Diana Kelly Levey

13 Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip

A van driving in the desert

July 26, 2021 | Categories: ,

An impromptu road trip can sound exciting and spontaneous. But if you’re wondering how to save money on a road trip, a little bit of planning can go a long way. (The same goes for having a healthy road trip.)

While a road trip can be a low-cost way to travel, keeping expenses in check often means deciding where you want to go, the vehicle you’ll take, where you’ll be stopping on the road trip, and your overall budget.

How to Cut Costs on a Road Trip

1. Choosing a Fuel-Efficient Car.

If you have a choice of cars to take, you may want to go with one that is large enough to be comfortable, but also gives you the best gas mileage.

You can use FuelEconomy.gov’s Trip Calculator to determine which car will cost you the least in gas. This tool helps estimate fuel consumption and how much it will cost for a particular route using a specific car.

2. Driving at or Below the Speed Limit

This cautionary measure can help you save money in two ways. For one, you’ll be less likely to get pulled over and slapped with an expensive speeding ticket.

For another, observing the speed limit can actually reduce your gas consumption. In fact, you can save 17 cents a gallon on highways for every five miles per hour you slow down.

3. Packing your Car Wisely

You can also cut your gas costs by placing items inside the car or trunk rather then piling them on your roof. By reducing drag, this move can increase your fuel economy by as much as eight percent in city driving and up to 25 percent on highways.

If you’re out of room in the car, using a rear-mounted cargo box or tray instead of a roof rack can improve your fuel economy by up to 12 percent.

4. Setting a Road Trip Budget

When you first start talking about the road trip, you may want to roughly map out where you want to go, how long it’ll take to get there, and if you’ll need hotels or motels. From there, you can calculate the approximate cost of gas (FuelEconomy.gov can help) and tolls (try Tollsmart), as well as food and fun.

Once you’ve established an overall budget for the trip, you start creating a travel fund.

5. Bringing Your Own Food and Supplies.

Packing a cooler with water bottles, drinks, hand-held snacks, and sandwiches before leaving home is proven frugal traveler trick. You can end up saving a sizable chunk of cash by not having to buy drinks and snacks at rest stops, vending machines, and drive-throughs. (Try snacking on these low-sugar granola bars.)

You’ll also have a quick solution the next time someone in the car wants to pull over because they’re hungry.

6. Avoiding Tolls Altogether

When your road trip isn’t on any set schedule, you may want to take the scenic route and completely avoid tolls. You can do this by setting your GPS app to “avoid tolls.”

If you’re in a location with pricey bridges and highways, your savings could really add up. You may want to make sure, however, that avoiding tolls doesn’t take you so far out of your way that you’re spending a lot more on gas.

7. Looking for Hotels that Offer Free Breakfasts

If you’re comparing two hotels in a similar price and quality range, one way to save on road trip expenses is to choose the hotel with a free breakfast.

Not only will you probably get a large, filling meal, but you might even be able to take a piece of fruit or cereal box as a snack for later on in the trip.

8. Looking Beyond Hotels

Your first thought when looking for roadside accommodation may be cheap hotels or motels. But you sometimes find a better deal (or a nicer option for the same price) using a home rental site, such as Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, or FlipKey, especially if you’re staying for more than one night.

You could even explore the CouchSurfing Travel app, or let friends on Facebook or social media know you’re going to be traveling to their area to see if they have a recommendation on where to stay for a good price.

9. Planning to Visit Free Attractions

Part of the fun of a road trip is to enjoy the journey and scenery while en route to your final destination.

As you travel (or before you go), you may want to research free attractions, such as a hike, walk on a beach, or a free museum, on your route for times when you need to stretch and take a driving break.

You can also look for festivals and local events by checking out the online events calendar for the towns you’ll be visiting that day. (Related: Maximize Your Fitness Time On Vacation)

10. Entertaining the Kids on the Cheap.

Kids have a tendency to get bored, tired, and antsy on a road trip. To avoid giving in to impulse toy purchases, you may want to bring along their favorite toys and also pick up a variety of new ones at the dollar store before you leave.

Good choices include coloring books and games they can play in the car that won’t create a mess. You might also consider borrowing audio books or DVDs from the library to give yourself an hour or so of peace and quiet.

11. Searching Online for Local Coupons and Passes

It can be worthwhile to research online coupons and discount codes for local attractions and restaurants at some of your scheduled stops.

Consider checking Groupon or LivingSocial for deals and steals. Sometimes booking online ahead of time saves you money and it’ll give you a reason to try to reach a specific destination by a certain day.

12. Volunteering at a Festival

Yes, you read that correctly. Some festivals and special events offer discounts or free admission to volunteers. You can look up events taking place in the town you’ll be visiting and reach out to the event organizer to see if they need help.

13. Traveling During the Off-Season

Visiting National Parks when the kids are back in school can often help save money on lodging and activities. Planning a road trip to a destination like Disney World or Disneyland? You’ll likely find better deals if it’s not during a spring break or other school break.

You can often also save money by visiting warm weather locations during “shoulder seasons.” This is the period in between a destination’s low and high seasons of tourism, when prices for hotels tend to be lower, and crowds tend to be smaller, at popular attractions.

The Takeaway

A car trip might sound much more affordable than traveling by plane. However, gas, food, and accommodations can add up.

One of the best ways to cut road trip expenses is to plan out your trip and research deals, coupons, and discounts ahead of time. Packing wisely and loading up on drinks, snacks, toys, and activities can also help cut costs once you’re out on the road.

Ready to start planning–and saving for–you next road trip? Consider signing up for a SoFi Money® cash management account.

SoFi Money has a special “vaults” feature that allows you to separate your savings from your spending, while earning competitive interest on all of your money. You can even set up a separate vault for your travel fund.

Read the full article on SoFi.com.

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