What comes to mind when summer rolls in? Lazy mornings, freshly mown grass, ice-cold beer, barbecues, salty ocean air, long hikes…did somebody say, road trips? For many, there’s no better way to carve memories for summer than a road trip—but isn’t it expensive?

The gas and food expenses can take a toll on your pocket. And truth be told, if you don’t lay hold of your spending, chances are you’re going to squash that budget. Well, with these road trip tips you don’t have to break the bank.

Tip #1 – Plan ahead

Decide where you want to go and what you want to see—American southwest, fall getaways, charming small towns, Route 66. Planning ahead of time will help you set on a budgeted plan on your expenditures.

Don’t be afraid to tackle the most important budget-related questions. How many liters of gas will your vehicle consume? How much food do you need to bring? How much are the park fees? Will you sleep on tents or in hotels?

Don’t cram everything in, however. Check the plan, take a moment, and ask yourself what you think is necessary and what you think should be cut out.

Even with all the careful planning, snafus can still happen, and when they do, remember to just relax when things don’t turn out as planned. Someone said that the greatest part of a road trip isn’t getting at your destination—it’s the stuff that happens along the way.

Tip #2 – Rent an RV or find good hotel deals

We recommended renting an RV, of course! Renting RVs is often cost-effective, especially if you’re going to remote scenic destinations. Keep in mind though, that RVs are not particularly handy in big cities. But, its upside far outweighs its downside.

If you will factor in the number of people traveling with you, let’s say a family of four, then renting an RV is way cheaper than checking in. You will also save more if your vacation style fits the RV regimen—campfires at night, games in the morning, cooking your own meals.

Speaking of meals, the savings you’ll get on the meals that you prepare yourself will more than offset the higher cost of fuel. You’ll save more on meals on top of the bigger savings you’ll get from skipping hotel rooms.

So is it RV or hotel rooms? The bottom line is to know what you want.

If roughing it out is your jam, pick the RV. But, if you want to enjoy your vacation and laze around in a cushy hotel, go find a good deal on hotel rooms. And, choose the ones that come with a kitchen so you can still save up on food expenses.

If you need help deciding on an RV rental company, we highly recommend RVShare

Tip #3 – Plan where to eat

A big chunk of the costs in any road trip is spent on food. Eating out for every meal will bleed your wallet dry. But, where’s the fun without the good food? So, don’t skip it altogether. Carefully pick out the restaurants where you’ll eat.

Check out the food places in towns that you’ll be passing through and eat only in those specialty bistros that locals are raving about. When you dodge eating in fast-food chains, you’ll be surprised to see how those few dollars you save will go a long way.

Tip #4 – Grab gift cards at a discount before hitting the road

Like it or not, circumstances will force you to eat in chain restaurants, and those gift cards will come in handy and can help you scrimp more. Check out reputable gift card retailers online. Getting something like 30 percent off for meals in popular restaurants should be easy.

Tip #5 – Grab grocery discount cards too!

A lot of big grocery chains give away free loyalty cards that offer discounts on all your groceries. It’s astonishing how you can save a ton of money with your grocery discount card. Consider Safeway, Kroger, and Trader Joes if you’re looking to get one.

A group of young cheerful friends with a dog having picnic on a roadtrip through countryside.

Tip #6 – Prepare homemade snacks

Pit stops are necessary but loading up on gas station junk food or convenience store packed meals will quickly bore a hole in your pockets.

So, pack your own nibbles and bring your own soda in a cooler. Bringing your own snacks don’t just let you save money, but it will also give you more time to go to interesting landmarks instead of those dreary pit stops.

Tip #7 – Make nourishing road trip grub and easy-to-pack chows

Need some energy booster? A healthy mix of nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate bits will lift your energy way better than store-bought potato chips. Homemade granola bars loaded with peanut butter, oats, pretzels, honey, and nuts are perfect for snacks and breakfast fare.

Keep hunger at bay by fueling up with protein like tasty home-produced beef jerkies. Prepare hard-boiled eggs. Bake some cheese crackers. Toss some homemade chicken salad and keep them in jars for a quick chicken sandwich or chicken salad in lettuce wraps. 

Tip #8 – Be ready to have meals on the road

Stay away from expensive and bland gas station sandwiches. Have some easy-to-prepare reserve meals at hand, in case you arrive at the campgrounds late at night or when restaurants are closed. Ham and cheese sliders, chicken burritos, and the classic hummus with cut-up veggie sticks are perfect for those emergency meals.

Tip #9 – Cook your own food

You wouldn’t want to get stuck to the same old food fare from McDonalds or Taco Bell, would you? Being able to cook your own meals can save you a huge amount of money along the way.

It’s doable even if you’re traveling in a car. You just need to pack some cutting boards and a good knife. These will come in handy when you’re slicing up those fruits and vegetables for your meals.

Also, consider getting a camp stove, particularly one that won’t take up a lot of space. Despite being compact, it will allow you to prepare some hot meals and boil water for a piping hot mug of coffee during breakfast and some yummy warm hot chocolate at night.

