Road tripping is an American rite of passage that should be experienced at least once in your lifetime. There is so much to see and do across the U.S., and one of the best ways to discover everything this great country has to offer is by exploring in your car.
The benefit of choosing a road trip over a vacation abroad is that you can fit in so much more without spending a small fortune. However, with gas, food, accommodation and entertainment to consider, costs can start to mount up in no time. So, before you hop into your Toyota Corolla LE and hit the open road, check out the tips below for keeping to your budget and making the most of your money while on your trip.
Plan your journey
It doesn’t sound as exciting and spontaneous as just getting in your car and seeing where the road takes you, but planning is a crucial part of your trip if you want to save your hard-earned cash. Plan the places you want to go and the route you are going to take. This way you can work out the distance you are going to cover along with how much gas you will need to do it. You’ll also save money on gas if you know your route and aren’t getting lost at every turn.
Shop around for accommodation
While you are planning your route, check out places to stay to avoid paying high accommodation costs. Avoid hotels in city centers as these can be expensive. Instead look at websites like Airbnb, where you can pay as little as $35 for a private room in someone’s home or have a whole apartment to yourself for $60. You can even find local homes to stay in for free thanks to websites like Couchsurfing. Alternatively, if you love the great outdoors, try camping for a cheap night’s sleep.
Cut out impulsive food buys
We have all been tempted to buy tons of junk food when we stop for gas, but if you’re on a road trip this is the fastest way to get through your budget. Try hitting the grocery store before you go and stock up on loads of healthy, filling snacks — like trail mix — that will not only last but prevent you from blowing your budget every time you stop at a gas station. You can even take a portable grill and cooler with you so you can restock at local grocery stores and cook your own meals instead of stopping at fast food restaurants.
Part of the road trip experience is trying the local cuisine in the places you will be visiting, so don’t rule out restaurant meals completely. Put in a bit of internet research beforehand and you’ll find all the hidden gems that travelers recommend for good but inexpensive local cuisine.
Research cheap activities
Every place you visit will have tourist attractions, but you don’t have to spend a fortune to have a great time on your trip. There are plenty of free activities that you can enjoy, such as visiting the beach or a museum with free entry. Check out the tourism websites of the places that you will be visiting to find free events, particularly if you will be travelling in summer when there are usually tons of festivals and fairs going on.
With 59 national parks in the US, we have some great places to visit without blowing the budget. If you really love these places of natural beauty and plan to take in several parks, you can even buy a National Park pass for $80 that will cover the cost of entry to over 2,000 sites.
If touring big cities is more your style, take a look at whether your destination offers a city tourism card, such as the Go City Card. These give you a chance to see a range of attractions for one price, so can save you money if you are planning on visiting several attractions in one destination.
Stick to your budget
The key thing to remember when planning a road trip on a budget is once you have decided how you are going to spend your money, make sure you stick to it. Allocate a set amount each for gas, food, accommodation and fun, then keep a bit aside in case any emergencies crop up. Obviously if you come in under budget each day, the remainder can be added to the next day’s allowance, but if you are over budget you’ll need to recalculate what you have left for the rest of the trip. Most importantly, don’t let your budgeting take over – remember to have fun and enjoy your vacation.