Frugal Road Trip Tips

Although most people think of a road trip as naturally frugal, it actually can be expensive. It’s true that you don’t have to pay for an airline ticket (unless you’re flying somewhere and renting a car there), or for airport parking, or for a rental car at your destination. Those are real savings.

However, hotels and food can eat up a big chunk of change! If the price of gas is high at the time of your frugal road trip, that can also add up quickly. Also, the cost of any sights along the way plus the cost of any attractions or sights at your destination must be added to the equation. And I can just hear the cha-ching if you’re prone to shopping on the road!

Frugal Road Trip

Of course, the first step is to select an affordable destination. Disney World is expensive, even if you get some kind of bargain rate. Skiing is expensive. Many beach communities have very high hotel rates as well as other inflated costs. It’s not that you can’t go to these places and do these things, but keep the high cost in mind when planning your frugal road trip budget.

For example, if you really want to go to Disney World, stay in super-cheap motels and make your own food on the road rather than eating in restaurants. See my road trip recipes for ideas. My husband and I are planning a trip to Disney World and are planning to do it in one day (well, do whatever can be done in one day – it’s a huge park). By arriving the night before, getting into the park the moment it opens and staying until it closes, we’ll get the most bang for our buck.

So, what ways can you really save money on your frugal road trip?

  • Saving money on hotels is the first step. Read this hotel savings article to find out more. At the very least, invest in a AAA membership to get discounts on some of your rooms as well as all the other benefits. If you're traveling as a family, you should definitely check out this article about a frugal lodging option custom-made for a larger group.
  • Consider going on a camping trip. You don’t have to spend a lot on gear (tents, camping stoves) – there are lots of ways to get cheap or even free gear. Check out Ebay or Freecycle or Craig’s List. A lot of people who are trying to get rid of gear are out there. See my camping packing list for a packing list plus tips on camping.
  • Food can really add up on the road. Restaurants can be expensive when you add the food, your beverages, and a tip. There are ways to dine out cheaply – see these save money dining out tips. Ultimately, the most budget-friendly way to eat on the road is to grocery shop along the way and prepare your own meals.
  • Prone to shopping for souvenirs and presents on vacation? You’re not alone! Here are some fool-proof ways to curb that spending.
  • Gas seems like something you can’t save on during your frugal road trip – but you can! See my article about saving money on gas on your road trip.
  • Really strapped for cash? Shoestring-type cheap road trips may be the answer to your money woes! The frugal road trip tips in this article will take your savings to the next level and make a vacation possible, no matter your financial situation.
One way we save lots of money at our house as well as on the road is by using filtering water pitchers (like Brita). How can you use them on the road? Spring for 2 large jugs of bottled water to get started. You’ll be re-using these over and over, so it really won’t cost much to buy these. Buy the cheapest no-name one on the shelf. There is no benefit to buying the more expensive brand no matter how much that company’s marketing department wants you to think there is.

If you want smaller serving bottles in the car, get a six pack of smaller bottles that are easier to drink from. Once again, super-cheap no-name is the way to go. If you’re going to do this, bring some dishwashing liquid and a sponge with you so you can wash these out regularly.

As far as water pitchers go, the most important thing is that brand’s filters are readily available. If you go shopping for a pitcher and they have a lot of filters being sold, stock up on these. My husband has a Pur water pitcher of his own and we can never find the filters. We’re getting him another brand soon as it’s not worth the headache.

In addition to the pitcher, the filter (you’ll only need one for your trip), plastic cups, and the jugs, you’ll also need a funnel. Each evening of your trip – or even at rest stops along the way – fill the pitcher and empty the filtered water into your jugs using the funnel. Practically free delicious filtered water is yours! And the water is just as good as any bottled brand – most brands are simply filtered the same way from a regular water supply, not taken from some glistening mountain stream as shown in the commercial!

Using these frugal road trip tips, you should be able to trim your budget nicely. Once you’re done with these, check out my road trip calculator to get the total cost of your trip. Take it from me, a seasoned road-tripper; you can have a great road trip vacation and still save lots of money!


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