How To Save Money On a Road Trip

Earlier this month, we packed up our bags and went on a road trip. We spent around $2,000 for two weeks of travel where we traveled around 4,000 miles. This $2,000 included: food, entrance fees to national parks and forests, hotels, camping fees, gas, and more. Related blog posts: 30+ Ways To Save Money Each…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: July 3, 2023

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning if you decide to make a purchase via my links, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. See my disclosure for more info.

How To Save Money On a Road TripEarlier this month, we packed up our bags and went on a road trip.

We spent around $2,000 for two weeks of travel where we traveled around 4,000 miles. This $2,000 included: food, entrance fees to national parks and forests, hotels, camping fees, gas, and more.

Related blog posts:

Here are different ways to save money on a road trip:

 

Have a plan.

If you are going on a road trip, then you should try to have somewhat of a plan of where you are going.

Whether your trip is spontaneous or not, planning out your trip at least one day in advance can be helpful because it may help you find deals (such as looking up hotels in advance and using a coupon).

Also, having a plan can save you money when it comes to gas because you can plan your trip out the most fuel efficient way and not backtrack. We did a lot of backtracking on our trip, and we would have saved around 500 miles if we wouldn’t  have done so much backtracking. We did a lot of this because our phones would keep dying on our trip, so we did a lot of driving around until we found what we were looking for. It was a huge waste of time and money, but we still had fun since Colorado is so beautiful.

 

Drive a fuel efficient vehicle.

If we weren’t driving the Jeep, we probably could have saved at least another $500 on our trip. Our Wrangler receives absolutely horrible gas mileage, at around 15 miles per gallon.

One thing that we did think about doing was renting a better car. I was looking into it and we could have rented a car that receives around 35 to 45 miles per gallon for around $150 per week, which would have saved us around $200 over the cost of gas ($500 extra in gas that we spent because of the Jeep minus $300 for a 2 week rental). We would have also saved wear and tear on the Jeep.

However, we didn’t do that because we love Jeeping and the Jeep was perfect for Colorado and driving in the backcountry.

Have you ever rented a car for a road trip to save on fuel economy and to prevent wear and tear on your car?

 

Get cash back at gas stations

Upside is an easy app that helps you find gas stations.

You can earn up to $0.25/gallon cash back at gas stations.

You can learn more in my review: Upside Review: Is This App Worth The Cash Back At The Gas Pump?

 

 

Use Restaurant.com or other coupon websites.

If you’ve never used Restaurant.com before, then you are really missing out on significant savings. I have bought many $25 gift certificates on their website for $1 or $2.

All you have to do is sign up for their email list, and they often send out coupon codes to discount their already discounted gift certificates.

Using these gift certificates can be an easy way to try out new restaurants for cheap. Usually, the requirements are that you have to spend at least $35 at the restaurant. But, if you only paid $2 for the certificate, then you are really only paying $12 for a $35 meal (before tip). That is a good amount of savings!

 

Stay in campsites.

We only camped out for a few days on our road trip, but it did save us a decent amount of money. We found many beautiful campsites in Colorado that were 100 times prettier than any of the hotels that we stayed in.

Great thing is that they were only around $20 per night!

 

Pack simple meals.

To save money on food, I always try to go to the grocery store during the trip and stock up on simple things to make. We always try to bring a cooler as well and pack some meals (check out these great packing items for road trips here).

This isn’t just to save money, you can also eat healthier this way as well because you won’t need to stop at a fast food restaurant for every single meal.

What are your favorite things to pack to eat when on a road trip?

Different things you could pack include:

  • Sandwiches. If you have a fridge in your hotel room or a cooler, that’s all you need.
  • Chips, dried fruit, fresh fruit, protein bars, granola bars, vegetables and dip, and more.
  • If you are camping, then you can make a lot of meals over a portable stove or a campfire such as brats, hot dogs, burgers, chili, and more.

Do you enjoy road trips? Why or why not? How do you save money on road trips?


