Going on a Cross-Country Road Trip? Save Money With These Tips


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
I live a pretty frugal life. I like to save whenever I can, and am constantly on the lookout for new side hustles to complement my regular income. That said, travel is one thing I regularly indulge in. And when you think about it, travel isn’t a luxury. My wife and I consider regular travel a necessity; just like breathing air or having a nutritious meal. Traveling exposes us to different cultures and helps refine our world view.

But we still try to save as much as we can when traveling, of course. We love to go on road trips and visit towns days away. The expense of going on road trips can easily spiral out of control, but we have come up with ways to go on a cross country road trip on a budget. If you’re also into cross country road trips, read on to find out our tips on how to shave dollars off the average cost of a cross country road trip. Let’s get this show on the road!

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Make Your Reservations Early

My mom was a seasoned world-traveler before she settled down. And one of her best pieces traveling related advice was: always make your reservations early. When my mom went on trips, she booked everything – hotel room, airplane tickets, tour guides, even restaurants – months ahead of schedule.

It’s something I’ve done well into adulthood. It’s no secret that it’s cheaper to make your reservations early. The earlier, the better. Hotel rooms, in particular, are cheaper the earlier you book – the price of a hotel room tends to increase the shorter the wait time. This is especially true if you’re going on a trip during the holidays, or prefer a specific room (such as one facing a nice view, or a seasonal fireworks display).

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Use a Gas-Saving App

Road trips are well worth the effort. Nothing beats driving down a deserted country road yourself. That said, a cross country road trip does present certain challenges. Unlike flying or taking the bus, you’re responsible for your passengers, and for the way the trip goes.

Personally, running out of gas in the middle of nowhere is something that has always scared me, which is why an app like GasBuddy is such a big boon to me. The app basically shows you all the gas stations in the immediate vicinity. The app makes it easier to plan my trips, and thanks to it, I no longer have to stop at the side of the road scratching my head over a map, looking for some sign of a gas station nearby.

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Avoid Side Roads

Most cars consume lots of gas during acceleration. But when a car reaches cruising spend, it tends to have better fuel efficiency. And that’s why it’s better to drive along highways. When you’re on the highway, your car is running on a generally constant speed. When you take side roads, you’re constantly breaking, stopping at intersections, letting kids cross the street, and having to make way for other interruptions. And this can add to your fuel consumption. Sticking to highways as much as possible lessens the average cost of cross country road trips.

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Pack Enough Road Food and Drinks

Here’s something that I noticed in our years of road trips: food in major gas stations and pit stops tend to cost more than usual. Owners of these establishments know that they’ve got a captive market, so they tend to jack up their prices accordingly.

We avoid the high cost of food by packing our own food, along with other cross country road trip essentials. This is a great way to save not just money, but also time. Since you can, in theory, eat in the car (make sure you switch driver duties to be safe), you can arrive at your destination sooner.

But if you’ll be on the road for over a day, make sure you bring food that won’t spoil easily. Bacon sandwiches, protein bars, and bottled water are favorites of ours.

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Avoid Tourist Traps

Maybe I’m just being biased, but I was never really a fan of tourist traps. Tourist traps come in all shapes and sizes. They can be really fancy places like casinos or resorts, or they can be more lowbrow, like the world’s largest ball of twine. Many of these places charge admission, and since their clientele is mostly tourists, tourists are expectedly pretty high.

And besides, there’s more to a particular locale than the usual tourist traps. We like to go off the beaten path and explore. This is a great way to discover new places and destinations that aren’t always in the tour booklets.

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Road Trip Entertainment is Essential

This might not seem immediately obvious, but when you’re stuck in a confined space with the same people for hours, maybe even days, at a time, good music is an essential tool in maintaining everyone’s sanity. I have a Spotify account on my phone, and I always make my premium account has been paid to ensure the music keeps playing throughout the trip.

And here’s another music-related tip: You can try switching DJ duties, so everyone gets to play their own music. I like listening to punk rock, while my wife prefers 90s girl groups. By letting each other play their preferred music keeps everyone nice and mellow during the trip.

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Consider Airbnb Instead of Hotels

Next to gas, accommodations are our biggest expense when traveling. And that’s why we try to find ways to save money on accommodations as much as possible. We used to go to hostels and bed and breakfasts, but even those can get pricey (and we couldn’t always be sure about the quality of the place). We were skeptical at first, but Airbnb’s are relatively affordable, and our accommodations have always been pretty nice.

With an Airbnb, service is always more personal. Your hosts tend to be more accommodating, and it’s a great way to meet new people in the place you’re visiting.

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