Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Are you planning a road trip? We’ve got a slew of excellent resources for you, including ways to save money on the road and accommodations. But here’s a list of our favorite ways to save money on other aspects of travel, from travel planning to gear to coffee to good eats. Take a look...
Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels

1. Look for the coupons!

Whether you want to stock up on reading material, travel supplies, new clothes, or on tickets for events or restaurant meals, smart travelers use sites to save money. Why pay full price?

2. Sign up for newsletters

Want cheaper fares or hotel deals? Sign up for newsletters, both for aggregators like travelzoo, and for hotel and airlines themselves. You never know what you’ll get in the mail – Aer Lingus offers incredible rates in their newsletter, so I’m always plotting to get back to Ireland. Also sign up for any rewards points programs – at Kroger grocery stores, you save money on Shell gas purchases, with reward points.

3. Rethink when to travel

Most people travel during the high season. NOT ME. I don’t like crowds, and Michigan is an incredible place to be in the summertime – I don’t want to leave! (Come visit – you’ll love it here.) I love to travel during the shoulder season, for many reasons, including less expensive rates on everything from events to accommodations. Plus, it’ll be less crowded – always a plus, in my book.

4. Make your reservations ahead of time

Heading to one of our gorgeous national parks? Get an annual pass to save money, especially if you are a senior (low rates for a lifetime pass). Reserve your camping space early, so you’re not scrambling to find one (or paying more money for a nearby hotel).
Go camping - and make your reservations ahead of time! From Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels

5. Smart packing

You’ve got a whole car – USE IT! Use a cooler and stock up at a grocery store for healthy snacks and occasional meals – this will save you a slew of money when you’re at a gas station and all the packaged food looks good because you’re hangry (ew). Picnic at rest areas, and roll out the sandwiches, fresh fruit, and snacks, and follow it up with some good chocolate or brownies you made at home (mine never last more than a day, let’s be honest). If you love Dijon while your husband loves whole grain mustard, pack both for your sandwiches. Make your own snacks and meals – road trip picnics are the best. You’ll also have room for gallons of water – just refill your stainless water bottles when you run out, and you’ll have fresh, chilled water on hand all the time.
You can also pack items you have at home, and won’t need to buy on the road, such as sunscreen, bug spray, band-aids, and balls and other games for playing at rest areas or at your destination. We love to play Frisbee at rest areas, to stretch, before we get back on the road.
That said, don’t load your car down with anything you think you might need. All that weight will cost you extra in gas money.
Fill your own water bottles. From Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels

6. Watch for wifi

We’ve all run over our data plan and been unpleasantly surprised (I blame instagram, because I can’t stop). Watch for wifi wherever you are, and turn off mobile data in between times. When you have internet access, spend a few minutes doing what you need to do, and then hop back on the road. This could include downloading fanfiction (our daughter), checking gasbuddy for prices (my husband), or posting some road trip photos (ahem, yours truly).
Look for free wifi. From Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels

7. Highway blues

I always get so mad when we’re driving through Chicago and pay full price at the toll booths, instead of half price with the ipass. If you’re going to be on toll roads quite a bit during your road trip, do some research and check out where you can use an ipass/E-ZPass, and pay before you go. PLUS, you’ll speed through the ipass lanes, and not have to wait to drop your coins, insert a fiver, or pay the attendant. 
Tolls cost money! From Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels
$5 to cross this bridge when leaving Chicago if you don't have an ipass. And THEN, there's another toll right away! 

8. Let’s talk coffee

This deserves a separate entry, because coffee’s important. I love stopping at coffeeshops and discovering new roasters! But instead of paying for a single pourover or crafted coffee at each place, I buy a bag of beans. I’ve already packed my coffee grinder, and a simple pourover sytem, as well as an aeropress. All you need is hot water, and that can be done with a small electric kettle, or a portable water heating system (campers, I’m looking at you). I get the great taste, explore the local coffee scene, and also have WAY MORE delicious coffee for the money.
buy coffee from local roasters on your travels! From Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels

9. Oh, that parking!

Coming from a medium-sized town, I’m amazed at parking charges in some big cities. Look online beforehand for low cost or free parking, if you need to stop and park for a bit. Choose hotels that offer free parking. If you’re pulling a camper or driving a RV, you can also look for free places to park overnight, if you’re nowhere near a campground (large stores often offer free overnight parking in their parking lots). 

10. Plan ahead

Look for the free – free concerts, free street or art fairs, and free days at museums and art institutes (if they are not free already). 
At our National Parks, your kids can get a Junior Ranger badge by participating in free activities and learning about the park, animals, and more. Check the website and plan your trips around those, if you are interested (we are!). 
Check fun travel sites like roadtrippers or Atlas Obscura for interesting, free things to discover. I’ll never forget finding about surfing in Montreal. Yep.
Find the free! Free outdoor theatre in Michigan. From Road Trip 101: Top Tips to Save Money on Your Travels
How do you save money on your road trip?