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Looking for ways to enjoy your budget road trip?
Road trips can make the vacation, sometimes.
Some love them, others hate them. I don’t mind a road trip, provided it’s comfortable and not too long while my father absolutely loves a lengthy road trip and makes a whole event out of it.
This year, why not skip the pricey airfare and drive your car to your vacation destination?
A road trip can often be a lot cheaper than flying and makes for a memorable journey that you’ll remember fondly for years to come.
For a cheap vacation option, do not rule out a budget road trip.
Keep reading for these 4 fun ways to enjoy your budget road trip this vacation season!
How to Plan a Budget Road Trip
Planning out your budget road trip can require a lot of organization.
You have to coordinate the route, all the stops, overnight hotel stay, food, and more.
The whole process can be a lot of fun but it does require some organizing:
- Set your budget
- Plan the route
- Calculate fuel costs
- Consider stops along the way
- Buffer your budget with “extra” expenses like souveneir shopping, etc.
- Consider housing arrangements
Ok, let’s dive in!
Setting Your Budget
This is the most crucial part of the process and sets the whole trip in motion. You will calculate the entire trip budget to include every aspect of the road trip, to include:
- And, more!
After reviewing your budget, if you determine your budget is tight, prioritize.
It’s ok if you can’t fit everything in, the most important thing is picking the most important things and setting aside enough budget for those things.
Here’s how you can prioritize:
First, calculate the trip time and mileage. Then, determine how many times you need to fuel up and from there, try to estimate (best that you can) how much gas will cost. Gas comes first because you won’t end up at your destination if you don’t have enough gas in the tank.
Next, tackle housing, food, and lastly entertainment and extras.
The goal is to set a hard budget but build in a buffer for extras that may arise like if you pass a cool museum off the highway that you have to stop at, or unique road trip snack at a gas station that you want to stock up on for the trip.
Planning the Route
Here are some apps and tools that can help you plan your route:
- AAA TripTik
- Android Auto
Touted as one of the highest rated trip planners, TripIt helps provide an easier trip, every time.
Step 1: Forward your confirmation emails
Step 2: Get a master itenerary, so you can access every trip and instantly send plans to your calendar
Step 3: Download the app and access across all your devices
This tool is just for road trip planning!
- Point-to-point directions
- Avoid delays due to construction
- Locate AAA approved hotels and restaurants
- Find the best gas prices
- Plan a trip with up to 12 destinations
- And, much more!
This is an app for road trip planning, mapping, and travel guides.
Get help to plan to most epic road trips ever.
- Discover millions of local diners and unique roadside attractions
- Find scenic national parks, hotels, and cool road stops
- Plot your route with up to 7 route points
- Free, with option to upgrade for access to more features
This free app makes it easier for you to use your phone when you’re on the road.
It features a simple interface and voice control for easy use while traveling.
How it works?
Mount your Android phone on a cradle or lock, turn on Android Auto and you’re set. It’s designed to work with Google Maps. It can also play you music, control playback, navigate, and more.
This traffic map and navigation app is available for Android and iOS.
It allows you to:
- Check out traffic conditions
- Get access to road hazard reports
- Accident reports
- Speed traps
If you do travel on toll roads, with TollSmart, you can quickly look up the price of all tolls for toll bridges, toll roadways, toll tunnels, and more.
You can create profiles for each vehicle that you own or drive and log in toll rates into their TollTracker system for expense logging.
These tools are great for mapping out your trip, selecting cool pitstops, finding local gems in the cities you pass through, and more. For more on travel and road trip apps, check out this guide.
When it comes to your core budget, it’s all about:
When you think about each budget category, you want to consider if you want to splurge in certain categories or really stick to a tight budget. If your budget is limited, a road trip can still happen but you’ll want to prioritize on the expenses that are most important to indulge in and which are not.
When it comes to accommodations, this is usually your hotel stay, unless you’ll be staying with family, as you stop throughout your road trip.
I have some family that actually does this.
They have a set route from Texas to California, stopping around Arizona and Nevada on the way, to visit with family and stay the night, before they continue on to their destination.
This can save a ton of money so don’t rule this out if it’s a possibility for you.
There are plenty of ways to get a good deal on hotels:
- Affinity discounts
- Travel sites
Affinity discounts are exclusive clubs that you belong to or memberships that you hold, that comes with perks like discounted or free hotel stay. Here are some examples:
- Corporate employers
- Government employees
- Senior citizens
You can research this in advance to see what area hotels offer discounts like these.
