Learn how to save money on a road trip and spend less on gas, food, car maintenance and hotels with these easy road trip tips!
From saving money at the pump to spending less on food and at restaurants, there are many ways that you can save money while still having the road trip of a lifetime.
This page will shed some light on cash back rewards programs, membership programs that can save money, online coupons, online reviews, and saving money on car rentals.
With the money you save, you might be able to plan another trip soon!
Tips to reduce food costs on the road
Restaurant eating will wind up being one of your main expenses for road trips. There are a couple of things that you can do to curb this cost.
- Bring a cooler. This will allow you to bring meat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and other things you just simply can’t find on the road. Make sure to get an ice pack and freeze it!
- Stop at grocery stores and stock up. Get any quick, healthy food that’s suitable for meals and snacks and you’ll be save LOADS of money compared to a restaurant.
- Use the hotel microwave, and on occasion you can get frozen entrees, or you can microwave canned soup.
- Cut down on fast food as much as possible. Not only does the cost add up fast, but it will make you feel terrible if you eat it too often, and is generally horrible for you.
These foods are easy to pack up and take along on your road trip, and are very inexpensive:
- Canned tuna
- Canned soup
- Cheese and Crackers
- Pre-cooked dinners by you in tupperware containers!
- Pre-made salads by you, also in tupperware. Put the dressing on the side so it doesn’t wilt!
How to save money at restaurants
Restaurants are one of the fun parts of going out on the open road. Trying new restaurants, cafes, and eateries is really essential to experiencing all that any certain region has to offer.
Why deprive yourself?
To get the best meals at the best prices, you can just follow these simple, easy to remember tips:
1. Check restaurant reviews online at Zagat or simply search for the name of the town/city you are currently in plus the keyword “restaurants.” You’ll likely find plenty of reviews from local places to dine from assorted online critics and regular people.
A quick browse with your Blackberry, iPhone or Droid will pull up the best places to eat, along with which ones are the most reasonable. Mobile phones really have changed the way that we do everything — including how we eat!
2. Use Your Cash back reward credit card. I know I start to sound like a broken record, but one long road trip I went on did pay a new laptop for me, so I really think you should use a cash back card!
3. Don’t order entrees all the time. If there’s something you like on the menu from the appetizers section, go for it!
Who says you can’t order that as your meal? It’s often cheaper. You can also try splitting meals if the restaurant allows it.
4. Download a tip calculator to your phone. This will allow you to figure out exactly how much you want to leave, whether it’s 15%, 20%, or some other percentage (and you’ll know if you’re overtipping, too).
5. Look for coupons at rest areas and local attractions. You can usually find plenty of coupons here for local restaurants.
How to save money at hotels
Booking in advance for your trip can save you money in some instances. Usually, this pays off in larger cities. Sites like Orbitz, Priceline, and Hotwire negotiate deals with hotels to save you a little bit of cash.
Plus, take a look at booking price directly from the hotel’s website, since sites like Priceline don’t always have the cheaper price.
Here are some well known hotel comparison websites that offer deals on stays of any length:
- Priceline.com is at the front of the pack for deals on hotels and accommodations as well as flight and rental cars. You can search by major city or search by any small town across American as well as foreign countries.
- BedandBreakfast.com – B & B’s recommendation is perfect for those destinations where you really want to kick back, relax, and really get to know the town or city that you’re traveling to. Often times these are the best places to stay in small resort towns.
- Check online reviews of hotels. Sometimes pictures can be deceiving and that grand hotel that you’re looking at might be a photo from fifteen years ago under different owners.
- Avoid weekend stay at the most expensive places to stay. Weekend rates skyrocket at big travel destinations like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Washington DC, Orlando, Las Vegas, and New York City. Try to plan your road trip so that you avoid hese big name spots on a weekday if possible. You’ll enjoy lower rates and less crowds on normal days.
How to save money on gas
Gas is expensive, and it’s likely always going to be expensive. While we wait for prices to come down or some other alternative sources of energy to replace wallet siphoning fossil fuels, you can use these tips to save at the pump while on the road:
- Gas up outside the city. Gas stations in towns far away from major cities are usually cheaper than in city gas stations by far. Plan on filling up in smaller towns to save substantially.