Filed under:

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

Like this article?

Join the Conversation

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Some fab tips there! I totally agree with the last one – taking your own food is definitely better for both your waist and your pocket. And having a plan before you go is good – we also like to set a budget before we go so we don’t go overboard with our spending!

    1. Thanks! We sadly ate way too much fast food on the trip. By the end of the trip I felt sick from it all. Yuck!

  2. It’s been a while since I went on a road trip but I think having a plan is essential. Or maybe that’s just my type-A personality that would dread going on a road trip with no plan? ๐Ÿ˜‰ When my family went to Yellowstone we packed quite a bit of “easy” lunches and had a picnic every single day for lunch and sometimes dinner as well. I’m sure that cut down on the cost.

    1. Haha I thought I would hate not having a plan as well. We had a small one and that was plenty for us surprisingly!

  3. Brian

    When were growing up, we would roadtrip everywhere. So my parents purchased this cooler that would plug into the car and keep things cold (or hot if that is what you wanted). We still use it to this day for tailgating. I’m sure they still make this thing and it is probably even better now.

    We tend to be a little more free with out eating on a road trip and love to stop at a local gas station and ask where the locals like to eat or we try to go to a Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives place just for fun too.

    1. We might have to look into that cooler! Sounds like that’s exactly what we need.

      Our neighbor goes camping and they bring an air conditioner with them that plugs into their car and cools their tent. I still laugh when I think about that! haha

      We couldn’t really go out to eat since we had our dogs. So our choices were either bring our food or eat disgusting fast food for every meal ๐Ÿ™

  4. Great tips. I am a bit of a travel freak, so I have some of my own.

    If you’re booking hotels, try last minute booking sites like wotif.com – you can snap really cheap deals.

    If you’re a blogger, try getting sponsored stays. I have had about 6 sponsored stays, and the most expensive was a crazy $1,300 per night. Hell. Yeah.

    AirBnb is a great, cheaper alternative to staying in hotels and generally you’ll have a kitchen so you can prepare some meals rather than eating out.

    1. Yes, I’m all about sponsored stays! I’ve been doing that a lot lately and it’s a great way to save money.

      I love AirBnb, but for the most part most places are not dog friendly. Makes me sad ๐Ÿ™

  5. Good tips Michelle! We’re actually going on a fairly big road trip in about six weeks – from Omaha to San Diego to see my in-laws. We’ve done the drive several times before, but this will be the first time with the kids. I think that’ll make it a bit more interesting. ๐Ÿ˜‰ We like to plan out our road trips as much as possible so we can save money. We’ll bring snacks and breakfast or lunch food so we can cut down on that and we get pretty good gas mileage so that helps out a lot.

    1. Have fun! How long of a drive is that? Sounds long!

  6. Camping on a road trip is tough, but it does same some serious cash. You just have to have the mindset that you’re not setting up “house” at each campsite. Basic meals and a good book, that’s all you need!

    1. We found that it was actually pretty easy to camp when we were on our trip. It wasn’t bad at all!

  7. These are all great tips! Packing food in the car when you have kids saves a ton of cash! They want snacks all the time.

    1. Haha I want snacks all the time too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. These are great tips Michelle! I have never been camping, but for $20 a night, I agree that it is an awesome cost saver vs. hotels. I think the biggest cost saver for us when we have taken road trips is planning in advance. If you know you won’t be able to do the trip in one day, it is so much better to plan ahead on your overnight accommodations, then having to figure it out at the last minute.

    1. Yes, at $20 a night, it is a great deal!

  9. Great tips Michelle. One thing we like to make for road trips and/or hikes is peanut butter, jelly and granola wraps. They hold up a lot better than a sandwich and the granola gives it a nice crunch. You should try it out, it’s pretty good… if you can have peanut butter that is.

    1. Oooh that sounds yummy! Great idea ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Great tips and very timely post since we will be going on a road trip ourselves soon. Packing food has really been a money saver on trips. Even with the savings from groupon or restaurant.com, packing your own food is usually easier and a lot less time consuming.

