Keeping the costs down can be an important part of any vacation. In order to road trip on a budget its key to plan ahead and be thrifty with your spending!
Exploring via the open road can be an awesome adventure. A full tank of gas provides endless flexibility to visit lesser known destinations and natural wonders.
The good news is…
You can still do this on a budget!
During my recent economical road trip around Europe I was focused on keeping the costs down. I’ve put all of my travel hacks and tips into this article so that you don’t have to break the bank.
This will help you stay within budget and have a super cheap road trip, without sacrificing the fun stuff.
From sharing deserts to discovering national parks, I’m sharing my proven advice to have an inexpensive road trip.
This advice will help whether you’re on the road short term, or on a cross country expedition! There is information on food, accommodation, car costs, free activities and packing!
Ready to get started?
Lets jump into these 40 tips on how to road trip on a budget!
Affiliate Disclosure: Thank you for supporting The Road Trip Expert. When you purchase through links on this site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Please see our advertising disclosure for more details.
ROAD TRIP ON A BUDGET TOP 10 TIPS
- Create a road trip budget for food,transport, activities and accommodation
- Make your own coffee and take a reusable water bottle
- Make eating out a treat at a special restaurant
- Share sweet treats to split the cost!
- Eat like a local and visit the non-touristy areas for a cheap but delicious meal!
- Research your must-do bucket list items in advance and set a budget
- Try to book accommodation with free parking and breakfast
- Park outside cities and use public transport to travel in.
- Never fill up on the highway and always check your vehicle properly before a long drive!
- Find fun free things to do such as walking tours, hiking and museums!
Before we get started I just wanted to give a quick list of my top 10 tips for anyone that wanted a short read.
For more detailed tips, keep reading!
Alternatively, if you want to create a budget go ahead and check out our article on How To Make A Road Trip Budget.
ROAD TRIP FOOD ON A BUDGET
Food. One of life’s great pleasures! Whilst on vacation, sampling the local cuisine is one of the most enjoyable things to do. Don’t you agree?
This first list of tips will reveal how you can experience all the good stuff… whilst still keeping your road trip within budget!
1. CREATE A ROAD TRIP FOOD BUDGET
Planning a road trip food budget will be a core part of keeping costs in check. By thinking ahead you can be thrifty with your spending and have more cash leftover to enjoy some treats.
The budget should include the following…
- A total food budget for the trip broken up as discussed below.
- Daily total food budget
- Planned number of times a week you will “eat out”.
- A budget for sweet treats and local cuisine
- 5 ideas for budget breakfast’s on the road. Hint: think fruit and seed loaded porridge and healthy granola with fruit!
- 5 ideas for budget dinners you can cook with a kitchenette
2. PACK HEALTHY SNACKS TO AVOID GAS STATION SQUANDER
I’m sure you’ll agree with me that snacking whilst driving is a road trip pastime non of us would want to live without?
Let’s do it without breaking the bank.
Make sure you buy healthier, non perishable snacks such as nuts, seeds, fruit or granola bars from a supermarket instead of the service station.
Its always fun to take a supermarket stock up trip beforehand!
3. MAKE YOUR OWN COFFEE
Have you ever added up how much you spend in a month in coffee shops!? I did… and the results were terrifying! Whilst travelling I strongly recommend taking a coffee flask and making your own coffee.
You can often get hot water for free in service stations or by asking in a coffee shop
4. TAKE A RESUSABLE WATER BOTTLE
Climate change is in the spotlight now… and for good reason.
Not only is it better for the environment to reuse your own water bottle but it will also add up to some serious savings!
It’s one of the top tips in our Eco-Friendly Travel article!
5. SPLIT SWEET TREATS
There are so many different types of food to try when on an extended road trip.
A delicious looking Belgian waffle or cinnamon bun can throw even the most frugal traveller off their game.
I experienced this first hand whilst exploring Europe.
If you see sweet treat that you really want to try, why not share it between two?
6. EATING OUT SHOULD BE A TREAT
Eating out is such an easy way to blow your budget!
Set yourself a limit and stick to it as best you can. Do your research and find out the “must try” cuisine experiences in the places you are visiting then prioritise them.
Try to avoid eating out due to poor planning or laziness… even though sometimes it seems unavoidable!
When you do go out, seek the best eateries and make an evening out of it. Couple it with a walk around the local area and get the most bang for your buck.
7. PACK A HEALTHY LUNCH IN THE MORNING
As part of your road trip food budget you may have included a limit on how many time a week you will eat out.
Keep this in focus by preparing a healthy lunch in your accommodation or camper van before setting out on the days activities!
Getting tasks like this done in the morning means you can focus on the day ahead.