If you’re planning to go on a longer backcountry trip, go for a two-burner stove. With it, you’ll be able to prepare two dishes simultaneously. Likewise, it’ll let you cook more interesting meals in a bigger pot and pan.

Now, if you’re traveling in a campervan or RV, you’ll most likely have a good-sized stove and even the luxury of a small kitchen. Cooking a variety of meals is a lot easier. Check out our suggestions on MUST HAVE small cooking appliances for your next RV trip!

Make sure you bring in a lot of spices so you won’t have to settle for lackluster food. Don’t forget to pack plastic containers to stack leftovers or keep unused vegetables to avoid unwanted waste.

Tip #10 – Bring your own water

Bring a large water jug and fill it up at drinking fountains and campgrounds. Bring your personal water bottles too. This will help you save money and you’ll also produce less plastic waste.

As much as possible, shun sugar-laden bottled beverages. Opt for water over soda. It’s definitely the fitter choice, not to mention inexpensive.

Tip #11 – Pack your own coffee or tea

Save a couple of bucks and a lot of time from dropping by Starbucks. If you love coffee or tea, bring your own coffee grounds, tealeaves, and French press.

Tip #12 – Save on gas

Obviously, gas expenses will eat up a huge chunk of your road trip budget. And so, it’ll be a smart move to use the GasBuddy app or something similar. Prepare to get giddy with excitement once you realize how these apps can help you save a ton of money.

Let Google Maps help you buy gas at a steal. How exactly? Well, Google Maps gives you the chance to locate nearby gas stations and compare prices. In the long run, you can save hundreds of dollars even if you only save a few cents on the price variance.

Tip #13 – Avoid gas stations off the highway

They have higher prices than gas stations “in town”, which are usually just a few minutes off the main road. Most road trippers swear that ARCO, Maverick, and AmPm are reasonably priced. That quick turn down the road will save you money. Again, GasBuddy can help you determine the best options!

Tip #14 – Use your credit cards when purchasing gas

Take advantage of credit cards that provide travel points or cash back on fuel purchases. Check out the list of the most generous gas reward credit cards. If yours aren’t among them and you’re planning to go on trips at least yearly, maybe it’s time to make the switch.

Tip #15 – Call your bank

Fill in your credit card company and/or banks about destination-related details of your road trip to avoid out-of-state charges. What’s even worse is if they suspect something, they might put a hold on your account. While you’re aiming to have a cheap road trip, there’s nothing fun about suddenly not having access to cash during your adventure.

Tip #16 – Don’t hit the road without good car insurance

It works just like travel insurance when you fly abroad. Do your homework and find an insurance policy that is cut out for your needs. Pick out a policy that has emergency roadside coverage, with towing over a hundred miles or covered hotel stays until the car gets fixed.

By the way, if you go the RV route, RVShare provides 24/7 roadside assistance which is included in the cost of your rental!

Tip #17 – Schedule a car tune-up and inspect your tires

Make sure your tires have the correct air level and check if your air filter is clean because these can affect your gas mileage. Checking these things before hitting the road will help you avoid breakdowns and dodge those expensive repairs. Besides, who wants a shortened road trip due to a preventable car bug down?

If you’re going on a longer road trip, your car will need an oil change on the road. Search for a nearby JiffyLube in your destination. They’re typically a great choice as they offer discount coupons online and can get you in and out pretty quickly.

Tip #18 – Drive slowly

This practice will help you save money on your average gas cost per day. Do you know that fuel efficiency decreases as your speed increases? Also, driving fast will increase the possibility of getting caught and paying pricey tickets. Aside from that, driving slow will give your more time to enjoy the scenery in an unhurried laidback pace.

Remember the primary cost of a road trip is gas. You will save a chunk of money when you drive slowly and legally. Unless of course there’s a time crunch on your schedule, then it’s time to step on the gas.

If you decide to go RVing, check out our guide to fuel costs for an RV!

Tip #19 – Pack right!

Make sure you got all your road trip staples with you. Sunscreen, check. Towels, check. Batteries and phone chargers, check, check. Packing these travel essentials beforehand will save you a great deal of money. Needless to say, these necessities cost a lot when bought on the road. So, don’t pack in haste.

Tip #20 – Plan on the fly every day

Once you have planned out your route and destinations, packed up the food and road trip essentials, prepared the car and checked the banks, then it’s time to find more money-saving deals in the cities that you plan to visit. Who knows, you just might find an interesting wine tour on a good deal? Or maybe a free campsite or free parking?

For getting camping sites without spending anything, you can check out websites where travel enthusiasts share their latest campground discoveries. For free parking, Walmarts allow their customers to park overnight in their parking lot. Plus, you can use their restrooms too—that’s definitely a win.

Be on the lookout for cheaper local passes or National Park passes if you’re planning to visit more than three national parks. Check out some free activities in the area like hikes, free live music, exploring beaches and art galleries, or going on a picnic.

With these road trip ideas and careful planning, you’re on your way to having that summer adventure of your dreams. That is even if you’re strictly on a shoestring budget.