    1. Thanks! Where are you going on a road trip to?

      1. Probably to the beach. It will be the first time for our water loving 1 year old boy so hopefully it will be a blast.

        1. Sounds like fun. Have a blast! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. As you probably already know, I love road trips. There is nothing better than being on the road visiting some place different. I’ve used most of those tips before. I’ve never been camping but it is on my bucket list.

    1. Yes, you should definitely go camping! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Alison

    O I LOVE camping!!! I have never gone as long as y’all have though. I love that you guys did that….how very fun!!!

  13. Yes, it’s so much fun. I love our Jeep!

  14. Melissa

    Campsites are even cheaper in other states – I think the last time we camped, it was like $10 a night! Steal!

    Also, thanks for the info about Restaurants.com! I’m on their mailing list, but I always kind of thought the deals were too good to be true. It’s really cool to know that restaurants actually accept those coupons!

    1. $10 is awesome! We did come across a site that was only $12, but no one else was there so we were afraid of being in bear country by ourselves haha.

      And yes, the Restaurant.com deals are real! We haven’t used them in awhile, but we used to all the time.

  15. Jessica Bowman

    Oh this brings me back to my big roadtrip from Vancouver to Toronto. I think we did pretty well money-wise, but it definitely helped that we were driving a really fuel-efficient Hyundai hatchback car.

    1. Yes, we would have saved so much more with a fuel-efficient vehicle.

  16. Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans

    I’ve got a road trip coming up and I’m going to be using my Honda Accord which is great on gas!

    1. WOOOHOO! Have fun!

  17. I love taking road trips, as long as there’s not too much driving involved, all in one shot. Since we got a new, super fuel efficient car, about a year ago, we’ve been taking more road trips. We didn’t realize how much we were stopping ourselves from driving places until we got the car and it became practically free to drive! We get 800-1000km on a 60L tank, which is amazing.

    1. Wow that is awesome! We don’t get anywhere near that mount of mileage out of the Jeep haha

  18. Athena

    Great tips! I really agree with the packing your own food tip myself. Just packing breakfast alone can save up to $10 a person depending on where you eat. You can buy a pack of bagels, cream cheese and orange juice for $7 and be set for days.

    1. Now I’m craving a blueberry bagel and cream cheese!

  19. Having a plan before departing on a road trip truly helps. Going on a road trip without a plan might be a hassle, because sudden changes of plan might lead to greater expenses.

    1. Yeah, we had some problems with not having a plan. We ran into the problem of hotels being fully booked 2 different nights in Denver! It was a disaster.

  20. M.Clark

    I have never been on a road trip,but I don’t think I’d enjoy it. Thank you for sharing these tips.

  21. Hey Michelle, Thanks for the tips. I didn’t know about Restaurant.com. I will have to check that one out. I just recently ventured off into the camping world and I absolutely love it. Being on the road a lot as a touring artist, I’m always looking for ways to save money. Thanks for sharing your secrets. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. James Martin

    A prepaid credit card can help to keep you within your budget. Just make sure it doesn’t have excessive fees associated with it.

    To avoid going into debt, save money with a detailed budget for what you’ll spend on lodging, meals, activities and gas. Include about 10 percent over that estimate for unforeseen expenses like car repairs or medical expenses.

  23. Joseph Miller

    There are tons of free attractions and great places to visit in America. Take the time to get a guidebook and research places to visit with free or low-cost entrance fees. Spend a day at your local library looking at guidebooks, and check out a couple for the trip. Museums, the beach, free music festivals, parks and historic sites are great options. Many museums offer free admission on select days.

  24. $20 a night for camping? I can do you one better! I have rigged up my Prius with a Habitent so I can transform my car into a mini rv! I tend to camp on BLM land which is often times free and usually has a porta potty. I’m pretty good at roughin’ it and living frugally! Some may but not think this is living well but I will admit to buying a $200 Thermarest to make my car pretty comfortable on the road!