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How To Have A Cheap Road Trip


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Caria Tobey



Are you dreaming of hitting the open road and embarking on an unforgettable adventure, but worried about the cost? Well, fear not! With a little bit of planning and some clever budgeting, you can enjoy a cheap road trip without breaking the bank. From choosing the right vehicle to finding affordable accommodation, there are plenty of tips and tricks to help you save money along the way.


Embarking on a road trip allows you to experience the freedom of the open road and explore hidden gems off the beaten path. It’s an opportunity to witness stunning landscapes, immerse yourself in different cultures, and create lifelong memories. And the best part? It doesn’t have to cost a fortune.


So, if you’re ready to hit the road on a shoestring budget, keep reading. In this guide, we’ll share valuable insights and practical advice to help you have an amazing and affordable road trip experience. From planning and budgeting to saving on accommodation, food, and activities, we’ll cover it all.


Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time road tripper, this guide is packed with tips and strategies to make your journey both enjoyable and cost-effective. So grab your driving gloves, buckle up, and let’s dive into the world of cheap road trips!


Planning and Budgeting

Before you embark on your cheap road trip, it’s important to start with careful planning and budgeting. Having a well-thought-out plan will not only help you save money but also ensure that you make the most of your adventure.


First, determine the duration of your road trip and create a rough itinerary. Research the destinations you want to visit, the attractions you want to see, and the activities you want to participate in. This will give you an idea of the overall cost and help you set a budget.


Next, consider your transportation costs. Decide whether you’ll be using your own vehicle or renting one. Take into account factors such as gas prices, mileage, and vehicle maintenance. If you’re renting, compare prices from different rental companies to find the best deal.


Remember to include other expenses such as accommodation, food, activities, and even emergency funds in your budget. Research the average costs in the areas you’ll be visiting and allocate an appropriate amount for each category.


One of the great things about road trips is the flexibility they offer. Take advantage of this by being flexible with your travel dates. Prices for accommodations and attractions may vary depending on the time of year. Traveling during off-peak seasons or weekdays can often save you money.


Another way to save on accommodation is by considering alternative options. Instead of staying in expensive hotels, look into camping, staying at hostels, or even finding budget-friendly vacation rentals. Websites like Airbnb and Couchsurfing can help you find affordable places to stay and also connect with locals for a more authentic experience.


Lastly, keep track of your expenses during your trip. This will help you stay within your budget and identify areas where you can make adjustments. There are various smartphone apps available that can assist you in tracking your spending and managing your budget on the go.


By carefully planning and budgeting for your road trip, you can ensure that you have a memorable adventure without breaking the bank. So, get your spreadsheet out, crunch those numbers, and get ready to hit the road on a budget!


Choosing the Right Vehicle

When embarking on a cheap road trip, choosing the right vehicle can make a significant difference in terms of comfort, fuel efficiency, and overall cost. Here are some factors to consider when selecting the perfect ride for your adventure.


First and foremost, think about the size of the vehicle. If you’re traveling solo or with a small group, a compact car might be the most economical option. Compact cars generally have better fuel efficiency and are cheaper to rent or own. On the other hand, if you’re traveling with a larger group or carrying a lot of gear, you might need a larger vehicle like a van or SUV.


Consider the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. Fuel costs can quickly add up during a road trip, so opting for a fuel-efficient vehicle can save you a significant amount of money. Look for cars with a high MPG (miles per gallon) rating, hybrid options, or even electric vehicles if charging stations are readily available along your route.


Insurance costs should also be taken into account. Check with your insurance provider to see if your policy covers rental vehicles. If not, consider purchasing insurance through the rental company or obtaining a separate temporary insurance policy. Factor in these additional costs when comparing different vehicle options.


Furthermore, think about the maintenance and reliability of the vehicle. Choose a vehicle that has a good reputation for being reliable and has a low likelihood of breaking down. The last thing you want is to deal with unexpected breakdowns and costly repairs along the way.


