Road Trip On A Budget

Want to travel the country but have no money? We’ve got you covered with these cost-effective secrets to enjoying road trips!

Do you dream about dropping everything and embarking on a cross country road trip across the U.S.? But the rising inflation and gas prices are stopping you from making this dream a reality? Your worries are over! Here is everything you need to know about planning a cross country road trip on a budget! 

COVID-19 left us with one blessing – the normalization of remote work. We can now work online, from the comforts of our homes; giving us more time to spend with our loved ones. And what better way to enjoy your hard-earned leisure time than to go exploring the country with your friends or family? So, here are some of the best vetted tips for planning a road trip on a budget this coming spring!

But First, How Much Does a Cross Country Road Trip Costs?

According to a professional traveler, expect to spend over $6000 for a three-month road trip. This includes all the expenses like accommodations, food, drinks, gas, parking fees, sightseeing, and attraction tickets, as well as your Starbucks addiction and miscellaneous expenses.

Obviously, this is a little too much for an average person. Fortunately, we have some secret tips that can save you hundreds of bucks on food, accommodation, and entertainment.

15 Tips to Save Money on a Cross Country Road Trip

The following hand-picked tips can help you save big bucks on your road trips, so don’t forget to check them out!

1. Plan a Budget-Friendly Cross Country Road Trip Route

Indeed, the first step to planning a fun cross country road trip on a budget is to map out the route. Of course, you can plan your own route using Google Maps. Similarly, you can use a good travel app like Trip Advisor, and use the built-in map features to carve out a nice budget-friendly route for your road trip.  Since taking a wrong route or hitting an unclear direction is only going to waste fuel and time, it will only add to the expenses.

For a well-planned road trip on a budget, research different routes and find the most feasible one that could save you time and money. Luckily, there are already some popular road trip routes mapped out for adventurers like yours!

  • Pacific Coast Highway – from Washington to San Diego
  • The Loneliest Road in America – US Route 50 from San Francisco to Maryland
  • The Great River Road – follows the mighty Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico
  • Historic Route 66 – from Chicago to Los Angeles
  • The Oregon Trail – from Missouri to Oregon

While planning out your route, it is imperative that you take all aspects of traveling into consideration and realistically plan a budget.

2. Online Tools for Planning an Epic Road Trip on a Budget

There are a number of budget planners available online that can help you decide on a detailed budget for everything regarding your road trip. It is wise to utilize them.

Some good online resources for traveling and mapping road trips include:

  • Road Trippers can help you build a perfect road trip with the best route, places to camp as well as sights to see along the way.
  • Online calculators like TravelMath can help you calculate the cost of traveling based on distance as well as accommodations.
  • Use the iExit app to find major pit stops on highways along your journey.

3. Save on Gas Prices by Using a Fuel-Efficient Car

Since road trips are all about rolling down the windows and feeling the cool breeze in your hair as you cruise down scenic coastal roads, it’s needless to say that your car is your most important investment. Moreover, with the rising fuel prices, it is crucial to have a car that is fuel efficient.

Fuel Economy can help you calculate how much MPG your car gives. Just go to the website and fill in your car model information, plus your road trip route. It also gives you an estimated fuel cost for your entire trip. For example, a 2000 Hyundai Sonata gives an average mileage per gallon of 21. So, traveling the 2,015 miles of route 66 will cost about $338.68 in gas.

Based on this you can accurately calculate how much gas budget you need. If you have a car with a high MPG rate, then you can cut this cost even more!

Pro Tip: Buying or renting a used car that might not look that great but give a high MPG saves you more in the long run than traveling on a fancy car which has a low MPG.

4. Count in Toll Fees as Well

Every vehicle is charged a small toll fee for using the road. This fee differs from highway to highway, state to state and even depending on the type of vehicle you own. If you’re not careful you might end up paying hundreds of dollars in toll fees. That’s why make sure to check which route charges how much toll with the help of the Tollmsart app.

5. Road Trip Food on a Budget – Cook More

One major factor that can upset your travel budget is the cost of food. Yes, it is easier to just dine in a restaurant than to worry about cooking your own food however it is truly the bane of budget-friendly road trips. On the other hand, cooking on your own can save you just as much money.

In order to calculate your cooking expenses on the road, take your existing grocery budget and multiply it by 1.5. Since you won’t have enough space to store large quantities of food, you’ll have to buy your groceries in small amounts which usually cost more. Check out some budgeting apps to make this process easier.

Consider, for example, you spend about $130 for groceries at home. That’s $195 on the road per week. If your road trip lasts three months, your total food expense will be $2,340. In contrast, you’ll be spending about $4,200 if you eat out. That’s double the expense!

6. Do Not Splurge on Snacks! Pack Your Own

Similarly, save extra bucks by packing your own snacks. It is tempting to stop over at a café on your journey to grab a quick bite or a bag of crisps to munch on while driving. But remember, all that adds up to the costs.

Before your trip, stock up on chocolate bars, granola bars, nuts, and other light snacks. Fruits are also a good option. In addition, you can fix up salads to nosh on while traveling. Not only are these good for your health but also for your financial wellness too.

