12 Tips for Road-Tripping on a Budget

Rawpixel/ iStock via Getty Images
Rawpixel/ iStock via Getty Images / Rawpixel/ iStock via Getty Images

Not every vacation needs to involve airplanes and tons of money spent. Plenty of travelers take to the road to experience new locations and hit popular destinations. If you’re thinking of jumping in the car for a road trip, take a look at some tips for keeping your expenses to a minimum, presented by Mental Floss and Discover.

1. Figure out your travel priorities.

When it comes to what you want out of a trip, everyone is different. Someone may be content to stay in modest accommodations but visit popular (and pricey) restaurants. Someone else may want a luxury stay and not care if they grab a hamburger. Knowing where your priorities are will help you develop a plan for your destination and the stops along the way. Without one, you might find yourself scrambling to find food and lodging based on what’s convenient, not what fits your budget.

2. Make sure your vehicle is road-ready.

Road-trippers can never avoid fuel expenses, but there are ways to minimize your gas consumption. Keeping your tires inflated, your cargo light, and using your own two feet to explore areas after parking are all good ways to conserve costs.

3. Pack snacks.

Long stretches in the car can make it tempting to pull into the nearest fast food drive-thru to get something in your stomach. Over the course of a few days, those detours can add up. Instead of dropping $20 or more on food combos, pack dry snacks like chips, protein bars, and fruit to keep you moving.

4. Find where the free entertainment is.

No matter where you go, you’re likely to find attractions that don’t require paying a high admission fee. Museums, public parks, and landmarks can be goals or pitstops. Either way, take advantage of a chance to experience something new without being charged.

5. Use credit card rewards to help pay for your trip.

When you’re road tripping, make sure you have a credit card that will help you pay for lodging, expenses, and gas. With the Discover it® Miles Card, you can earn 1.5X miles for every dollar spent on purchases with no annual fee. Not only will Discover match those rewards you earn at the end of your first year, the rewards will never expire. Learn more at Discover.com/travel.

6. Consider vacation rentals.

If your road trip involves a lot of people, it may be more cost-effective to seek out a vacation rental apartment or home rather than paying for multiple hotel rooms. You’ll also have the benefit of a kitchen for cooking which will save money on eating out.

7. Try not to travel during peak times.

Holiday weekends and college departures and arrivals can put a huge dent in your budget. Traffic gets congested, eating into fuel costs. Amenities like lodging and food can increase. If you can help it, it’s best to travel during non-peak times.

8. Give kids a budget.

If you’re traveling with children, you’ll quickly discover that everything looks appealing to them, from expensive foods to souvenirs. If they have their own budget for expenses, they’ll choose carefully and stick to things they really want instead of spending (or pestering) impulsively.

9. Make sure you have good auto insurance.

Nothing puts a bigger dent in your vacation and your wallet like having car trouble. Check with your insurance company to see if they have emergency roadside assistance coverage. A comprehensive plan can cover vandalism, theft, or damage and even pay for hotel rooms if your car needs overnight repairs.

10. Don’t forget the free breakfasts.

Staying in a hotel? Most have free continental or buffet breakfasts to enjoy, taking an entire meal’s worth of expenses off your itinerary.

11. Avoid gas stations just off the interstate.

Stations positioned right off exit ramps can be considerably more expensive than stations further in town. If you can hold off, it’s best to find one closer to your destination rather than pull into the first one you see.

12. Visit the visitor center.

Many tourist-friendly locations have a visitor’s center. You may already have your plans mapped out, but it’s still smart to drop by. Many of them carry coupons that could save you money on local food and attractions.

Get a card that will cover the cost of your road trip—and help pay for future travel as well. The Discover it® Miles Card will earn you 1.5X miles for every dollar spent on purchases with no annual fee and those rewards never expire. Plus, at the end of your first year, Discover will match all the miles you’ve earned automatically, which you can put towards another awesome vacation. Visit Discover.com/Travel to learn more!