They are usually known on the hotel website and you can see discounted rates easily, to see if you qualify.
Rewards are the next way you can save big on hotel accommodations.
This includes credit card and debit card rewards, hotel rewards, and more.
In addition to having accrued rewards on your cards to use at a hotel, you may also get to earn rewards if you book at certain hotel chains.
Hotel rewards work similarly.
For example, I’m a member of the IHG hotel rewards program which covers over a dozen hotel brands worldwide.
Every time I book an IHG hotel through their website, I earn reward points, which accumulate and I can use for future redemption. Not to mention exclusive deals I’m eligible for periodically like a recent summer deal I got at a 5-star beach resort, 4 day, 3 night stay in a family suite for under $175.
If you favor a certain brand of hotels, look into this.
Travel Site Discounts
I’ve always booked at these sites for years.
It can make a lot of sense and be easy on your budget.
Last Minute Hotel Stays
Grab some pretty amazing deals with last minute hotel deals using these apps:
Other ways to save on hotel stay:
- Get cashback booking on smartphone apps, like Ibotta
- Finding hotel coupon codes with Dosh
- Booking your hotel through a shopping portal like TopCashback
- Use Groupon for special hotel deals
Learn about the rest of these 23 ways to save money on hotels.
The next budget category to look at is food.
Food can blow up your budget if you aren’t careful.
Here are some tips to keep your food budget in line:
- Experience local food, away from off the highway for a break on your budget
- Pack a cooler of snacks to enjoy on the road
- Stop at grocery stores on the way and when you arrive, to save money on pricey restaurant and fast food
- Bring a small portable grill
- Book your stay at an AirBNB or family suite, which includes a kitchen or kitchenette, for cooking
- Make your own individually packed snacks
- Bring frozen water bottles, that will thaw on the trip for cold water
Check out these cheap meal ideas on the road:
- PBJ sandwiches and fresh fruit
- Granola bars
- Breakfast bars
- Bagels and peanut butter
- Healthy pick n’ eat snacks like fresh fruit, crackers, carrots, etc.
- Tortilla wraps
- Grill burgers or hotdogs with your portable grill
- Cook light and easy meals in your hotel room or AirBNB
Check out these 15 road trip recipes to save you.
Affordable entertainment is the name of the game. There are a lot more free and cheap entertainment options than you might think, when you go on a road trip:
- Hiking trails
- Art shows
- Music performances
- Festivals and fairs
- Area parks
When my family visited NYC a few years back, we went into the city and still found affordable things to do including:
- Walking the various neighborhoods
- Going to central park
- Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art
- And, more!
If you’re looking for fun road trip activities for the kids, take a look at these:
- Create DIY edible necklaces kids can snack on during the ride
- Choose great music
- Make a DIY magnetic play table
- Play movies
- Play car games
- Play virtual hide and seek
- Blowing bubbles
Learn about these 19 fun car road trip activities to keep your kids occupied and having fun.
Shopping is always a fun part of vacation.
Picking up souvenirs and shopping local flea markets, malls, and outlet stores gives you a chance to take back a piece of the area, home with you.
If you are a tight budget, shopping is an area that you can cut back on, though you won’t need to necessarily eliminate it, all together.
If you want to save more on your shopping, look at shopping away from touristy areas, researching what to buy in advance and scouting out the best prices, couponing, etc.
Pro Tip: Don’t shop for the trip
In my college days, whenever we would plan a road trip or vacation, there was always quite a bit of shopping we did for the vacation. This can get pretty expensive and drain your budget for the trip.
Shopping necessities like travel toiletries, socks, toilet paper, and similar small goods are not a bad idea and can really save you but, your budget can blow up when it starts to extend to purchases like:
- A digital camera or tablet
Some of these buys might be necessary but others are not.
To save money for an upcoming road trip, make sure to avoid shopping for the trip, unless it’s a true necessity.
Fuel is a must for a road trip.
In addition to fuel cost, there are some other steps you should take to ensure you have a safe road trip with your vehicle:
- Take your car into the mechanic prior to the trip to get it checked out
- Get roadside assistance, if you don’t already have it
- Make sure you have an emergency kit in your car
Here are some ideas to help you lower your gas costs:
- Check tire pressure
- Remove excess weight from the vehicle (that means to pack light)
- Buy the cheapest gas
- Don’t speed
- Use cruise control
- Try to avoid a lot of abrupt stops and starts when driving
- Avoid toll roads
- Use a frequent fueler card when you gas up
Here are some gas apps you’ll want to try out:
- Gas Guru
GasBuddy is a popular gas app that you may have heard of.