Here are some ideas for home made recipes you could consider!
8. EAT LIKE A LOCAL
Food stalls and small eateries can make for some of the best cuisine experiences.
Not only are there often budget options but you can come across some fantastic tasting experiences.
Use travel blogs or ask the advice of a local on the best places to get a cheap but delicious meal.
Often this will be outside of the central business area so its a good excuse to get out on foot and explore.
9. MAKE HEALTHY PORRIDGE FOR BREAKFAST
If you are fortunate enough to be staying somewhere with a stove, then healthy porridge is a great way to start the day
On a long road trip?
Consider buying a travel stove and make healthy porridge with berries, nuts and seeds in the morning.
This nutritious and filling breakfast can save a fortune and will give you energy throughout the day!
10. ENJOY PICNICS IN THE OUTDOORS
The best part about road trips?
The ability to make any natural wonder your lunch spot for the day.
Would you agree? Let us know in the comments.
If you have a long drive ahead, why not find a national park or attraction that you can stop off at for a picnic.
Head to the supermarket in the morning… pack a lunch… and you’re ready to go!
This will give you something to look forward to whilst your’re burning rubber.
11. STOCK UP ON HEALTHY WHOLE GRAINS
Healthy whole grains have been associated with improved gut health and have been long known to provide energy through the day.
Simple recipes including whole grain rice, pasta or oats are a great way to make penny punching meals.
That way you can spent cash on sweet treats whilst exploring a city.
ROAD TRIP ACCOMMODATION ON A BUDGET
Accommodation was the biggest expense by far during my huge road trip around Europe.
Trying to seek out budget options is a key way to save money on a road trip.
In order to have a super cheap road trip, check out these points.
12. STAY IN ACCOMODATION WITH FREE BREAKFAST
Whilst road trippin’ around Europe we would always filter for accommodation with a free breakfast, or access to a kitchen.
Saving money on breakfast is one of the best tips I can give to road trip on a budget.
13. CONSIDER PARKING BEFORE BOOKING
Have you ever booked a budget hotel only to find the nearby parking is extortionate?
Parking can drastically effect the total cost of your stay!
Always look for accommodation with free parking or use Parkopedia to check nearby prices before booking.
14. CONSIDER CAMPING OR SLEEPING IN THE CAR
If you fancy an adventure why not get your car kitted out and set up camp in the back?
Alternatively set up camp near a national park and be up at the crack of dawn for a sunrise walk.
15. FIND BUDGET ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS
Make sure you consider all options before making a booking.
- Hotel search engines such as Booking.com and Hotels.com
- Air BnB
- Sleeping in the car
16. STAY OUTSIDE OF THE CITY CENTER
I’ve stayed in all sorts of places over the years. Whilst in Spain I accidentally booked a stay at an Orange farm in the middle of nowhere!
Air Bnb and search engines have given rise to the ability to stay in local spots outside of the city.
You can then drive in or use public transport… a real cost cutter!
ROAD TRIP ON A BUDGET TRANSPORT COSTS
17. PLAN YOUR ROUTE CAREFULLY
I can think of at least 3 times during my European road trip that my navigator (A.K.A Adam in the passenger seat) spent more time on Instagram than directing us.
The results were disastrous!
Plan your route carefully and use a good navigational app whilst driving.
You can check out this article I wrote on Best Free Road Trip Planner out there!
18. MAKE SURE YOUR VEHICLE IS ROAD READY TO AVOID BREAKDOWNS
It doesn’t happen often but a breakdown during a road trip can throw your entire budget out the window!
Make sure your vehicle is fully serviced and road ready before starting the journey.
19. PLAN YOUR ROUTE TO AVOID TOLL ROADS
Google maps has a filtering feature that lets you remove toll roads from the route.
Take the scenic route and stop off for a picnic somewhere nice using the money you saved on tolls.
20. CHOOSE A CAR WITH A GOOD MPG
If you are hiring a rental car always consider the fuel consumption when calculating your budget.
If you are buying a car for a long road trip it’s important to do the same!
Long term, fuel is one of the biggest expenses. Follow our guide on how to save gas while driving in order to reduce your expenditure.
21. PARK UP AND USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Avoid extortionate city parking fees by using public transport from the outskirts to enter the tourist area.
22. PREPARE AN EMERGENCY KIT
If things do go wrong its important to have an emergency kit. This can include safety items to make you more visible if you breakdown on the side of the road.
23. AVOID DRIVING DURING PEAK HOURS IF POSSIBLE
One of the biggest causes of misery in life.
Not only does it literally suck the life out of people but it can have a major effect on your wallet.
Bad fuel consumption and the inevitable splurge on gas station junk food are just two of the ways!
