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How to Save Money on Road Trips

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 [3], 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 [4] 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.


There is no reason to stay at hotels [5] 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.


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?