Lastly, if you’re open to the idea, consider alternative options such as renting a recreational vehicle (RV) or a camper van. These vehicles provide both transportation and accommodation, eliminating the need to spend money on separate lodging. While the upfront rental cost may be higher, the savings on accommodation can make it a more cost-effective option in the long run.


By carefully evaluating your needs and considering factors such as size, fuel efficiency, insurance costs, and reliability, you can choose a vehicle that suits your budget and ensures a smooth and cost-effective road trip experience.


Saving on Accommodation

Accommodation can often be one of the most expensive aspects of a road trip, but there are plenty of ways to save money without sacrificing comfort. Here are some tips for finding affordable accommodation during your journey.


One of the most budget-friendly options is camping. National parks, state parks, and many private campgrounds offer affordable campsites where you can pitch a tent or park an RV. Camping not only saves you money but also allows you to experience the great outdoors and connect with nature.


If camping isn’t your style, consider staying at hostels. Hostels provide basic accommodations at a fraction of the cost of hotels. They are a great option if you’re looking to meet fellow travelers and have a communal experience. Many hostels also offer private rooms if you prefer more privacy.


For those who prefer a more conventional accommodation, consider booking through websites that offer discounted rates or last-minute deals. Websites like Booking.com, Airbnb, and Hotels.com often have special promotions and discounted rates for certain dates or locations.


Another option is to stay with locals through platforms like Couchsurfing. This allows you to connect with locals and get a more authentic experience of the area you’re visiting. It’s a great way to save money on accommodation while also making new friends.


In addition, consider staying in accommodations with kitchen facilities. This allows you to cook your own meals, saving money on dining out. Look for accommodations that offer a kitchen or kitchenette, and head to local grocery stores to stock up on ingredients for your meals.


If you’re open to more unconventional options, consider house-sitting or house-swapping. Websites like TrustedHousesitters.com and HomeExchange.com connect homeowners who want their homes looked after with travelers who are willing to do so in exchange for free accommodation.


Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of negotiation. If you’re staying for an extended period or traveling during the off-peak season, contact accommodations directly and inquire about discounted rates or special offers.


By being flexible with your accommodation options and using these money-saving strategies, you can significantly reduce your expenses and stay within your budget during your road trip.


Packing Efficiently

When embarking on a road trip, packing efficiently is essential for both saving space and staying organized. Here are some tips to help you pack smart and light for your journey.


First, make a packing list to ensure you don’t forget any essential items. Consider the weather conditions, the duration of your trip, and the activities you’ll be participating in. Remember to pack versatile clothing items that can be mixed and matched, saving you from overpacking.


Roll your clothes instead of folding them. Not only does this save space in your suitcase or backpack, but it also helps prevent wrinkles. You can also use packing cubes or compression bags to further maximize space and keep your belongings organized.


Minimize your toiletries by packing travel-sized items or transferring products into smaller containers. Consider sharing toiletries with your travel companions to further reduce the amount of space taken up by these items. Additionally, opt for solid toiletries or multi-purpose products to save space and weight.


Only pack the essential electronics. Prioritize items such as your phone, chargers, and camera. If you’re planning to work or stay connected during your trip, consider bringing a lightweight laptop or tablet. Leave unnecessary gadgets at home to save space and reduce the risk of losing or damaging them.


Don’t forget to pack essential documents such as your driver’s license, insurance papers, and identification. It’s also a good idea to carry a copy of your itinerary and important contact numbers in case of emergencies.


When it comes to snacks and drinks, pack reusable water bottles and fill them up along the way. This not only saves money but also reduces waste. Consider packing non-perishable snacks like granola bars, dried fruits, and nuts to keep you fueled during the journey. This helps avoid unnecessary stops and expensive convenience store purchases.


Lastly, pack a basic first-aid kit with essentials like band-aids, pain relievers, and any necessary medications. Having these items readily available can save you from unnecessary expenses and inconvenient trips to the pharmacy.


By packing efficiently and only bringing what you truly need, you’ll save space, stay organized, and make your road trip more enjoyable. Remember, a lighter load means easier maneuverability and less stress along the way.