Travel outside of peak hours and spend more of your time doing the things you love.
24. DON’T FILL UP ON THE HIGHWAY
We all know it. But often we do it anyway.
Highway gas prices are extortionate so fill up the tank cheaply when you get the chance.
25. MAINTAIN A STEADY SPEED
Most cars will have significantly better fuel consumption when travelling at a steady speed in top gear.
The sweet spot is often around 65Mph.
Take it slow and steady, enjoy the view, and save some cash at the same time.
26. GET THE BEST PRICE ON YOUR RENTAL CAR
If you are planning on flying into an airport and renting a car for a road trip then its important to get the best price.
I’ve written a full article on the Best Rental Car Tips to help you do just that!
27. CONSIDER RIDE SHARING IF ITS A SHORT TERM ROAD TRIP
During my Iceland road trip I was able to save a fortune by splitting the cost of a rental car with people in met online and in a hostel.
You could consider doing the same to keep the costs down!
28. GET GOOD ROADSIDE COVER AND INSURANCE
During our recent road trip, let’s just say we expected a little too much from our KIA’ suspension!
After significant repairs in Munich we realised the importance of roadside cover.
Had we been outside of the city and had issues it could have cost a fortune to get transported to a garage.
I’d recommend having excellent roadside cover and a solid insurance package.
If you are in an older vehicle and planning a cross country trip, roadside cover can be especially important. Windscreen cover on your insurance package is a must-have too.
We cracked ours in Turkey and paid less than 120$ to have it repaired due to our insurance.
ROAD TRIP ACTIVITIES ON A BUDGET
When you are taking a road trip on a budget, the flexibility to easily travel to places of interest is one of the biggest selling points!
Fortunately whilst on a road trip there are many activities you can do for free. Here are some top tips on how to find them.
29. THINK CAREFULLY BEFORE SPLURGING OUT
The key thing with saving money on activities is to be selective. Do your research and plan out which “bucket list items” you absolutely want to do.
You might find there are some activities that you could do elsewhere or which aren’t a particularly special experience.
A good tip I can provide is to search google for “What is X famous for?”. This can provide you some results of the must-see attractions and activities in the place you are visiting.
30. PLAN OUT A BUDGET FOR YOUR SPECIAL TRIPS
During your planning, allocate a budget for the special things you want to do.
31. AVOID SPENDING A LOT IN TOURIST AREAS
Areas with large number of tourists can often have rip off prices! Try to avoid the tourist traps and be as frugal as possible in these places.
32. AVOID OVERPAYING FOR TOURS
Before booking on a tour, ask yourself, what benefit are you getting instead of just doing it yourself?
I like to take walking tours in new cities to learn more about history.
However, for many other attractions I often just walk around by myself and explore.
Getyourguide can be a good place to get ideas for things to do, whether or not you choose to go on a tour!
33. FIND THE BEST FREE FUN THINGS TO DO
Finding the best fun things to do for free is really about good research. Here’s a few tips:
- Check Google Trips and Trip Adviser
- Search for a walking tour itinerary online for the place you are visiting and copy it!
- Search for the tourism board and see if they have a “city card”. You can identify the free attractions or consider purchasing the card for discounted entry to places.
- Look for local parks on Google Maps
- Look for travel blog posts on your destination of choice
- Look for the best free areas to go hiking or walking
34. BUY A NATIONAL PARK PASS TO SAVE MONEY
If you enjoy visiting National Parks, then an annual pass might be cost saving for you. You only need to visit a few a year before you are saving money!
ROAD TRIP PACKING ON A BUDGET
Being prepared will help you road trip on a budget. If possible, you want to be able to avoid buying things whilst on the road!
It’s likely you could have bought most things cheaper online before starting your trip.
Before setting off, work through this Road Trip Packing List to make sure you’ve packed everything you need.
35. GET STOCKED UP ON CAMPING GEAR AS AN OPTION
Camping can be a fun adventure as well as a great way to save money on a road trip.
Check out this full camping packing list article for more info!
36. KEEP YOUR VALUABLE SECURE AT ALL TIMES
Having your items stolen can ruin a trip so make sure you take padlocks and always keep your valuables locked away and out of sight.
Don’t leave them lying around in your vehicle, especially if its unattended at night!
37. TAKE A COOLER BOX
Food is one of the most expensive parts of a road trip.
Having the ability to prepare food in the morning to eat during the day is a key way to save money.
Taking a cooler allows you to do this so its crucial!
While you’re here…you might also like this article on How To Save Money On A Road Trip!
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links. This means I earn a commission if you make a qualifying purchase, but this is at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting The Road Trip Expert.