Five Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
Whenever travel is on my itinerary, whether it’s by car, plane, bus, or boat, I always make sure to find ways to not overspend. I must confess that I do have the tendency to do that. For some reason, I find that having wanderlust is almost synonymous to being a shopaholic or a spendthrift!

But thanks to years and years of making mistakes and being sweet-talked into spending more than I should have, I’ve finally learned some valuable lessons. One of the best ones, which I want to share with you today, is about how to save money on a road trip.

In particular, I’ve learned to take these five road trip money saving tips to heart simply because they’ve worked so wonderfully well for me. You may have some more advice for the rest of the travelers, which I encourage you to post in the comments below. But for now, let me share with you the following tips based on my personal experiences. I hope they come in handy to you, as well!

Pack a Picnic

While it’s tempting to take advantage of quaint roadside diners or popular eateries in the places you will be going to or passing by, try to resist this temptation. Not only do establishments expect you to tip servers, but there may be other charges associated with dining out.

Personally, the first best way to save money for a trip involves packing your own food. Yes, it may sound dull, and yes, if there are kids involved in your traveling, you might have to say no several times (and get yells or cries of protest as a result). However, bringing your own packed meals and drinks in a cooler will help you avoid dipping into your travel budget. You will also be sure that all your meals are according to your diet and nutritional needs.

Another pro to packing a picnic? You will also save a lot of time on the road because you won’t have to keep scheduling stops just to have meals.

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Be Mindful of Traffic Rules

This particular advice may seem to come out of left field, but it’s a pretty practical one for traveling on the road. This is especially important if you’re traveling somewhere with a different speed limit, parking laws, and other traffic rules from the ones you’re usually familiar with.

Before you even start your journey, check your lights, brakes, odometer and speedometer, coolant, tire pressure, if you have your spare tire, tools, and a map (or app version) ready, and other usual car diagnostics. If you can do some preliminary research on your destination’s traffic rules, go ahead and do so. It pays to be forewarned about such things, and it can help you avoid getting stopped and ticketed for regulations you may not know you’ve broken. And we all know what a huge waste of time and energy it is when that happens.

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Research Parking Spaces Ahead of Time

Another major expense for me when I go on a road trip would be the parking fees. Even if I go “glamping” (sort of like a posh version of camping, complete with modern-day amenities and generally less roughing it involved), I still usually have to pay someone so I can park my car safely. Depending on how long I will stay somewhere (or if I hop from one place to another), it could easily run into a hundred dollars worth of parking fees for a full stay.

I’ve learned to research potential parking spaces (and their fees) ahead of time. If I can already reserve them and place a deposit, I do so. But I also take parking into consideration when booking for a place to stay, such as with hostels and Airbnb’s that allow car spaces for guests. That way, I know how much to allot on my travel budget for parking expenses and won’t be too shocked at how much I will pay in the end.

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Bring Cash for Gas

Here’s how to save money on gas on a road trip – bring cash! That doesn’t make sense, you say? But it does, I assure you. In my experience, using my credit card to get gasoline has racked up such astronomical charges on my account that it was a constant shock to get my bill right after I’ve returned from my road trip.

You see, some of the gas stations I pass by are ones I am unfamiliar with, and they almost always turn out to have surcharges when you use your card for transactions with them. So bringing enough money with me to pay for my gasoline has become a habit I’m trying to stick to, despite the relative inconvenience.

Another good way to save on gas is to keep to the speed limit – yes, even on wide open roads! Cruising at a respectable speed will prove to be energy efficient, and won’t put to much pressure on your tires in the process (a blow-out can really put a dent on your travel budget plus schedule, you know).

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Ditch the Expensive Hotels

True, there are lots of nice hotels and inns that can make your road trip blissful and luxurious, but it can sure eat away at your budget. One great way to save money on a road trip would be to get creative about board and lodging. And yes, it requires prior research, instead of, say, stopping by the nearest dilapidated lodge that could turn out to be the next horror movie location shoot.

But I digress. In this day and age of shared economy, Airbnb has become my favorite go-to resource for affordable lodging, but with the kind of amenities I can really use to make my trip comfortable. You can keep a constant stream of communication with the host/hostess and make sure you’re on the same page regarding accommodations. And since Airbnb is supposed to regulated leasing of properties to guests (for a certain amount of time, depending on zoning codes and permits), you can be sure that there is a record somewhere of your host’s profile.

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The Verdict?

If you really want to know how to save money on a trip, I would like to think that those who travel a lot (this includes people you actually know, as well as looking up travel blogs and forums) are the best resources you can turn to for practical tips. Experience really is the best teacher, especially when it comes to being street-wise and a savvy traveler.

Being on the open road is all about having a change of scenery, so breathe in the fresh air and partake of the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of a new place. These experiences are free, so revel in them. But if you can (and you must), be smart about spending on these trips, and save whenever and wherever you can. It’s pretty easy once you know how.
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