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How to Save Money on Road Trips

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I’m a big fan of the road trip. Whether we’re just going up to my parents’ for a couple of days, or planning something more substantial, I just like being on the road. It’s fun to see new things, and visit interesting places. However, with rising gas prices, hotel costs and the expenses associated with eating out while on the road, the cost of a road trip can quickly add up. And that doesn’t include admissions to some of the attractions you might want to visit along the way.

Of course, like so many other things in life, you can save a little money if you do some planning. If you have a general idea of your route, and what you would like to do, you can create a plan that will cost a little less than you might think. Here are some general ideas for saving money on your next road trip:

Look for Discounts

The first thing you should do is look for discounts. If you will be going through a major city, CityPASS is a great option. You can save money on a number of different attractions in different cities with the help of a city pass — and you get to skip ticket lines in some cases. (This worked well for me on a trip to New York City a few years ago.) Check to see if nearby museums have free admission days when you are passing through. You can also call different hotels; some of them have discounts to attractions as part of your check in package.

You can also look for special promos and discounts for your hotels, food and other amenities. Check with discount gift card sites and daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social to see if you can get a cheap gift card or discount on something you will use. If you are a frequent traveler, belonging to a rewards program can save you money in the long run.

Accommodations

There is no reason to stay at hotels the entire time you are on your road trip. If you have good friends or relatives along the route, plan to stay with them. As long as you are willing to let your friends and family stay with you when they are passing through, this can work out really well. If your family is into camping, you can also sleep outdoors (if the weather cooperates). Look for campsites along your route, and you can save money by paying a small fee, rather than a bigger hotel rate.

Another way to save money is to establish a base if you plan to be in the same area for an extended period. Pick a hotel that offers rooms with kitchenettes, and then set up shop. You can drive to that location, and then take day trips radiating out from this point. My parents did this when we went to Florida one year. A weekly rate on a condo was better than a week’s worth of nights in hotels. We did have to travel two hours one way to reach one of our destinations, but it was an overall savings.

Food

Of course, you need something to eat. Saving money on food is a matter of planning ahead. The last two times my husband, son and I traveled cross country, we enlisted the help of one of those 5-day coolers. Pack it up with condiments, deli meat, salad stuff and beverages. Replenish the ice at hotels or grocery stores. In fact, we stopped at grocery stores along the way to get fresh produce and other items for the cooler.  We could make sandwiches and salads for lunch, and then eat out for dinner. When camping, we package foil dinners ahead of time for storage in the cooler and use on the road.

If you are staying in a hotel with a microwave or kitchenette, you can even cook your own dinners. We’ve done this a few times, preferring to eat out for lunch (which is less expensive), and taking care of dinner on our own at the hotel.

What do you do to save money on your road trips?

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9 Responses to “How to Save Money on Road Trips”

  1. zapeta says:

    We always save big money on food while traveling by doing exactly what you suggest. A lot of times it is cheaper to eat out at breakfast so we get a big breakfast at a restaurant, have a mid-afternoon snack and sandwiches for dinner. Of course its nice to mix it up and have a nice dinner out too!

  2. billsnider says:

    Eating out is a BIG expense when traveling. That is an obvious area to cut costs. Enjoy the rest.

    Bill Snider

  3. antdak says:

    I carry a cooler with beverages also. Saves some money and time stopping. I will also buy some snacks ahead of time. When at the hotel, we will buy a case of bottled water, from a local grocery store, and put in the room refer, saves a lot compaired to their $3 a bottle for water. We will take advantage of the microwave also and cook meals when we can. Of course we do like to eat out as well, but doing these does save on our food budget.

  4. lfox18 says:

    Even if you don’t pack lunches, at the very least, you should pack a cooler with soda, juices and water. Drinks on the expressways are very costly. Buy your own in the grocery store and fill a cooler just with drinks.

  5. daenyll says:

    Always stock up on road trip munchies at the grocery, so you’re not paying the highway prices if you need a snack and have to buy at a convenience store.

  6. In the past, I’ve packed lunches for the road to avoid fast food stops. Cheaper and healthier!

  7. Shirley says:

    When our two oldest children were young (and we were too!) we took many road trips, some lasting up to three weeks. We had a long-bed van, DIY outfitted for sleeping and storage, so accomodations were not necessary other than campsite facilities and fees. Grocery stores along the way furnished our food supply and we ‘ate out’ only about once a week, which made it a grand treat for the kids.

    We visited many states and often wandered many off-beat roads and towns, meeting people and seeing sights and learning about our country, its history and its people every step of the way.

    These trips were inexpensive and fun learning experiences that created an accepting attitude for the differences in people and places and oftentimes memories that would last a lifetime.

  8. Bovine says:

    Be sure to stop at the welcome centers at state borders and browse through the discount booklets they have available. The booklets generally have listings for cities in the entire state (and sometimes multiple states). You’ll usually find lots of discounted hotel rates and sometimes good deals on park/event admissions.

  9. skylog says:

    i think you ceratinly hit the main culprits with accommodations and food. while my solution may not be for everyone, it can certainly cut down your costs of getting from point A to point B.

    a friend of mine was moving to las vegas for grad school. we packed him up and planned to drive from the east coast to vegas. our plan was to more or less, simply get there as fast as we could. one, to cut down the costs, and two (of course) to spend as much of the two weeks we were going to spend there. we pretty much drove non-stop, rotating drivers and got there insanely quick and cheap.

    like i said, not the best idea for most people, but for a bunch of college guys it certainly worked for us. as for the time in vegas, that is another story.


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