How to Save Money on a Road Trip

Save Money on a Road Trip

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If you’ve known me long enough you know I love a good road trip. I prefer the freedom of the road over flying. There’s also something nostalgic and “All-American” about the wild road frontier.

Enough waxing poetic. You’re not here to listen to me tell you about my love affair. You want to hear how to save some money on a road trip. Here are my tips for saving your greens on the open road.

How to Save Money on Gas

Gas is that number one fluctuation on the road. State by state and city by city it can vary. Here’s what we do to keep costs down.

  • Gas Rewards – No, not a credit card reward. Most stations are doing cents off or frequent customer rewards. Typically, we use Shell rewards and get at least 5 cents off a gallon. Some rewards require you to make other purchases in order to receive cents off. Check here for a full list and pick your fav.
  • Gas Gift Cards – Publix grocery stores, here in the south, often offer $10 off a $50 gas card in their weekly specials. You can buy 1 for every $50 you spend in groceries. So if you’re weekly food haul totals around $150, add on 3 gas cards. I try to stock up when we’re traveling. Keep in mind, not all gas stations are nationwide. Stick with the ones you know are on your route.
  • Gas Apps – Gas Buddy or even your preferred gas station are great apps to price compare stations on your route. Know you need to get gas, check the exits coming up and see if one is better than the other. Alternatively, saving a few cents per gallon doesn’t add up to much and isn’t worth driving out of the way to get it. Think of it this way, saving 3 cents a gallon only amounts to 42 cents on a 14 gallon tank. It’s not worth your time or extra gas to go miles out of your way.
  • Fueling up – Whenever you can, fuel up first thing in the morning. Gas evaporates in the heat, and fueling up in the heat of the afternoon won’t get you as much as you’re paying for. Of course, if you’re in it for the long haul, you’ll have to get gas at various times of the day. However, if you stay overnight somewhere, fuel up before you head out, even if you have half a tank.
  • Tire Inflation – Over time, the air in your tires can deflate. Properly inflated tires make a difference in how your car moves along the highway. If your car is working harder, you’re using more gas. Check your tires at the beginning and end of a trip. Get an instant-read digital tire gauge to make the job easier.
  • Smart GPS Routing – Nothing is worse than sitting in traffic, idling away your gas. Use your smartphone routing system or an app such as Waze. (Read my fav apps here.) These apps find the best route, even if it’s not the main route. Or if there’s an accident, it will reroute you. I’ve ignored the reroutes before and regretted it. It sucks sitting on the freeway for an hour, parked.

How to Save Money on Food

No matter how long the road trip, food expenses can add up fast. Packing a cooler is our biggest way to save, but I have a few more tips too.

  • Pack food – Not only is this the healthier option versus fast food, think of what you can buy with $40 at the grocery store over a drive-through. To keep food cold in the cooler, we freeze half-gallon jugs of water. This keeps food from getting soggy in ice and makes for great drinking water down the road. We’ve gone a full 24 hours on the road without buying food. Check out our ideas on what food to pack. I’m also loving the idea of a plug-in cooler, to keep cool longer. Check out this cooler here, which also has the capacity to warm food.
  • Grocery Stores – If you do need to stop for food, consider stopping at a grocery store rather than a drive-through. iExit app will tell you what’s close and on your route. That small bag of chips to go with your sandwich at a sub shop is as much as a full bag at a grocery store, that feeds the whole family. Many grocery stores have a deli with fresh subs. We also like crackers, a block of cheese and pepperoni for a fun, easy to grab meal. Added bonus: Plenty of fresh fruit!
  • Coffee – One thing I haven’t tried, but anxious to, is portable coffee on the road. This post, from Thrifty Nomads intrigued me. Most of their advice is great for camping as well. Have you ever tried making coffee on the road rather than hitting Starbucks?
  • Milk – Depending on how long you’re on the road, you may want to give milk to the kids, or use in cereal. We use boxed milk for this. You can find it near the dry and evaporated milks. Often they come in juice box like packs and in chocolate or plain. We add them to the cooler to chill and they taste great.
  • Breakfast – If we stay overnight in a hotel, we always book one with a breakfast. Generally, the costs are about the same on the road and this gets us hot food, sometimes, and bananas and juice. If you’re paying for a place to stay, might as well get breakfast to go with it.

How to Save Money on Overnights

Depending on how long you have to drive, it may or may not be worth getting a hotel room on the way to your final destination. We have driven straight through, but I only recommend that if you’re not tired. Two tips for saving on overnight accommodations:

  • Sleep at the Rest Stop – This depends on your comfort level. Choose a well lit official interstate rest stop. Generally we do this to pull off the road for a few hours until the sun rises and we feel more awake again. We park by the truckers, rather than up front with the cars. We know the truck drivers that have pulled off the road are sleeping and generally not getting out of their rig. When the kids were small and generally slept anywhere, this allowed us to save money and get to our final destination faster.
  • Campgrounds – Again, depending on your set up, a campground is a cheap way to pull over for the night. If you use the iExit App, you can find a campground on your route. Call first for availability and rates.

How to Save Money on Attractions

There will be plenty of reasons to stop along the way. Roadside attractions, if not planned for, are the biggest money eater. Along the road you’ll be hit with signs to buy fireworks or visit the world’s largest whatever. Of course, all of these come with the gift shop. Granted, sometimes these are fun and make for great photo opps. Just prep the kids or give them a spending limit so you don’t go overboard on a crocodile purse you’ll never use. Our advice to save money on attractions:

  • Take Scenic Breaks – Especially in the mountains, there are plenty of overlooks and pull off the road places to park. Get out, stretch your legs, take in the beautiful scenery around you.
  • Free Roadside Attractions – Not every roadside attraction costs money. Sometimes a wacky blast from the past may be just as fun. (Check out some fun, some free, wacky Florida attractions here.)
  • Visit Historical Markers or Landmarks – On the interstate, historical markers, homes, landmarks, etc are noted with brown signs. Depending on the marker or landmark, many of these are free. Granted, some are just a sign with a bit of historical information on it. However, if you need a break or a place to visit, these locations can easily turn into a scavenger-hunt style game for the kids.

Roadtrippers is a great app that has a massive list of roadside attractions. Take it a step further and sign up for their premium version here. Get $5 off with code BTR5QTP.

These are just a few of the ways we save money when road tripping. Preparing your car for the journey and planning for emergencies will be covered in another blog. Sign up for my email list to get notified of new content.

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    4 thoughts on “How to Save Money on a Road Trip”

    1. Pingback: HOW TO: Roadtrips with Kids | Burgess Travel Co.

    2. Pingback: The Ultimate List Of All American Road Trip Books | Detail Oriented Traveler

    3. Some excellent tips here and we have been using some of them for years. I use Gas Buddy to check out the price of gas as we approach a town. Nothing worse than getting gas then seeing it cheaper just up the road.

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