for free (National Battlefields and Memorials, for example). The National Parks also have many fun free things to do like ranger-led hikes and talks and especially for kids, the Junior Ranger program. Kids fill out a little educational workbook while you tour the park and when they’re done they are “sworn in” as Junior Rangers and get a free park pin – it’s a souvenir and fun all wrapped into one!
So those are some of the best ways to save money on a road trip. You can make wonderful memories and see amazing sites on a budget. How does Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park sound? Like the stuff of dreams? If you plan ahead and are wiling to give up a little luxury you can do it too!
Wishing you blessings and happy trails!