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How To Plan A Budget-Friendly Road Trip

Jake and I are budget travelers, so we are always looking for ways to save money easily. But one thing we don’t sacrifice is travel, so we have come up with plenty of tips for how to plan a budget-friendly road trip. There are tons of great ways to save money while traveling on the road, such as apps to save you money, cheap/free activities, and saving on accommodation. We also love to cook our own meals which saves us 100’s of dollars on a road trip.

How To Plan A Budget Friendly Road Trip

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Stay Closer To Home:

One easy tip for how to plan a budget-friendly road trip is to stay close to home. We’ve travelled all over and are still pleasantly surprised by hidden gems nearby. Generally, the less you spend on gas the cheaper a road trip can be. So pick cool spots you’ve never been to only a few hours from your home to keep the cost down. 

My suggestion would be to first look into State Parks, National Parks or National Forests. Or type in cool attractions near “your home town/city”. 

Pick Budget-Friendly Locations:

Pick somewhere to go on a road trip that is less expensive. Such as visiting a National Park and going on hikes or visiting cities that have a lot of art and culture that you can visit for free. For example, when Jake and I visited San Francisco for a few days, we traveled around to all the touristy spots and only had to pay to get into one state park. The rest of the activities were free, therefore the only cost was gas to get around and food.

And if you aren’t on a super tight budget, you can splurge in some areas where you might want to go out to eat, get a couple drinks or maybe get tickets to see a show in town, etc.  

Choose Free Activities:

Choose Free Activities When Planning A Budget-Friendly Road Trip

Like mentioned above, choose locations that offer free activities. Some of Jake’s and my favorite free activities (if you own the gear) are hiking, kayaking, backpacking, biking, and fishing. (Read: Roadtripping With Bikes). Some other free activities are visiting a museum, taking a walking tour downtown, checking for free block parties, festivals or farmers markets, etc.

You don’t have to spend tons of money on a road trip, you can easily find super fun things to do for free in each place you want to check out. 

Camp Instead Of Staying In Hotels:

Choose Camping Instead Of Hotels When Planning A Budget-Friendly Road Trip

One easy way to save money on a road trip is to camp instead of paying for expensive hotels. Using websites like iOverlander,, and Campendium you can find free and inexpensive campgrounds all around the U.S. 

For more details about these websites/apps check out our post: 3 Great Websites For Finding Free Camping

But if you prefer traveling to places where camping isn’t really an option (like cities) you might need to stay in a hotel. We suggest searching for the best prices with budget websites like Kayak.

Make Your Own Meals & Coffee:

Make Your Own Meals When Planning A Budget-Friendly Road Trip

Secondary to accommodation, the next expensive expense when traveling tends to be eating out. You can almost buy a week’s worth of groceries for the price of eating out 1 time. Therefore, if you plan ahead and buy all your groceries ahead of time and make your own meals you can save so much money! 

Consider getting a campstove to bring along on road trips. Or even make your own DIY alcohol stove if you want a budget-friendly campstove. 

And you can even make a delicious cup of coffee in the morning simply by boiling water on a JetBoil or Campstove and using a pour over drip. It’s literally how I make coffee every morning in vanlife! By making your own coffee on a road trip, you can save tons of money that you can put towards other expenses.

Use Money Saving Apps:

Use Money Saving Apps Like Gas Buddy When Learning How To Plan A Budget-Friendly Road Trip

Our favorite app to use when we plan a budget-friendly road trip is GasBuddy. It helps you pick the cheapest gas station along your route. And it really can save you tons of money if you just have to go a couple extra miles out of your way or to the next town over to save cents per gallon. For example, Jake and I have a 36 gallon gas tank. So if we find gas for $.25 cheaper just a few miles from the highway or in a different town, we can save nearly $10 on that gas fill up! 

Another useful app is Trail Wallet which allows you to have a specific budget for the day and you add in everything you spend each day. It will show you how much you are actually spending each day, and notify you if you are consistently going over budget. 

Also, consider using the filters on Google Maps when searching for places to visit. You can put a money filter on so it shows you cheaper places to visit. For example, if Jake and I are looking to get a good sandwich for lunch, we will click on the single $ sign so it shows us some of the cheapest places in the area. Then you will obviously want to check the star rating and reviews to make sure it is actually a decent place. Because no one wants to waste money on bad food!

But more often than not, you find the great places that the locals eat!

Drive Around Less:

One of the easiest ways to save money when planning a budget-friendly road trip is to pick locations that have a ton of activities to do close together. Such as National Parks, State Parks, National Forest Land, etc. Or if you prefer cities, pick a place to stay in the middle so you can limit the amount of driving you have to do to get to each location. If you limit how many times you have to fill your gas tank, the more money left in your pocket. 

Get A National Parks Pass:

 If you plan to travel to a National Park on your budget-friendly road trip, then consider purchasing a National Parks Pass. It easily pays itself off in just 3 uses over the whole year. 

Use a Credit Card with Eraser Miles:

We have the Capital One Venture One Credit Card and you can erase any purchases you make that are travel-related. Therefore, we can basically eliminate some purchases for gas, accommodation, restaurants, etc. 

So simply by using your credit card for everyday purchases (like gas & groceries), you can take the cost of your budget-friendly road trip way down.

To Earn 25,000 bonus miles once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months Click here

Drive the Speed Limit:

Emily Driving The Van in Alabama Hills

I still don’t quite know how this works, but driving 55 or 60 will get you the better gas mileage vs driving 75+. Therefore, enjoy the journey instead of rushing to each location. It could end up saving you a dollar or two each day that you can put toward other expenses on the budget-friendly road trip.

Check out this post by the U.S. Department of Energy to know the logic behind driving slower for fuel economy. 

Keeping these tips in mind, now it’s time to plan an epic road trip. Check out our post: How To Plan An Epic Road Trip In The U.S.

Takeaway | How To Plan A Budget-Friendly Road Trip:

We are always down to save money when on a road trip. That’s why we use many of these tips when we plan a budget-friendly road trip. By choosing free activities and free camping options, the only costs we have daily are gas and food. So it helps us to endlessly travel to new places and live our best life. We hope this guide helps you and makes you excited to plan your next budget-friendly road trip. 

Be sure to pick up our free ebook: The Ultimate Guide To Traveling On A Budget

Also, check out our post: Money-Saving Tips For Vanlifers & RV’ers

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How To Plan An Epic Road Trip In The U.S. - tworoamingsouls

Thursday 6th of April 2023

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