As the price of travel begins to soar again, planning a behind-the-wheel getaway can be the most cost-effective way to escape your hometown and see the world. Here, travel pros reveal how to enjoy a road trip on budget, with tips for saving on everything from hotels to amusement park passes.
Try travel apps for free fun.
“Whether you have a destination in mind or are just going where the wind takes you, it’s always exciting to check out interesting (and low-cost) stops along your route,” says Kristy Esparza, travel blogger at JJAndTheBug.com. “I recommend apps like Roadside America, TripBucket, and Playground Buddy, which can help you find unique attractions to explore along the way — like the Brooks Catsup Bottle Water Tower in Collinsville, Illinois, or the Official Center of the World in Felicity, California. There are lots of options that are free or cost only a small fee. And if you happen to pass by a sign that piques your curiosity, stop and take a look!”
Dine at grocery cafés.
“Restaurant costs can add up on the road, especially when tipping waitstaff. So we enjoy our meals at the supermarket!” says Tim White, founder of Milepro.com. “We once bought lunch meat, cheese, bread, and drinks at Wegmans, then assembled and ate sandwiches in their café. Whole Foods is also a favorite for meals, from the salad bar to fresh pizza. I’ve even warmed a frozen burrito in a grocery store café microwave — they’re free to use!”
Look for locals on Facebook.
“To save on gas, hotels, and rest stop noshes, I head to the Facebook groups of the places I’m going and ask locals where to get the lowest prices on gas and good food and what to explore for less,” says Zipporah Sandler, lifestyle blogger at ChampagneLiving.net. “I’ve learned about great deals this way, like two-for-one meals specials, free activities, and more.”
Plan your gas stops.
“Keeping your speed steady cuts fuel costs since it doesn’t require the fuel needed to stop and start often. So consolidating stops — instead of stopping for bathroom use, then pausing later for gas — is smart,” says Bobby Laurie, travel expert at BobbyLaurie.com. “One way to plan strategic stops is with an app like GetUpside, which helps you find the cheapest gas stations near you. Bonus? At some stations, you can earn up to 25 cents per gallon for your GetUpside account which you can transfer to PayPal or exchange for gift cards!”
Rent gear to save on money and space.
“Think you may go camping or take a bike tour? Rent everything you need rather than shell out on equipment you may never use again,” advises Nina Clapperton, travel blogger at NinaOutAndAbout.ca. “I’ve rented bikes, tents, and kayaks. It’s also a great way to test them out before committing to buy them. And some rental sites, like Ruckify.com, will deliver so you won’t have to make room in your car.”
Buy passes before heading out.
“A great way to save on entertainment on the road? Buy season passes to parks!” says Eva Keller, travel blogger at DiscoveringHiddenGems.com. “Some years, we buy a Cedar Fair park pass — it includes parks like Knott’s Berry Farm, Cedar Point, and Kings Island — then plan our vacations around places where the parks are located. It’s a one-time purchase that pays for itself after two visits. We do this with the National Park pass as well: Rather than paying $25 per park, it’s $80 to get into all 400-plus National Park Service sites! It pays for itself in three visits!”
Book a room directly.
“It may seem like the big travel sites offer the best deals, but smaller hotels and inns often post money-saving packages and discounts on their own websites — deals that never even make it to the big aggregators,” says Sally McBride, a mom of two in Boston. “For example, Snowvillage Inn in Eaton Center, New Hampshire, offers a book-one-night-get-one-night-free deal with summer specials that include lodging, meals, and activities like hiking or kayaking tours. It pays to check websites or call them directly. They may even have unadvertised offers they’d be willing to extend to you!”
Travel in an RV for just $1 a day.
“For any family traveling on a budget, I’d suggest looking into rental companies that need people to move vehicles (for example, a car, camper van, RV, motor home, etc.) for customers who have already moved across the country,” says Lori Bateman, a mom of two in Chicago. “We tried Imoova.com, a relocation company that offers one-way travel opportunities at extremely low rates to interested road-trippers. We once drove a camper van from Chicago to Miami for just $1 a day and $250 in gas. (We just had to save the receipts to get reimbursed for gas, but sometimes there is a gas allowance cap like up to $100). It was fun and an inexpensive road trip; even with the one-way airfare home, we saved hundreds.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.