Road Trip 101: Top 10 Ways to Save Money on the Road

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Jun 05, 2016 / 2 comments

You've got the car all packed - and are raring to go venture across the country (or continent). Still, in the back of your mind, you're a bit worried about how much this all will cost. You've budgeted for your vacation, but saving money is always a good thing - you can then travel more! Here are our top 10 ways (well, a dozen, actually) to save money on the road - and get the most out of your vacation!

Road Trip 101 - Top 10 Ways to Save Money on the Road

Car Tips

1. Don't Speed

This is a no-brainer. Gas consumption increases exponentially with every mile over 65mph. Think of it as Direct Fuel Savings.

Road Trip

2. Make sure your tires are inflated correctly

If your tires are at exactly the right psi, they'll get better fuel effiency, increase the tread life, and reduce carbon dixoxide emissions. Make sure your car is in top condition - new air filters, correct fluids, and keep the weight down - get rid of any excess baggage. Your car (and wallet) will thank you.

Money & Accommodations Tips

3. Get a gas card

Many of the larger gas stations (Shell, for instance) offer a gas credit card, or try When you use it, you get money off at the pump. Just be sure to pay it off as soon as you can - otherwise, saving pennies can turn into spending dollars. Or, see if gas stations give a discount for paying in cash. It can't hurt to ask. There are also websites that compare gas prices by zip code, if you're on the web with your smartphone, anyway - download free apps that track mileage, send you to the cheapest gas station, etc.

4. Avoid ATM fees

Do large withdrawals at one time, instead of several smaller  ones. As well, try to pay for most things with your debit card. Our bank gives us cash back when we use our debit card. Bonus Cash!

5. Discounts and Coupons

Hit the very first rest area when you enter a state. There will usually be lots of racks of coupons and information. As well, they will often have hotel coupon books that cover the whole state. We've saved 70% on hotel rooms, using those coupons. You'll also find coupons for attractions, restaurants, and more. It's information central!

Motorist information

hotel coupons

hotel coupons


6. Groupon it!

We sign up for Groupon and living social alerts for the areas where we'll be traveling. When we find restaurant or attraction deals, we do our research (yelp, message boards, Google search). If it looks good, we purchase them. This is a great way to learn about an area (who KNEW that there was such an awesome activity center (Boonshoft Museum of Discovery) in Dayton, Ohio? Or that the Discovery World in Milwaukee would be SO VERY COOL?). We've also discovered so many great restaurants that future road trips to that area are in order. Yes, we are travel foodies.

7. Accommodations

Here are our top 10 tips for saving money on accommodations.

Short of it: If you're not camping (which is very reasonably priced), or staying at a hotel with a discount, then try renting a house or apartment while you're traveling (or when you get there). You can find them on craigslist, on websites like Homeaway Holiday rentals, or by googling vacation home rental. Stay at hotels that are also waterparks (double bonus - a hotel AND an attraction!). We love Great Wolf Lodge, Key Lime Cove, and Kalahari Waterpark resorts.

Food Tips

8. Snacks

Think ahead and pack a cooler with your favorite beverages, so they'll be icy cold. Make your own trail mix with mixed nuts, Ghirardelli chocolate chips, and plump raisins. Stock up on snacks you love, so that you aren't scouring the shelves of a gas station, looking for anything that is relatively fresh. I suggest heading to Trader Joe's (yes, my favorite grocery store) and going down their snack aisle. HEAVEN. Hit the grocery stores where you are traveling - you'll find new food and yummy treats (boiled peanuts, anyone?).

Our Favorite Snacks in Ireland

Our Favorite Snacks in Ireland

9. Dining

Use your groupons. Do your research beforehand on Urbanspoon and find the best places for your family to dine. My favorite is to research local farmer's markets, and stock up there. The food will be fresh, hand-made or home-grown, often organic, and gourmet. You'll see what grows where, and learn of new foods (or recipes). There's nothing like a picnic of such delicious food to make your whole family smile. Extra bonus - room to run and play, afterwards.

Farmer's Market wares

Farmer's Market wares - Olives, Kenmare Market, County Kerry, Ireland

10. Coffee

No road trip tips would be complete without talking about caffeine I mean coffee. Pack a press pot, or a portable one-cup drip filter. Take your favorite mugs, and of COURSE bring your own coffee. Hotel coffee is just not that good (Most hotels don't offer good coffee). You'll be much happier with your own brew, for 20 cents a cup, than shelling out $5 for a Starbucks, or $2 for ancient, darkest brown gas station coffee (shudder). Want a great travel souvenir? Buy locally roasted coffee, and drink it along the way. Buy an extra bag for home (or for a gift for a very lucky and cherished friend).

Activities Tips

11. Plan ahead

You can pay regular rate for a two-day pass at Cedar Point amusement park, or save a few dollars by paying ahead online - especially when there are sales before the park opens in the spring. At Legoland California, you can buy a one-day resort hopper ticket or a resort membership pass. If you're going to be there for a week or so, get the membership pass (and the bonus is, that you can always come back this year!)  Plan on paying additional for parking. Buy the Entertainment Book for the area, and get coupons for hotels, restaurants, and activities that way. Get tickets to music festivals in advance, and ask for a group or early discount.

seasonal guides

12. Free things to do

Yes, a bonus tip. Because I can't help myself. Look for free attractions wherever you are going. 

There are often Shakespeare in the park theater performances, for free or a small donation (I will always remember A Midsummer Night's Dream in Kenwood Park, Minneapolis - it was magical). There are free summer movies in New York City Parks - all over the city. Chicago offers free concerts in their parks, all summer long - and the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus offers free classical Concerts in Millenium Park.

See which days are free at local museums.

Find free classes - maybe an ein plein air painting class at a local park?

Hit the library to attend book readings, children's events, and more. In Minneapolis, the Walker Sculpture Garden is free - and packed with beautiful, amazing art. In Seattle, head to Pike Place and people (and fish-throwing) watch - or go to Ballard and the Chittenden Locks - the wave sculptures are beautiful, watching the locks a bonus. 

Wherever you are, be outdoors! Go for a hike and explore the area. Play frisbee in the park. Swim, in Lake Michigan (or whatever lake you happen to be around).

wave sculptures, Ballard Locks, Seattle

wave sculptures, Ballard Locks, Seattle


Revel in being in a new place, and explore it to its fullest. It doesn't have to cost that much!


Want more money-saving travel tips?

Check out our Top 10 Tips for Budget Travel

Packing Essentials - Tips on What (and What Not) to Bring

100 International Travel Tips to Put More “Bon” in Your Voyage

Travel Writers’ Secrets for Saving Money for Travel or While Traveling

Top Travel Planning Tips

Saving Money for Travel or While Traveling  









Comments (2)

  • Renee Radia

    13 years 3 weeks ago

    These are great tips!  I'm interested in trying sometime, which seems like it could be a great alternative to expensive hotels and could easily help you save on accommodations costs.  

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    13 years 3 weeks ago

    thanks, renee - what a GOOD tip! i always forget about airbnb. also, the website has inexpensive recommendations. 


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


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