Saving on Food and Drinks

While it’s tempting to indulge in delicious meals and local cuisine during a road trip, dining out can quickly add up and strain your budget. Here are some tips to save money on food and drinks during your adventure.


One of the easiest ways to save on food is by packing your own meals and snacks. Before you hit the road, stock up on non-perishable items such as granola bars, nuts, fruits, and sandwiches. Bringing your own food allows you to have a quick and inexpensive meal anytime, anywhere.


Make use of grocery stores and local markets along your route. Instead of eating at restaurants for every meal, stop by a grocery store and pick up fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, and other basic ingredients. You can easily create your own meals or picnic lunches at a fraction of the cost.


If you’re staying in accommodations with kitchen facilities, take advantage of it. Cooking your own meals not only saves money but also gives you more control over the ingredients and portion sizes. Plan meals ahead of time and bring staple pantry items to make cooking convenient and budget-friendly.


Another option is to look for local food trucks or street vendors. These often offer delicious and affordable meals that showcase the local cuisine. Not only will you get a taste of the regional flavors, but you’ll also save money compared to eating at sit-down restaurants.


Consider dining at off-peak hours or taking advantage of happy hour specials. Many restaurants offer discounted prices during specific times of the day, allowing you to enjoy a sit-down meal without breaking the bank. Research the local dining scene and find out which places offer these promotions.


When it comes to drinks, opt for tap water instead of bottled water whenever it’s safe and available. This will save you money on buying multiple bottles of water throughout your trip. You can also bring along a reusable water bottle and refill it as needed.


Lastly, indulge in the local food culture without splurging by seeking out affordable and authentic experiences. Look for food markets, food festivals, and local street fairs where you can sample a variety of dishes at reasonable prices. This allows you to try new flavors and support local businesses without breaking your budget.


By being strategic about your food choices, packing your own meals, utilizing grocery stores, and exploring affordable dining options, you can save money on food and drinks during your road trip while still savoring the local cuisine and flavors.


Finding Cheap or Free Activities

Exploring new destinations and experiencing different activities is a highlight of any road trip. Luckily, there are plenty of cheap or even free activities to make your journey more engaging without breaking the bank. Here are some tips to find affordable and enjoyable activities along your route.


Research and take advantage of free attractions in the areas you’ll be visiting. Many cities and towns offer free entry to museums, art galleries, historical sites, and parks. Check local tourism websites or ask at visitor centers for information on free or discounted admission days.


Enjoy the great outdoors by taking advantage of nature’s free offerings. Hiking trails, national parks, beaches, and scenic drives are often accessible at little to no cost. Pack a picnic lunch, put on your hiking shoes, and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature without spending a fortune.


Check local event calendars for festivals, community events, and live performances. These often have low-cost or free admission and can provide a unique and enriching experience. From music festivals to farmers’ markets to cultural celebrations, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


Engage in outdoor activities that are low-cost or free. Go for a swim at a local beach or lake, have a picnic in a park, go biking on scenic trails, or try your hand at fishing. These activities not only provide entertainment but also allow you to connect with the local environment.


Consider exploring local neighborhoods and town centers on foot. Walking tours or self-guided walks can be a great way to discover hidden gems and soak up the local culture. Check for free walking tours or downloadable guides available online to enhance your exploration.


Take advantage of technology by using free travel apps and websites. There are numerous apps that offer information on local attractions, discounts, and even free events in the areas you’re visiting. Use these resources to find and plan affordable activities along your route.


Don’t forget about the simple joys of sightseeing and taking in the scenery. Drive along scenic routes, stop at breathtaking viewpoints, and take plenty of photos to capture the memories. These activities cost nothing but provide priceless experiences.


Lastly, connect with locals and fellow travelers for recommendations on affordable activities. Engage with the community and ask for their insights on hidden gems, local events, and budget-friendly experiences. You might discover some unique activities that aren’t commonly found in travel guides.


By being resourceful, researching local offerings, and exploring the natural and cultural treasures of the areas you visit, you can enjoy a variety of cheap or free activities that add depth and enjoyment to your road trip adventure.


