7 Simple Ways to Save Money on Road Trips and Stick to Your Budget

Road trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. But between gas, lodging, and food, the cost can really add up. So whether you’re heading out for a few days or a few months, these are simple ways to save money on your next road trip. Let’s dive into the money-saving tips!

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Driving on a dirt road through the Utah desert on a road trip.

Prefer to watch?

Check out the video below for all the tips!

Road Trip on a Budget (7 money-saving tips)

1) Bring your own water bottle

Hydration is pretty important no matter what you’re doing.

Avoid the cost of buying water bottles and other drinks from the gas station, and pack your own reusable water bottle instead.

Water bottles can easily be filled up at gas stations, campgrounds, picnic areas, and gear shops.

Just make sure you’re getting drinking water, and not some nasty water that’s not intended for drinking!

Better yet, pack a large water container in the car and refill your water bottle whenever you want. That’s usually what I do.

If you have a cooler in the car, you can even pack some of your favorite seltzer waters, juices, kombuchas, or energy drinks for the drive instead of buying them at the gas station where they’re often a lot more expensive than at the grocery store.

Eating trail mix on a road trip.

2) Pack your own snacks and breakfasts

Speaking of things being overpriced at gas station stores…

Packing your own snacks is a really simple way to save money on road trips. I’m always so shocked by how much more expensive the snacks are in the gas station shops.

Save your money, and instead, pack your own snacks for the drive. Pretty much any hiking snacks also make great road trip snacks. Variety is key!

Pack salty, sweet, crunchy, chewy, and sour to keep things interesting.

Some of my favorite road trip snacks are:

  • trail mix
  • protein bars (you can buy in bulk to save more money)
  • chips
  • popcorn
  • dried fruits
  • candies (I love sour chewy candies)
  • tuna packets (these make a great small lunch with some crackers)
  • carrots and hummus in the cooler
  • string cheese in the cooler

You can save even more money by packing your own breakfast options too.

If you’re on a long road trip, it can get expensive to go out for breakfast every morning, so why not pack your own quick breakfast options?

For example:

  • Pack oatmeal packets and get hot water easily at a gas station or hotel.
  • I like to pack hard-boiled eggs in the cooler for an easy source of protein in the morning.
  • Yogurt cups with granola are another great on-the-go no-cook breakfast option if you have a cooler.

If you do stay at a hotel, make sure to maximize that complimentary breakfast and grab an extra piece of fruit for later on in the drive!

3) Get the best gas prices

There are a lot of apps to help you maximize savings on gas.

One of the most popular ones is the app called GasBuddy. You can use the app to find the cheapest gas near you or plan your route.

Some of the apps even have reward programs. I’ve never gotten too into that, but it’s another way to potentially save.

In general, I try to avoid getting gas in remote areas, and I try to fill up in cities and towns where prices tend to be cheaper.

For example, have you ever seen a gas station way at the top of a mountain pass?

I generally try to avoid those gas stations whenever possible because I’ve noticed that they’re usually more expensive.

Drinking coffee in the morning.

4) Skip the drive-thru coffee

I don’t know about you, but coffee is an essential part of my morning!

But dang, it can get expensive to constantly buy coffee on a road trip, and because of that, I pack instant coffee instead.

A while ago I would have told you that instant coffee is gross, but not anymore! I recently did an instant coffee taste test and I was pleasantly surprised to find an instant coffee that I actually liked.

Now, going out for coffee is a special treat, not the norm. Instead, I get (free) hot water from a gas station and mix in my own instant coffee in the car for a cup that costs pennies, not dollars.

The savings here really add up if you’re like me, and drink multiple cups a day.

Now if you really hate the idea of instant coffee, you could pack a small camp stove or Jetboil, and make your own coffee at a picnic or rest area.

This could double as a time to stretch your legs! I usually do some air squats or jumping jacks to get the blood flowing while I wait for the water to boil.

Camping while on a road trip.

5) Camp instead of staying at hotels

Honestly, one of the reasons I started camping is because I wanted to travel, but I didn’t have the money to stay in hotels.

Camping is so much cheaper and it’s a fun activity all on its own.

Camping is a huge part of what my entire blog and youtube channel are all about, and it just happens to be a fun way to save tons of money on road trips.

With some basic camping gear, you can sleep under the stars for anywhere from $0 to around $30.

I have so many resources on this blog for new and experienced campers including: how to find a campsite, what to eat while camping, what to pack, and so much more.

Let’s say you’re on a 7-day road trip, even if you camp only half the time, that’s still at least $400 dollars that you would save (assuming hotels are about $100-$150 a night).

Scenic drive through Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

6) Plan ahead

Planning ahead will help you avoid the costs associated with unexpected hotels and detours.

For example, a lot of roads through and around the mountains are closed in the winter and spring. Check to make sure there aren’t any road closures along your route.

In addition, if you do want to camp as I mentioned above, it’s a good idea to plan out the days and places you want to camp in case there are advanced reservations that you need to make.

Lastly, can you find any coupons or deals for some restaurants along the way? This was a tip shared with me on my YouTube channel and I think it’s a great idea!

Find coupons and meal deals ahead of time and save money on eating out for dinner along your trip.

7) Pack when you’re relaxed

This is something I’ve talked about a lot on this blog.

What I mean is: don’t scramble to pack last minute and throw everything in the car because you wanted to be on the road an hour ago.

It’s really frustrating when you forget a basic item that you need and have to unexpectedly buy a new one. That’s what we’re trying to avoid by packing ahead of time.

Once I forgot my sleeping bag on a camping trip. Nick and I both assumed the other packed them. Usually, I do a final check before we leave, but I was in a rush to get on the road and I forgot.

We had to drive 2 hours out of the way (spending more money on gas) to buy a brand new sleeping bag for the trip.

I was frustrated because we have so many sleeping bags at home, so I really did not want or need another one. That one mistake cost me $50, plus gas.

That’s the kind of thing we’re trying to avoid with this tip!

RELATED >> My Road Trip Essentials (the personal items that I always pack!)

Amanda Outside budget road trip tips.

Stick to your road trip budget!

That’s it for my tips on how to road trip on a budget. I hope you found these tips helpful and that they save you some money on your upcoming adventures.

Make sure to comment below if you have any questions or additional tips you’d like to share!

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