Road Trip Planner: How to Plan the Best and Cheapest Road Trip

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As frequent travelers in and out of the US, we know how challenging it can be to plan an affordable vacation. That’s why I created this road trip planner with 7 money saving tips for a cheap road trip that doesn’t feel cheap.  Read on to learn ways that you can see the world and keep a healthy travel budget.

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There is no question that we will probably splurge at a fun restaurant or brewery while we are on our road trip.  So the tips below are what we use to help to keep our road trip budget in check and assure we will have the money to afford many more excursions to come.

1. Road Trip Planner: Healthy Road Trip Snacks

The best way to save money on food when you’re traveling is to bring your own.  By planning and preparing food for your road trip you will save tons of money and have access to much healthier options than the typical fast food.  Be sure to load up your favorite cooler with some sandwich fixings, and a variety of snacks such as fruits, veggies, and nuts to keep yourself satisfied.

If you are looking for the perfect cooler for a road trip this is a very affordable option that is compact but spacious.

Sandwich makings are a staple for us, both on the road and when traveling Internationally.  It’s so easy to stop at the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread to make more sandwiches.  Preparing sandwichs is so simple and will save you a ton of money allowing you for more road tripping adventures in the future.

Road Trip planner

And don’t forget those leftovers. Last nights spaghetti just needs a quick reheat.  You’ve got time slow down, remember your purpose is to see the world so don’t be in a rush!  We find it really easy to heat up any leftovers quick and efficiently with one of these, they are compact and can easily be packed into the back of your car.

Our favorite way to keep our cooler cold and food fresh while traveling is to use some frozen water bottles.  Reusable water bottles serve two purposes.  First, you don’t have to buy ice because the frozen water bottles keep your food cold and second you have some cold refreshing water to drink as the ice thaws.

2. Road Trip Planner: Gas

I know some people avoid road trips because of the price of gas but when compared to the price of flights it’s usually the most frugal way to travel! 

Save money on gas while on a cross-country road trip.

  • Prior to your departure, it’s best to fuel up locally instead of relying on remote gas stations that are often more expensive.  
  • If you are a responsible credit card holder and have a card that offers rebates or travel rewards, I suggest you use it to purchase your fuel.  Some cards offer up to 5% rebate.
  • I highly recommend you check out GasBuddy Gas Buddy helps us find the least expensive gas in the area.
  • Give the AAA app TripTik, a shot.  It’s a gas calculator that allows you to customize your trip based on fuel prices.  The app maps out the gas stations along your route and gives you the approximate price for gas on that particular day.  
  • ****PRO-TIP*** Fuel prices tend to be cheaper on weekdays, so try to avoid filling your tank on holidays or weekends.
Road Trip planner

Do you know how to maximize your gas mileage? You will see your gas gauge quickly plummet if you aren’t familiar with maximizing your mileage. 

Follow these tips for saving gas while on the road

  • Don’t be in a hurry, drive a touch slower -according to Fuel Economy. Gov you can decrease your fuel efficiency from 15%-30% by being an aggressive driver.
  • Use cruise control to automate the amount of fuel your car uses.
  • Be conscious of starting and stopping abruptly because as noted above this can suck up a whole lot of gas.  By slowly applying breaks and gradually accelerating you’ll be surprised at how much gas you can save.
  • Make sure your tires are fully inflated, poorly inflated tires are less efficient.

3. Bring Your Own Beverages

Road tripping and salty almonds can make you thirsty.  Avoid purchasing pricey drinks by bringing reusable water bottles that you have filled up prior to your departure and can fill up along the way.

BYOC (Bring Your Own Coffee)

Resist the urge to buy coffee. Bring what you need to make your own. It will save you tons of cash as well and taste much better. And remember we aren’t in a hurry. Stop and enjoy the scenery, it will do wonders for the stress of driving.

A Jetboil and AeroPress are the best things ever for coffee on the road.  We are huge fans of our AeroPress, it packs small, clean up is a cinch, and it can brew a killer cup of coffee.

BYOG (Bring Your Own Growler)

ince we are the topic of beverages I can’t pass up my opportunity to talk about breweries and beer.  If you are anything like us trying the local beer is something you look forward to on road trips.  Finding a small local brewery is a great way to get a feel for the local vibe.  We often get one pint to enjoy the atmosphere but instead of ordering another we fill up our growler to take with us on our trip.  Filling up a growler is cheaper than ordering another pint!