The app is purely fueled by the community of users who utilize the app. They are asked to enter in prices of gas at local and nearby gas stations, to help others know what gas prices are in the area.
Then, you can look at the list of gas stations and fuel prices to determine the best gas station price in your area to grab cheap gas.
My Personal Experience with GasBuddy
This app was a total life saver for me last year.
Last year was the year that Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston area.
Although I wasn’t living in Houston at the time, a few hours away in South Central Texas, there were rumors or gas running out, along with other parts of Texas.
The fear was that the Houston oil rigs and fuel were impacted by the hurricane and that there would be fuel shortages.
This was a rumor but it was enough to scare Texan residents into swamping the gas stations, causing them to actually run out of gas.
And, this happened nearly everywhere in my town, and I lived in a 2+ Million populated city.
What would happen is that, you would wait in line at the gas station for gas for hours and run out of gas in the process, while waiting.
Or, because of fear of fuel shortage, residents would head to the gas station before they needed to gas up, at half a tank or nearly a full tank of gas, just to top off their gas tank.
There were riots, fights, and all kinds of chaos that broke out.
I used GasBuddy to help me find a gas station that was not out of gas.
I had to fuel up at 2am on a weekday at newer gas station that wasn’t very known, on the outskirts of town.
Luckily, this fuel scare didn’t last longer than a few weeks but GasBuddy was a savior for my family and I, helping us fuel up our cars locally.
Dash is a pretty cool app that helps you out with your car, including gas.
It’s a tiny sensor, good on vehicles 1996 or newer, providing useful information about:
- What your check engine light means
- How you’re driving
- How much gas you’re using and,
- Mapquests the cheapest gas in the area
Gas Guru draws their gas information from the Oil Price Information Service so you can enjoy up to date, accurate pricing on gas.
You can enjoy:
- Directions to the cheapest gas station near you, and
- The ability to share with friends, on Facebook
We mentioned Waze above but what wasn’t mentioned was that the app will tell you how much you will pay for gas for a trip and take you to the cheapest gas station!
The information Waze gets is from users so, there may not be 100% accuracy with prices all the time but, you will enjoy being notified of speed traps, helping you avoid getting a traffic ticket.
Your Packing List
Did you know the way you pack can actually impact your budget?
Before you start parking, you’ve got to start with a packing list.
This is a list of goods you want to/need to pack on your road trip and this might include:
- Beauty products and shampoo
You want to make your packing list as specific as possible.
Think about how you live life at home and pack accordingly for your trip.
Often forgotten goods:
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Bathing suit
At the same time here, try not to overpack.
Because overpacking means you will have less room for things you buy, to come back with you, and it will weigh the car down, which will eat up fuel cost.
A packing list can be made for food too!
Need some inspiration?
Check out these awesome packing lists that you can use for your own travel.
Car Safety/Emergency Essentials Packing List
- License and registration
- Car manual
- Roadside emergency kit
- Spare tire
- Car insurance card
Car Road Trip Accessories Essentials Packing List
- Paper maps
- Notebook and pen
- First aid kid
- Bug spray
- Water bottles
- Toilet paper
- Napkins or paper towels
Car Entertainment Essentials Packing List
- Car WI-FI
- A great music playlist
- Phone chargers
- USB cords
- Ear plugs and/or earphones
- Travel games
- Travel pillow
- Travel mug
- UV window shade
Travel Packing List
- Hand sanitizer
- Gum or mints
- Painkillers (like Tylenol or Ibuprofen)
- Resusable shopping bag
Personal Care Packing List
- Body wipes
- Lip balm
- Hair ties and hair brush
Miscellaneous Things Packing List
- Plastic bag and/or trash bags
- Car cooler
- Multitool (like a Swiss Army Knife)
Car Snacks Packing List
- Frozen water
- Thawed water
- Packaged drinks/sodas/juices
- Plastic utensils, paper plates, and paper cups
- Paper towels or napkins
- Snack food (cut fruit and veggies, crackers, chips)
- Meal food (prepped sandwiches, canned meat for sandwiches and wraps, cookies)
This is super helpful so give it a try for your next road trip and for more on ultimate packing list guides, check this out.
Road trips are a fun way to travel and spend your vacation.
Driving to your destination instead of flying, gives you the opportunity to take in the countryside, see the sights around you, and explore with your loved ones on the trip.
Remember that planning is key and your budget shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying a fun road trip.
What’s the best road trip you’ve taken?
What are your best tips for saving money on the road?