Saving on Gasoline

Gasoline expenses can quickly eat into your road trip budget, but there are several strategies to help you save money and maximize fuel efficiency. Follow these tips to cut down on your gasoline costs during your journey.


One of the most effective ways to save on gasoline is by driving at a moderate speed. Speeding not only leads to unsafe driving but also negatively impacts fuel efficiency. Stick to the speed limit and maintain a steady pace to maximize your mileage.


Plan your route in advance to avoid unnecessary detours and backtracking. Use GPS or mapping apps to identify the most efficient route and reduce the overall distance you need to drive. This can significantly save on gas consumption.


Utilize cruise control when driving on highways or long stretches of open road. Cruise control helps maintain a consistent speed and can improve fuel efficiency, especially on flat terrains.


Regular vehicle maintenance is crucial for optimal fuel efficiency. Keep your tires properly inflated, as underinflated tires can increase fuel consumption. Additionally, a well-maintained engine, clean air filters, and regular oil changes contribute to better fuel efficiency.


Avoid unnecessary idling. If you’re going to be stopped for more than a minute or two, turn off your engine. Idling wastes fuel and adds unnecessary expenses to your road trip. When waiting, turn off the engine and enjoy the savings.


Reduce excess weight by removing any unnecessary items from your vehicle. The heavier your car, the more fuel it requires to move. Travel with only essential items and pack efficiently to reduce the overall weight of your vehicle.


Consider using gas station apps or websites to find the cheapest fuel prices along your route. This way, you can strategically plan your fuel stops at stations offering lower prices per gallon.


Take advantage of fuel rewards programs, loyalty cards, or credit cards that offer cashback or discounts on gasoline. These programs can help you save a few cents per gallon, which adds up over the course of your trip.


Avoid rush hour traffic or congested areas whenever possible. Stop-and-go traffic and frequent braking can significantly impact fuel efficiency. Plan your driving schedule to avoid peak times and traffic-heavy areas.


Lastly, consider carpooling or sharing the ride with fellow travelers. This not only reduces the number of vehicles on the road but also allows you to split the cost of gas, making it more economical for everyone involved.


By implementing these strategies and being mindful of your driving habits, you can save money on gasoline and make your road trip more budget-friendly without compromising on the adventure.


Avoiding Toll Roads

Toll roads can quickly add up in terms of expenses during a road trip. Fortunately, there are ways to navigate around tolls and reduce your overall costs. Consider these tips to avoid toll roads and save money during your journey.


Plan your route in advance using navigation apps or online mapping tools that provide the option to avoid toll roads. These apps can provide alternative routes that steer clear of tolls, allowing you to reach your destination while saving money.


Use local roads and highways instead of major highways or expressways. While local roads may take a bit longer, they often provide a scenic drive and allow you to explore smaller towns and attractions along the way. Embrace the journey and enjoy the sights, while also avoiding tolls.


Look for alternative routes that may not be the most direct but are toll-free. Sometimes taking a slightly longer route can be more economical in terms of saving money on tolls, especially for shorter distances.


Research if your destination has any toll fee exemptions or discounts for certain vehicles, such as electric cars or carpools. Some toll roads offer reduced toll rates or even free access to specific types of vehicles, so it’s worth checking before you hit the road.


Consider using toll road apps or websites that provide detailed information about toll locations, prices, and alternative routes. These resources can help you plan accordingly and make informed decisions to avoid toll roads.


Keep in mind that avoiding tolls might add extra travel time to your journey. Take into account the time it will take to navigate alternative routes, and plan accordingly to avoid any rush or inconvenience.


On occasion, toll roads may be inevitable, especially in certain regions or when trying to reach specific destinations efficiently. In such cases, prepare for toll expenses by having enough cash on hand or keeping a small amount of change readily available.


Remember that roadways and toll regulations may vary by region or country. If you’re embarking on an international road trip, familiarize yourself with the local toll system and any specific requirements.