4.  Road Trip Planner: Cheap Alternatives To Hotels

One of the biggest expenses while on a road trip can be your accommodations.  If you are unfamiliar with the area finding a cheap hotel or place to stay can prove to be a bit difficult. 

Don’t you worry, I’m going to walk you through a couple of different ways you can find free “accomodations” for travelers.  This first idea is absolute barebones, the cheapest accommodation ever- actually I don’t even think we can call it an accommodation.

You may think what I am about to say is complete crazy talk but when you are traveling on a budget and trying to find a place to stay for free sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.  

Depending on the size of your vehicle and number of travelers, car camping (sleeping) can be an option to save you a significant chunk of cash.  Often times those who choose to car camp are the frugal travelers who do it for a quick overnight when paying for a hotel just doesn’t make sense.

If you have the extra room in your vehicle why not throw in some of the key sleeping items for a cheap and spontaneous night of sleep. If nothing else it will make for a memorable night, and that what it’s all about.

Road Trip planner

Road Trip Van Rental

OK, moving on.  If you are tight on space and car camping isn’t your thing (I get it if it’s not) you can rent a van or camper.  This will give you a taste of what “vanlife” is all about. Often times renting a camper can be cheaper than paying for hotel accommodations.

Road Trip planner

No affiliation or personal experience but here are some campervan rental links. **Warning** you may get hooked on the #vanlife.  There’s more to Vanlife than you might think.

Road Trip Camping

If car camping (sleeping) isn’t your style and renting a camper is too expensive there is the good old-fashioned tent. This is how we all started right? I, to this day, miss tent camping sooooo much.  Check out Amazon or REI for tents and everything else you may need for camping. Better yet find things used.

I don’t know about your experience with finding a campsite but sometimes it can be a real pain. We’ve had good luck using Freecampsites.net and Ultimatecampgrounds.com. Both of these sites have eased the pain of finding a restful place to crash for the evening. *****Always remember to have cash or a check to pay for camping. 

Road Trip planner

5. Road Trip Planner: Affordable Accommodations On The Road

If you are looking for something a bit more glamorous than the ideas mentioned above. AirBnB is always an option.  You can find a very affordable place to stay in popular travel destinations for cheaper than you’d pay for a hotel.

Airbnb Benefits

We love staying in Airbnb’s one of the reasons is that you can opt to prepare a meal at home rather than eating out. This allows us to easily prepare food so we don’t feel the need to to go out every time we get hungry.  By saving money on food we can afford to drop into the local watering hole to grab a pint of tasty brew.

Affordable Hotels

If you’ve decided that staying in hotels is within your travel budget, try booking some that include free breakfasts. This eliminates one meal each day that you need to pay for on your road trip. Use our favorite hotel booking site in the USA

6. Cheap Things To Do

Every city has something you can do that doesn’t cost money! Do your research and find out what places you can explore without paying admission.  Simply Google “free things to do in [enter city name here]”, and you should find some ideas to get you started. Some free activities that we enjoy are hikes, window shopping, farmers markets, free festivals, picnics, beaches and exploring art galleries, just to name a few!

Enjoying the outdoors can be very affordable and most of the time FREE.  Taking a long hike to stretch the legs, get some fresh air and explore the scenery is always enjoyable. How about finding a beautiful hot spring, I bet you can find some right off the road.

Taking the time to visit the free attractions can provide you with endless memories, fantastic travel photos, and rewarding experiences. Remember don’t be in a hurry. 

Touristy Areas

Be wary of heavily touristed areas.  It’s not uncommon for these areas to be overpriced and full of rip-offs. For instance, many times there is free parking not far from paid parking. 

7. Off Season Travel-It’s Friendly To Your Wallet

Above all, our last pointer is to travel during the off-season. That’s because everything is better! Literally everything!  Gas is cheaper, fewer people…. you won’t wait in line to see cool things, you get the idea. Don’t even get me started with camping. Camping during peak travel season USA can be absolutely nuts. Thanks to the van we can post up just about anywhere. Cheers to #vanlife!

Road Trip Planner Budget

Do you have a budget tracking app? If not, it’s time to start! If you have followed this blog for any amount of time you know how much we like to keep track of our budget, we recommend using Personal Capital. It’s FREE and helps to keep us accountable.

What are your tips for planning a cheap road trip?  We love hearing new ideas and money-saving tricks for enjoying your time while on the road.

Planning a cheap road trip that doesn’t feel “cheap” As frequent travellers in and out of the US, we know how challenging it can be to plan a road trip. Follow these tips to make your vacation last longer. #roadtrip #vanlife | budget | savings | road trip | finance | travel |



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