Some of my favorite trips we’ve ever taken have been road trips. It was something my husband always wanted to do, and I eventually gave in only to find the I actually really loved the experience. There was something about seeing new sights every day and sleeping in a new place every night that really creeped under my skin and made me fall in love.
What I didn’t love however, was the expense. Often times when you buy bundle deals like flights + hotels + car, you save a lot of money. Not to mention how much you save if that hotel is all inclusive and the food and beverage package is included! On road trips, every single little thing is A la carte. Every night in a new hotel, every meal on the road, and not to mention all the gas and road snacks, it can really add up.
I want to share with you all of the tricks I have learned over the last few trips in hopes that you (1) Will plan an epic road trip, and (2) Will save lots of money while doing so.
1.Book your hotels in advance
This is easily arguable, because a lot of people want to travel freely and not have a plan and I totally get that… for other people. I myself am highly organized and NEED a structured plan. I spend a lot of time planning destinations, mapping out driving distances and a creating a somewhat flexible day-to-day itinerary. This gives me a rough idea of where we’ll end up for the night, so that I can book hotels. Booking a few months out usually offers the best price as opposed to trying to book something the day-of and having to play last minute super-expensive rates and on top of that, only having few options to choose from.
2. Compare hotels vs. Air B&B
Theres no trick to this. In some places hotels are cheaper, and some places air b&bs are cheaper. It all depends on the area, but do your homework and make sure you always check both. And reviews, ALWAYS check reviews.
3. Let go of hotel expectations
I have come a long way with this one. I’m not saying I ALWAYS stay at the Ritz, but I do like nice hotels with cool amenities and super fluffy pillows. The truth of the matter on this one is that on road trips and one night stays it just does not matter. You’re going to crash at 9pm, and get back up and leave the next morning, who cares if it has a pool or HBO? It needs a shower, a lock, and a bed. I tend to go brand name with this, even if they’re lower end names, they’re still corporate which means they have a certain standard to uphold and they have someone to answer to. I’m not sure if Bob at Bob’s motel answers to anyone.
4. Pick hotels with free breakfast
This is an easy one guys. Free breakfast. It doesn’t have to be a fancy hotel to offer breakfast, and you don’t need a buffet. Many of the lower end hotel chains that I just mentioned have great free breakfast. Make sure you grab an extra apple or banana for a healthy snack later in the day!
Just a few of those options include:
- Comfort Inn
- Comfort Suites
- MainStay Suites
- Quality Inn
- Sleep Inn
- Baymont Inn
- Days Inn
- Howard Johnson
- Knights Inn
- Super 8
(Obviously, most all of the nicer name hotel chains have breakfast too, but we’re here to save money right? So money-saving hotels is what I’m showing.)
5. Stop at a grocery store on the first day
For me, this is one of the biggest ones. You can save a TON of money by doing this. Let me give you an example. If you’re traveling for 10 days, you’ll probably need about 3-4 bottles of water a day. If you buy those bottles each morning from a vending machine, a gas station, or a convenience store, the price will be about $2 each right?
4 bottles x $2 x 10 days = $80.00 JUST on bottled water, and just for ONE person. Traveling with your spouse? Make that a whopping $160.00.
Stop at a grocery store and buy a case of water for 4.99, maybe even 2 cases, and you just saved $150.00. You’re welcome.
Now that your mind is blown, do the same thing with snacks.
Gas station prices will kill you, and when you’ve been hiking and you’re hungry, or bored in the car and itching for those sour patch kids, you’ll buy them, even if they’re $5. Believe me. Stock up on snacks, granola bars, popcorn, pop-tarts, packaged bagels or whatever you’re into. Bonus points for buying what’s on sale. End result is you’ll have a nice supply of snacks in the backseat to reach for whenever you need them, and you won’t have to pay premium for them.
Traveling in a hot area or during summer? Take it a step further by buying a reusable bag for cold items. You know the insulated cooler bags you use to get your ice cream home from the store? They’re only $2.99 and you’ll really be thankful when your chocolate covered cereal bars aren’t melted goop and your Swedish fish haven’t melted into one massive fish. Gross. You can also take a few bottles (from that case you bought) into the hotel, stash them in the fridge overnight, and keep them cool longer zipped up in the bag.
6. Dont Wait for E to fill up on gas
I am a huge procrastinator when it comes to buying gas. I just don’t like doing it and will literally wait until the last second. Every. Single. Time. It’s like I think if I wait long enough maybe it will magically fill up itself. More times then not, when I do this I end up on the expensive side of town and fork over the extra dollars just to make it home.
Don’t be like me.
Buy gas when you see it cheap. It doesn’t matter if you still have half a tank, if it’s the cheapest gas you’ve seen the whole trip, BUY IT. Going from place to place often takes you through lots of state highways and back roads for the fastest travel time. This means super small towns and super cheap gas. Take advantage when you see it priced low.
7. Cash in credit card points
Everyone has a credit card and most all of the them have rewards programs. Mine, like many offers giftcards. I save up my points all year, and don’t use them until I have a trip like this where I can really benefit from having the extra help. I trade in all my points for name brands gift cards like Starbucks, or Shell gas, things I KNOW I’ll come across somewhere on my trip.
8. Use apps for restaurant discounts
Of course you’re going to eat out. You can have all the free breakfast and car snacks in the world, but eventually you’re just going to need to sit down and order a huge bowl of spaghetti. Utilize apps like retail-me-not to find your location and show deals near you. Tons of chain restaurants have coupons under this app anything from $5 off to BOGO entrees.
Check Groupon. When Groupon first came out, you had to wait for a few days after you purchased a deal for them to email you the code. Not anymore. You get it instantly. You can do the same search by location to find deals closest to you, and then filter to food & drink. You can get deals for half off or more, off of your dinner. Once you buy the deal, it goes into “my groupons” and you can use it immediately. Plus its a great way to try some local small businesses at a discounted price.
9. Utilize Hotel Toiletries
Gone are the days where hotel toiletries were sub-par. Even some of the cheapest hotels offer Matrix Shampoo and Bath and Body Works lotion. Now this won’t save you a TON of money, but not having to buy travel size bottles to take with you, or adding a ton of weight to your suitcase by bringing your full size bottles counts for something right? Especially if your flying and have to pay extra for heavy luggage. No thanks.
10. Buy a park pass
Going to National parks? I could rave and rave about nation parks. I want to see them all, and you will to. Good news is that you can see as many as you can in a year, and for only $80. An annual pass to NPS is only $80, and that covers you and whoever you can fit into your car (spouse, kids, friends, etc.). Entrance fees to most national parks are $30-40 so if you go to at least two it’s worth it. States offer park passes too. Some are more expensive then others, but its always good to find out. We payed $5 for a state park at Lake Tahoe and through a serious of questions I found out that the same receipt would get me into 4 other parks that day in exactly the direction we were headed in. Jackpot.
I hope that I have inspired some of you to take a trip like this, and offered good advice to other who are already planning one. Good luck and happy travels!