- Don’t use premium gas if you don’t need it. Your owner’s manual will tell you if you need premium gas. If it doesn’t say that you need it, then you are just wasting your money. Just some giant SUV’s like the Yukon or small sports cars (but sometimes other random vehicles and foreign cars) recommend using premium.
- Use a rewards credit card if they don’t charge more for using credit. Let’s say you drive from Boston to Los Angeles and back, which is roughly 5970 miles. If your car gets 25 miles per gallon and holds 16 gallons, that’s 400 miles per tank — about 15 fill ups. At $3.75 per gallon, that’s $900! Get 3% cash back (or sometimes higher) using your credit card and you could get $27 back on your gas purchases.
How to save money on gas with cash back cards and rebates
If you’re not using this easy way to pay, you’re simply paying more than you have to. Some gas cards offer discounts on certain brands of gasoline and other cards offer rebates on any type of gas purchased.
Take these cards up on their offer by applying in advance so you’ll have the card for your trip, and you could wind up seeing some cash back when you arrive home.
- Check gas stations for individual credit cards and reward programs. Some gas stations offer rewards with a simple swipe card (like the grocery store) to rack up savings and rewards. Others offer cash back incentives for using their own line of credit cards. These are usually advertised right at the pump.
- Use Discover Card for extra Cash Back Bonuses. Every so often, Discover will offer a cash back bonus incentive to customers above the standard 3%. This could be 5% or higher, and often includes gas stations. Check your latest statement or call 1-800-DISCOVER for their latest deals.
- Plan on paying off your card every month. If you let the balance sit on your card, it’s going to negate any potential savings you have accrued using that card, so plan on paying off the balance as soon as the bill arrives in the mail.
Fuel Efficient Rental Cars
Yes, rental cars cost money, but if you’re driving a Hummer from Florida to California it might be a little expensive than a small gas efficient car.
If the car you own is an SUV, consider using a rental car on your road trip. The price of a rental car varies, but a more fuel-efficient model usually only winds up around $250 per week or much less to fill the tank.
Now sum that up against the cost to fill the tank of an SUV several times, plus the wear and tear on your own vehicle! It may make sense to rent a smaller car.
Dealerships often have hybrid rentals, but ask in advance–they tend to disappear quickly.
Two of the best hybrid cars right now are the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic for mileage, as well as the Lexus CT and the Ford Fusion Hybrid.
How to save money at Museums, Sightseeing, and Local Attractions
One of the priciest parts of any vacation is the activities. There’s usually very little that you can do to save money on these attractions, but it is possible. Try any or all of these methods to save some bucks:
- Consider buying a membership. Sometimes in cities they will have discounted annual memberships which may not be all that much more than a regular ticket. If you plan on visiting tomorrow, next week, or next month, then it might be a good choice.
- Check for ticket and tour bundles. Sometimes buying tickets to more than one attraction or museum can yield some savings. The museum itself may advertise this, or you can inquire at the concierge/ticket booth.
- Check online for coupon codes. You may be able to purchase those tickets online much cheaper. Search Google for the name of the museum or attraction you plan on visiting along with the keyword “coupon” to find coupons.
- Cash Back Credit Cards. Again, save money with your cash back card to accrue points on purchases.
- Buy the National Parks Pass. This will save bundle of money and is good at most National Parks in the USA like Acadia, Everglades, Badlands, Great Smoky Mountain, Rainier, Olympic, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, and most others.
More Money Saving Road Trip Tips…
Take these tips into mind and save some cash!
- Print off restaurant coupons before you head off on your trip to places you know you’ll visit.
- Limit souvenirs to just postcards if you have to. Send them off to family and friends, they’ll appreciate it.
- Use public transportation in cities, it’s much cheaper and quicker than using your own car.
- Know when rush hour hits the major cities you might be traveling through, and avoid them during those hours.
- Print coupons prior to the trip to local activities, museums, amusements, anything you might be spending money on!
- Cash in your reward points before your trip to use on the trip. Most reward credit cards offer gift cards.
- Make sure your car is tuned up before you hit the road. A clean air filter and an oil change can go a long way.
- Get an AAA card for your trip. It’s well worth the investment. You’ll have 24 hour towing available to you anywhere, and you’ll be eligible for discounts on most hotels.
- If you want to save even more money, you can always camp instead of staying in hotels or motels! The saving of this is huge.
- Find the most direct route to your destinations before you leave. Check the distances on Google Maps using the “directions” link.