Road trips are great, and you can see so much. Whether you’re visiting family or going on a family trip, there are ways to cut down your costs. Before we got on the road to travel fulltime, we were taking at least two road trips a year to visit family and with then, four kids (now five kids!). We have just resigned that it's easier (and cheaper!) to drive than fly with all the gear we need from car seats, pack and plays, and more, so we have made it a point to travel as cheap as possible! Let me share my top 20 tips for road trips to save you a ton of money!
20 Tips for Road Trips – That Saved Us Over $900 on Our Last Road Trip!
We tried to do this as frugally as possible and save money. Over the years, I picked up a tip here and there that would save us a bunch. I know not all these tips will be for everyone, so pick what works for you!
I love this fuel cost calculator. It gives us a decent idea of what fuel will cost, and it's usually right within about $50. Lodging can be the most significant expense, next to gas, aside from pitching a tent to limit accommodation costs you can stay with family but that isn't always a great option for us now with five kids. We started getting a hotel room visit some family just for the lack of space (we fore we got the RV), and that was usually over half of our road trip bill. So check out these 20 tips for road trips that will save you money on your next road trip!
Skip the Toll Roads
We use our GPS to plan routes that avoid toll roads. The reason is that we have found the average cost is about $20 one way on our way to visit family. That's $40 saved. If you are on a longer trip, the savings could really add up!
Now always weigh the gas cost for avoiding toll roads, we find in most cases while the toll road will cost us $20, the gas is less than $10 more, but it does add on an hour or so of travel time because the speed limits are slower.
Also consider getting a toll road electronic pass for your car, while it saves time you tend to get a discount on your tolls, Plus you are never stuck counting change to pay tolls. This is one of my favorite tips for road trips as the saving can really add up!
Total saved on last road trip: $40
Use the Gas Buddy App
The Gas Buddy App is a must have even for just around town. It uses your location and tells you where the lowest gas prices are. We have found a difference of up to 10¢ a gallon by going up two exits. That's a savings of $3 a full up for our SUV depending on the length of the trip this saves around $10 – $20!
Bonus tips for road trips: Around town make sure to take advantage of gas point program from local sores!
Total saved on last road trip: $10
Pack Your Food
We invested in a cooler a for road trips, and now we use it for a day out when on the road. (this is the cooler we got for our car) We pack lunches for the road and cold drinks. We make sandwiches and bring what we need to make more. We bring a case or 2 of water. We also bring snacks like granola bars, chips and for breakfast pop tarts and cereal. This saves us about $20-$30 for lunch each day we are on the road. We also try to eat what we bring while we are visiting. Bringing snacks and bottles of water saves us $15 or so a day. Our last trip our cooler saved us lunch on the road twice, breakfast twice and lunch at the hotel once, plus snacks on the road twice and three days of snacks in the hotel.
Total saved on last road trip: $200
Plan Your Trip
This is a must. You can make the most out of your trip if it’s planned. You can find free attractions along the way or free events in the area you are visiting. Plus you can check out the Entertainment Book for the area you are visiting. This will offer a significant amount of coupons for food, lodging and things to do! These go on sale for as little as $5, and if you know in advance you are going to a specific area you can watch for a deal on the book!
Also, make sure to check out our travel deals page for any deals or sales on your next trip no matter where it is!
Total saved on last road trip: $10
Use Your Memberships
There are many ways to get discounts on stuff you need to spend money on like food and lodging. The way we use the most is by using our memberships. Memberships such as AAA, USAA, military, teacher discounts (if you homeschool an HSLDA membership qualifies you for this) and more. These discounts usually are around 10% off, but I have seen them as high as 25% off!
While on the road we also have a huge lit of memberships you can see here.
Bonus tips for road trips: These memberships can save you money at home too, from grocery shopping to office supplies.
Total saved on last road trip: $50 with discounts
Plan Your Hotel Stops
If your destination is further away and you need to stop overnight before getting there, plan your hotel stops so you can price match and try to find the best prices in the area with the best amenities. Even price match for your destination. Look for free breakfast and free Wi-Fi. A pool to use is bonus free entertainment.
Use sites like Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, and more to get great prices on hotels. We saved about $60 in breakfast costs alone on our last trip and got a discount of $100 on our hotel bill from Priceline. Hotels can be your biggest budget killer so this is one of the tips for road trips that will save you a lot!
Total saved on last road trip: $160
Save When You Have to Eat Out
At some point, you will have to go out to eat we usually plan we will eat out for dinners and do breakfast and lunches in the hotel room.
Always look for coupons, kids eat free nights and special discounts. Also makes sure to use your memberships as mentioned above if you can. We even try to eat at cheaper restaurants like IHOP, Denny's, Steak and Shake, Friendly’s, etc. and avoid places like Outback, Red Lobster, Olive Garden and the like. We prefer to eat at mom and pop places when we can, but we find they offer fewer discounts.