7. Skip Cars and Hike Some Trails

Whenever possible, ditch your car and step into the landscape. Of course, it is fun to drive along scenic routes but it becomes a hundred times better if you become a part of that scenery. Therefore, focus on recreational activities on your journey rather than opting to drive most of the time.

Take up hiking or walking for a few miles instead of stepping on the pedal. For example, when crossing theme parks or national heritage sites, concentrate on having high-quality experiences that you’ll remember for years. Cover more miles by hiking instead of using the car. It will give you ample time to look around the breathtaking landscape while saving you fuel expenses and unnecessary stress.

8. Opt For a Car Camp or Campervan

This is an excellent tip to follow for a road trip on a budget. Use a car camp to make up for expensive accommodations on a long journey. Depending on the people coming along and the size of your vehicle, pack a few pillows and sheets to set up a car camp for comfortable sleeping on your trip.

If you prefer camping, buy yourself a nice inexpensive Coleman car camping tent on Amazon for only $40 or an REI Backpacker Bundle and a handy camp stove. This will surely make your trip even more exciting and budget friendly. Alternatively, you could also rent a campervan, a live-in truck that is affordable and convenient. This will cost you way less than renting a hotel room every night plus, it enables you to cook more easily and affordably.

9. Check Out all the Free Attractions on Your Route

Visit free attractions on your trip instead of buying expensive tickets to museums and art galleries. Even at popular destinations, there are free tourist spots that include stunning locales, mesmerizing artwork, and inexpensive food, offering a promising visitor experience.

For a road trip on a budget, this must be your top consideration. Check out national parks, enjoy picnics on the sandy beaches of Miami, have fun engaging in a day-long hike, or spend some leisure time watching nightlife at the city center.

10. Buy a Visitor’s Pass

Most holiday destinations offer visitor’s passes at low rates which, include free entry to museums and historical sites as well as unlimited hours of public transport. Purchasing these passes can really save you a lot during your cross country road trip on a budget. American National Park Service offers visitor passes for major recreation sites within the U.S. Check out the passes available within your trip route and plan beforehand for a wonderful road trip.

11. When to Travel? Off Season Visits are the Best!

If you are looking for a budget-friendly road trip, then plan your trip in the off-season. Most hotels and diners offer discounted prices during this time, which you can benefit from. For example, the shoulder season; the period between high and low tourist seasons, is ideal for a road trip because you get less crowded areas, awesome weather, malls offering special discounts, and inexpensive accommodations.

12. Online Deals on Travel and Hotels can Save you a Lot

Another aspect of traveling that costs a lot of money is accommodations. You have to be really smart while planning where to stay the night. Most hotels charge between $80 to $100 for a night’s stay. It can be even more for high-end hotels. Avoid them at all costs. Instead, look for budget hotels on your route that charge between $40-$50 for a night.

Furthermore, before you start traveling, research online for affordable hotels, hostels, Airbnbs, or even motels on your stops. Some valuable sources that offer cheap accommodations and also let you compare prices in different places include:

13. Give Couchsurfing a Try!

Couchsurfing is the first travel service in the world that connects travelers with locals. You can sign up on their website and it connects you with local people in your destination who are accepting guests. The best part? There’s no rent involved! You can stay at the host’s place for free! Although you’re expected to return their generosity by cooking them a meal or taking them out for food and drinks, still, it’s still cheaper. Not to mention, it’s a wonderful way to meet friendly locals and build friendships.

14. Budget-friendly Packing List for the Ultimate Road Trip Experience

Here are some essentials you should pack with you that will save you money during your long cross country road trip.

  • Spice kit to jazz up cheap meals – DIY a spice kit by packing some everyday spices and condiments in small bottles. It will come in handy when cooking your own meals or spicing up cheap fast food.
  • Camping kitchen essentials – like knives, sheers, utensils, camping stove and grill, etc.
  • Cold brew coffee pot or a French press – avoid expensive Starbucks coffee on your budget friendly road trip and make your own coffee. L’OR Expresso is giving away free samples that are not to be missed!
  • Big-sized water bottles – instead of buying water bottles, take large water bottles with you and refill them whenever you can.
  • Camping gear – camping outside in a tent some days is a good and cheap alternative to hotels.
  • Sleeping bags – you might have trouble sleeping in the car during a road trip, that’s why sleeping bags and Slumber Sleep Aid are essential.
  • Clothing for all types of weather.
  • Don’t forget the car repair kit – to avoid expensive car repair fees.
  • Stay connected on the road with high-speed internet.

15. Buying Travel Insurance Saves you Money in the Long run

Traveling is not without its risks and dangers. It is imperative that you have separate funds for emergency situations. But it is even better if you buy travel insurance for any unforeseeable situation, especially if you plan on going on an extended road trip. Here are some travel insurance companies that offer affordable deals.

Key Takeaways

Going on an impromptu road trip is fun but it can be even better if you take some time to plan for it. There are so many useful resources available online that can help you plan your cross country road trip on a budget without compromising on all the fun and adventure!

About the Author: Aatika Qasim

She is a dedicated female entrepreneur and digital enthusiast who's committed to making her name in the world of Women Entrepreneurship. She's devoted to help people improve their personal finances by saving money on health, fitness, travel, and wellness as well as find practical and efficient ways to make money online.
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