Five Practical (and Fun!) Road Trip Budget Tips


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
Road trips are some of the most exhilarating (or nightmarish) ways to bond with people you enjoy being with. There’s nothing quite like being in a vehicle with other people, enjoying the open road while listening to your favorite road trip songs (or not). They say you can gauge the strength of your relationship with certain people by the way you interact with each other during a road trip.

A road trip can be planned in advance, or it can be spontaneous. Either way, there are bound to be some snags, especially if it’s your first time to go on certain roads towards your destination. One of these snags involves unexpected expenses. So if you want to avoid them and learn how to road trip cheaply, here are five road trip tips that will be sure to keep your wallet (and you and your companions) happy.

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Avoid the Rush Hour

One of the best and most practical long road trip tips is to avoid being stuck in traffic right from the start. Sure, the rest of the trip might involve open roads and traffic-less driving. But you have to start somewhere, right? And usually, it’s right outside your house and on city streets that you will encounter nightmarish traffic – especially during the rush hour. This can spell frustration for you and your companions, as well as potentially dampen the mood of the entire trip.

Forewarned is forearmed. Leave your house early and drive out before traffic jams even get a chance to form on the streets you will take. You can also map out a route that avoids major bottlenecks and congested areas. There are apps that will tell you where traffic is usually bad and will make suggestions on which roads to take instead. Use those, and use them well.

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Skip the Expensive Gas Stations

Saving up on gas is one of the components of cheap road trips. You can either fuel up in gas stations that accept coupons, or use apps you can download to help you find the cheapest gas prices on the way to your destination, and back. Out-of-the-way gas stations tend to charge more because they have little to no competition (in short, you have no other choice). You can research ahead and compare fuel prices from gas stations you will be passing to see which ones can offer you the best rates.

Also, one of the most helpful cross-country road trip tips I’ve gotten from veteran road travelers is to compute my travel distance and length of time I will be spending on a road trip. Doing this will help me come up with a suitable budget for gasoline expenses, as well as estimate how much gas I will be consuming in the course of my travel.

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Pack a Snack

Drive-thru meals can add up, and stopping for every meal at restaurants can eat away at your road travel schedule. To stick to your road trip budget, pack meals beforehand! Having picnics by picturesque roadsides is always fun and social media-worthy. Do some grocery shopping and get big backs of snacks and fresh produce such as bananas and carrots you can munch on while driving. They will be cheaper in the long run, compared to splurging on expensive diner meals and convenience store snacks on the way.

You can also bring coolers or insulated lunch boxes so leftovers won’t go to waste. Some convenience stores or eateries allow the use of their microwave oven for a small price (or any purchase at their establishment). So if you can heat up your food and eat it again for another meal, do so. A reusable water bottle is also quite handy so you can refill it from water dispensers on your trip.

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Stick to Your Itinerary

Taking the road less traveled could be fun and adventurous, but it can also mess up your itinerary and budget. To avoid these, simply stick to your original plans and don’t make spontaneous decisions that can eat away gas, meal, accommodation, and other items on your original budget.

If you want to explore certain locations or simply must try a local restaurant or attend an event, sit down with your other companions and discuss the implications of veering away from original plans. If you can adjust your itinerary and budget accordingly without causing too many consequences, then go ahead and enjoy. Otherwise, it’s really best to keep to what you’ve initially planned.

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The More, The Merrier (People, That Is)!

One of the biggest secrets of successful road trips on a budget lies in having a lot of people participating in it. If you’re someone who likes going solo on a road trip to be far from the madding crowd, you probably won’t like this particular tip. However, if you like traveling in a group, then this is right up your alley.

The biggest benefit of involving more people on your road trip plans would, of course, be financial. You will be dividing the cost of gas, food, accommodations, and other travel-related expenses with several other people. That means more savings per individual! You can also take advantage of big group discounts at restaurants, events, theme parks, and rest and recreation places.

I would like to add a tip here, though – being that I’ve traveled solo by car, and also as part of a big group of people before. It really pays to travel with people you actually like, or at least have idiosyncrasies you can tolerate. I made the mistake of inviting certain people on a road trip in the past, and the minute they sat in my car and tried to force their playlists on my sound system, I instantly regretted it.

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The Verdict?

How to save money on a road trip? There are so many ways! What I’ve written is just the tip of the iceberg. I guess the bottom line of any road trip budget and itinerary would be practicality. You know you’re up for hours (maybe even days) of driving, so lots of things can potentially go awry along the way. Arming yourself with the proper tools – emergency kits and numbers, spare tires, a tool box, packed meals, gas and map apps, your mobile phone and other gadgets for communication, and lots of advanced research and preparation – can really help you be ready for the challenges and thrills of a road trip.
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Mar 29, 2019
I love these tips esp. the part about sticking to the itinerary! my family loves going on road trips but it would kinda get annoying when my folks want to divert from the original plan and go see this or that distant relative ugh! Before you know it we've run out of time and have to rush to places we really planned on visiting because they just *have to* meet up with this college bud or someone who wants to see them while their in town!