Total saved on last road trip: Money saved with kids eat free and coupons $60
Get Your Car Tuned
Get a tune-up before you go, change your filters, and make sure your air pressure in your tires is full. This will improve your gas mileage. For longer trips, this will be a huge savings. Plus it will also help you avoid costly repairs on the road. This is one of the tips for road trips that many often overlooked. We have had a breakdown that could have been avoided that have cost us $500+!
Total saved on last road trip: We estimate this saved us about $10 in gas.
Pull Cash Out in Larger Amounts
If you are going to be in an area where your bank doesn't have an ATM and you will be using cash, pull out all the money all at once or in large amounts. Many ATM fees are upwards of $3 for non-bank members plus your bank could charge you $1-$2 ATM fee for using another ATM. That's a cost of about $5 for pulling out cash. Our last trip we pulled cash out all at once and before we left home, instead of each day, and this saved us about $15.
Tip: Don't keep all your money in the same place for security. Each you and your spouse carry some, put some in your luggage, your glove box, etc.
Total saved on last road trip: $15
Bring DVDs and a Computer or DVD Player
Most hotels will offer very limited shows on their TV guide and what kids shows they do have you have to pay for. So bring a DVD player to hook up and bring some DVDs. We take a laptop and let them watch the DVDs on there. A TV is a huge help with little kids when you have downtime. Children's shows at many hotels are $2.99 each! Even at one rental a day that adds up!
Having something for the kids to watch is a HUGE help at bedtime when they are way out of their routines!
Total saved on last road trip: $12
Pack the Slow Cooker
While we didn't take ours this time as the family wanted to get together for dinner. If you can make sure you have a room with a fridge take your slow cooker to cook simple meals instead of eating out. You can prepare the dinners at home in a Ziploc bag and place in your cooler. Simple things like marinated chicken and chopped veggies. Stuff that all you have to do it dump from the bag and cook. If you figure that you save $30 – $50 a dinner if you can do this even once that is a pretty good savings.
Total saved on past road trips: $150
Make Your Own First Aid Kit
It's inevitable with my crew every road trip someone gets hurt. Usually it’s a scraped knee from running around and tripping on something. A box of band-aids and some Neosporin at a place like CVS would cost me $6-$8. I bring mine (bought on sale!) from home.
Total saved on last road trip: $8
Check Out and Print Coupons Before You Leave
Look for coupons for food, lodging, shopping, and attractions before going. Also, print them and bring them with you as many place charge per sheet of paper to print. We saved $10 at a sports store hubby wanted to visit (when going to Columbus you can't tell the Ohio State fan no!) and another $20 at an attraction we took the kids too.
Total saved on last road trip: $30
Don't Travel During Holidays and Peak Times
This one is a big one, gas and hotel prices not to mention admission prices to attractions go up by at least 10%. Go mid-week if you can to save even more. By going on a non-holiday, we probably saved a good $100 or so on our last trip. If we had gone mid-week, we could have saved another $40 just on the hotel room.
Total saved on last road trip: $100
Hunt the Daily Deal Sites a Month or 2 Ahead of Time
If you will be visiting a particular area always check out daily deal sites like Groupon, Living Social, and places like CityPASS for discount admissions. Start looking about starting two months ahead of time for great discounts on everything from hotels, food, and entertainment. We didn’t find anything in our area last time, but we did get a discount gift card we used to get gas!
Bonus tips for road trips: You can use these sites to find deal around your hometown too!
Total saved on last road trip: $25
Use Google Maps Avoid Traffic
Sitting in traffic wastes gas, and drags out your time on the road which could mean extra food stops. Google Maps has a free app for smartphones you can click the triangle icon to be taken to your current location and see what traffic is near and then you can also check your route. This also helps you find any detours you need to take on the map. We didn’t hit any traffic our last road trip, but this has helped in the past!
We also use the Waze app for traffic as well.
Maintain a Constant Speed
We use our cruise control as much as possible. The reason being those constant inclines in speed use more gas. Gas will last longer if you maintain a constant speed. This can save you about 5% per fill up.
Total saved on last road trip: $10
Stop at Welcome Centers
If you plan to be staying in the state, stop at the welcome center on your way in. Not only can you get excellent brochures and find things to do they can also direct you to FREE things to do and offer coupons to attractions you plan to visit. We stopped at the West Virginia Welcome center last time, and they also had a celebration that included free hot dogs and cake (free lunch!) and some great setups of civil war items the kids loved!
Total saved on last road trip: $35. $15 in coupons + $20 in free lunch!
Bonus tips for road trips: Stop at the welcome center for the state you live in for great things to do once you get home!
This one can be a bit extreme but cut the lodging bill even further by camping out. You can pay around $25 for a camping fee vs. $100 or so a night for lodging. We haven’t done this one yet but know friends who have.
Now that we are in the RV we tend to find a few free spots a month, and we dip our toes into boondocking.
In Big Cities Take Public Transit
If you are visiting bigger cities where you will need to park your car, it can cost upwards of $30 a day, and if you move your car you can pay even more! So skip the car and take public transit!
So how much did this save us on our last road trip? These tips saved up around $905 on our previous trip! This saved us MORE then we spent! How great is that! What tips for road trips do you have? Let us know in the comments below!