My brother Michael, a professional photographer and avid motorcyclist started the website Roadcraft USA to share his passion for beautiful scenery and fun and interesting road trips, especially the two-wheeled kind. What do I know about motorcycles and professional photography? Absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. Basically, no “street cred,” whatsoever.
My “wheelhouse” is personal finance.
Nevertheless, Michael and I collaborated on an article about money-saving road trip tips. I wrote the words and he added all the pretty pictures. Below is the section of the article that describes money-saving tips for food, lodging, and gas.
Ready For a Road Trip?
No matter what your travel style, start planning your road trip by setting some goals:
- Do you want a structured itinerary or to go “where the road takes you”?
- What would you like to do or see (e.g., beaches, wineries, national parks, sporting events)?
- Are there people you want to visit along the way?
- Are there new foods and restaurants you want to try?
Next, create a financial framework by answering the following questions:
- What is the total amount of money needed to fund your trip?
- Do you need to save the money or is it already in the bank?
- What are anticipated expenses for different aspects of the road trip (e.g., food, gas, and lodging)?
- Do you have money set aside for unanticipated expenses (e.g., vehicle repairs and price increases)?
Frugal Travel Hacks
Everyone wants to get as much value as possible for their travel budget and not overpay for goods and services. The following ideas are like a menu in a New Jersey diner. There are a lot of options to select from so pick those that best fit your personality, lifestyle, and mode of travel (e.g., motorcycle or car).
Food and Beverages
Eat Out Sparingly- Try to eat only one meal a day at a restaurant, if possible. Pack foods such as granola bars, dried fruits, peanut butter, muffins, and canned juices for breakfast, or select hotels that include a free continental breakfast. Many hotels offer perks (e.g., free breakfast and swimming pools) to attract visitors.
Keep Food Cool– Pack food in a cooler (or buy it when you arrive at a destination) and stay at hotels with a refrigerator and/or microwave oven in the room. This lets you save leftover food from a restaurant or order take-out food rather than a sit-down meal. Pack some re-sealable food storage bags or plastic containers.
Rethink Restaurant Drinks– Consider sticking with complimentary water at restaurants because beverages add to the cost of eating out. If someone skips 208 glasses of soda (four a week) at $3 each- or 104 beers or glasses of wine (2 a week) at $6 each- that’s $624 in annual savings.
Bring Your Own Beverages– Space permitting, bring your own beverages on a road trip. Examples: bottled water, soda, and low-cost wines available at Trader Joe’s and Aldi supermarkets. Another way to spend less on wine and soft drinks is to “stretch” them with a large cup of ice so they last longer and you can buy less.
Split an Order- Consider sharing an entrée- but check first to see if there is an additional “plate charge” for shared meals. Appetizers and desserts are also great for sharing. Instead of individual desserts at a restaurant, buy a dessert item (e.g., cake or pie) at a supermarket to enjoy afterward.
Eat Out for Lunch– When you eat out, consider going to restaurants at lunchtime, rather than dinner, because the cost is generally less. You might also consider combining lunch and dinner into one meal by having a late afternoon “linner.” Lunch menu meals- and lower prices- are generally in effect until around 3 pm.
Join a Group– Travel with a group of people such as family members, friends, or members of a motorcycle club. Some people save money by sharing vacation expenses (especially lodging and food) with others. An example is renting a multi-room condo, beach house, or cottage and sharing rent and food costs.
Find Coupons– In some high-traffic areas (e.g., busy interstate highways and state tourism welcome centers), tourist guidebooks are chock full of coupons to save money on hotels and food. Check the “fine print,” however, for exclusions such as weekends and holidays and whether an advance deposit is needed.
Search Online for Deals– Look for deals on hotel room rates through booking websites (e.g., Kayak, Expedia, and Priceline) and compare them to rates available on hotel websites.
Again, check the terms and conditions of each pricing arrangement (e.g., advance deposits and refunds).
Travel Off-Peak– Take your road trip during times when crowds are smaller and prices for lodging of any type (e.g., hotels, campgrounds, RV parks) are likely to be lower. Consider traveling during the less expensive “shoulder season” right before and after high-cost peak season dates.
Join Rewards Programs– Sign up for hotel rewards programs and accumulate points. Concentrate on a few hotel chains so points grow faster. When you have earned enough points for a free stay (this will vary by hotel brand, location, and time of year), cash in your points for free hotel nights.
Stay Local- If money is tight, be a “local tourist.” Visit local historical sites or parks and learn more about where you live. Plan “daycations” (inexpensive one-day trips) and “staycations” (experiences at or near home) in lieu of travel to distant areas. Focus on doing fun things together as a family or group of friends.
Travel Efficiently- The easiest way to save money on gas is to drive less. This is true whether commuting to work or taking a road trip. With this is mind, plan your road trip using one of many available trip planning apps that calculate the time and distance between places and build a travel map.
Find Cheap Gas- Gas prices vary from state to state and even within the same town! Gas stations close to major highways often charge more than others…because they can. Use a gas app like GasBuddy and Waze to find the cheapest source of gas where you need it.
Pay With Cash- Many gas stations charge less per gallon for cash purchases (vs. credit cards) because they avoid credit card processing (a.k.a., interchange) fees. Paying with cash also avoid the risk of having a credit card skimmer placed on a gas pump to steal personal data.
Join a Fuel Rewards Program– Sign up for a fuel rewards program at a supermarket or warehouse club and accumulate points to earn free or reduced price gas. When you have earned enough points for a reward, cash in your points to save money.
Time Your Fill-Ups– Travel experts recommend filling up early in the work week (i.e., Sunday and Monday) or at the end (i.e., Friday) and to avoid the middle of the week, especially Thursdays. Of course, on a road trip, when you need gas, you need gas. This is when gas apps come in handy.
Check Tire Pressure– All the travel experts agree that underinflated tires decrease gas mileage. Many gas stations have inexpensive “do it yourself” machines where users can check their tire air pressure and inflate tires that need air.
This post provides general personal finance information and does not address all the variables that apply to an individual’s unique situation. It does not endorse specific products or services and should not be construed as legal or financial advice. If professional assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought.