Travel tips

Money Tips for Your Next Road Trip

road trip advice, road trip tips, road trip vacation tips

This is a guest post from Pauline of InvestmentZen.com

Yay, you’re going on a road trip! They are such a fun way to travel. Plus, they can also be inexpensive. Here are some tips for your next road trip.

1. Budget properly

The last thing you want is having to go home early because you run out of money. Road trips can be as cheap or as expensive as you make them. When I first crossed the US on a motorcycle, we had a budget for two people of $2,000 per month. The breakdown was loosely:

  • $50 for a cheap motel every 2-3 days: $20/day on average. The rest of the time, we would look for free campsites, use Couchsurfing, or visit friends. The temperatures were mild so there was no discomfort in camping, but for a winter trip, you want to budget way more than that for accommodation.
  • $20 a day for food. Again, not huge, we would try to get a free breakfast with accommodation, buy groceries and cook at home while being hosted, and then find places to eat that give you the best bang for your buck. Our favorite? Chinese buffets. For $10 per person on average, we had access to a salad bar, some sushi, a few peel and eat shrimps and fruit. We generally stayed clear of all the fried rice and meat in sauce as they were not so healthy. But for the price of a fast food, you can actually get a reasonably healthy meal.
  • $20 a day for gas and visits. On a motorcycle, you don’t spend too much on gas. You can fill your tank for $15 and go about 200 miles. Traveling slowly also made things cheaper. We bought a National Parks annual pass for $80, and used the hell out of it. State parks are fun but they’re usually less impressive and cost $15-$20 each so the National Parks pass is outstanding value.
  • $10 a day for incidentals. A little room in the budget to buy ice cream, have a beer or do something fun.

That was a super cheap trip, but I wanted to show you that it can be done. If you like your comfort, you’ll need more than double that amount to travel in style. So crunch the numbers, look up the cost of attractions, museums, accommodation and transportation, and start saving! You can also get a reward credit card to start earning some free miles and hotel nights.

2. Book early

Booking your accommodation early can save you a lot of money. Be warned though, that is a double edged sword. Because if your car breaks down and you need to stay in a city for a day longer, you might lose the night you booked in the next town, and have to drive right through it once you’re back on the road, so you can make the next reservation.

Subscribe to the newsletter of main hotel chains so you are the first one to learn about their special deals. And paying for accommodation a few months before your trip will make it easier than having that extra expense during the holiday.

3. Get a robust vehicle

Speaking of car breakdowns, a lot of them happen because car owners fail to perform regular maintenance. Before you hit the road, change the oil on your car, make sure all fluids are topped up, check your tire pressure, and if you have any doubts about your car making it to the end of your road trip, consider renting one. Putting a lot of mileage on your own car might end up being more expensive than a weekly rent. Again, if you go the rent route, book early for great discounts. You could even rent an RV, if that’s your thing, the main websites have discounts on repositioning one way trips all over the country. It might use a little more gas but you would have to book a hotel.

4. Look for free stuff to do and free places to stay

Hiking is free. So is cycling if you bring your bike with you. Many cities have free cultural activities, especially college towns. While you can pick a couple of paying must-see attractions for your road trip, consider filling some of your day with free activities. A day at the beach. Look up the free days at the museum. Check out Meetup for local get together with people sharing your hobbies.

You can camp for free in National Forests and land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Some gas stations have showers, and you can park overnight for free in many rest areas all around the country. Couchsurfing is a great resource too, and if you are RVing, the RV community also has networks where people will let you use their parking space for the night. Cyclists have WarmShowers and bikers have the HUBB. All these communities are ready to lend you a hand on your road trip.

5. Don’t charge it if you can’t pay for it

Nothing worse than going home to a huge holiday bill you’re unable to pay off when your next statement is due. Your holidays are over, meals are long eaten, fun was had but paying interest is not fun at all. If your balance is too big, consider applying for a balance transfer credit card so at least you don’t pay interest on your debt.

But if you prepare well in advance for your trip, you should be able to save enough money to pay for it in cash. Or pay off your balance and get some miles and cashback!

At $200/day, you only need to save $200/month from now to the summer to make a 5 day road trip work.

So, where are you going?

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