By utilizing mapping tools, exploring local roads, researching exemptions or discounts, and staying informed about toll locations and prices, you can effectively avoid toll roads, reduce your expenses, and enjoy a more budget-friendly road trip.


DIY Vehicle Maintenance

Proper vehicle maintenance is essential for a smooth and trouble-free road trip. While professional servicing is recommended before embarking on a long journey, there are several DIY maintenance tasks you can perform to keep your vehicle in top shape and avoid unexpected breakdowns. Here are some tips for DIY vehicle maintenance during your road trip.


Regularly check your vehicle’s fluid levels, including engine oil, coolant, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. If any of these fluids are low, top them up as necessary. Refer to your vehicle’s owner manual for the location of the fluid reservoirs and the appropriate fluid types to use.


Inspect your tires for wear and make sure they are properly inflated. Underinflated or worn-out tires not only decrease fuel efficiency but also pose a safety risk. Use a tire pressure gauge to check the air pressure, and ensure it aligns with the recommended levels indicated in your vehicle’s manual. Regularly rotate your tires to promote even wear.


Keep an eye on your vehicle’s battery. Check for any signs of corrosion or loose connections. If needed, clean the battery terminals with a battery cleaning solution and a wire brush. This helps ensure a strong and reliable electrical connection.


Inspect your vehicle’s lights, including headlights, taillights, turn signals, and brake lights. Have a friend or family member help you check if all lights are working properly. Replace any burnt-out bulbs as needed to ensure optimal visibility and safety on the road.


Regularly clean your vehicle, both inside and out. Removing dirt, debris, and grime not only improves the aesthetics but also helps maintain the vehicle’s paint and bodywork. Pay special attention to cleaning the windshield to ensure clear visibility while driving.


Check your vehicle’s belts and hoses for any signs of wear or damage. Look for cracks, fraying, or bulging. If you notice any issues, it’s best to have them addressed by a professional, as these components play a crucial role in your vehicle’s functionality.


Inspect your vehicle’s brakes for any signs of wear or malfunction. Listen for any odd noises or squeaks when applying the brakes. If you notice any issues or have concerns, have a professional mechanic inspect and service your brakes for optimal performance and safety.


Carry a basic toolkit and emergency supplies in your vehicle. This should include items such as jumper cables, a tire puncture repair kit, a spare tire, a jack, and a tire iron. Being prepared for unforeseen situations can save you time and money in case of an emergency.


Lastly, familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s manual and keep it accessible during your journey. The manual provides valuable information on maintenance schedules, troubleshooting, and recommended DIY tasks. Use it as a guide for performing necessary maintenance and addressing any issues that may arise.


By performing these basic DIY maintenance tasks, you can keep your vehicle running smoothly and minimize the risk of unexpected breakdowns. Remember, if you encounter any major issues or if you’re unsure about any maintenance task, it’s best to consult a professional mechanic for assistance.



Embarking on a cheap road trip doesn’t mean compromising on the quality of your adventure. With careful planning, budgeting, and smart decision-making, you can have a memorable journey without breaking the bank. By choosing the right vehicle, saving on accommodation, packing efficiently, and finding affordable activities, you can stretch your travel budget and make the most of your road trip experience.


From camping in scenic locations to exploring local markets and staying in budget-friendly accommodations, there are plenty of ways to save money on the road. Avoiding toll roads, maintaining good fuel efficiency, and performing basic DIY vehicle maintenance can also help you cut down on costs and enhance your overall travel experience.


Remember, a cheap road trip doesn’t mean sacrificing enjoyment or missing out on the highlights of your destination. Embrace the freedom of the open road, immerse yourself in the local culture, and discover hidden gems along the way.


Whether you’re embarking on a solo adventure or traveling with friends and family, a budget-friendly road trip can be just as fulfilling and exciting as a lavish vacation. So, dust off your map, hit the road, and create unforgettable memories without worrying about your wallet.


Plan wisely, be resourceful, and enjoy the journey as you navigate through new landscapes, savor local flavors, and connect with the people you encounter along the way. With a little creativity and a thrifty mindset, your cheap road trip can be the adventure of a lifetime.