How to Save Money on Road Trips

A picture of vehicles on a highway.
How do you save money on road trips? Plan ahead and choose the best deals.

We live in the age of easy, simple travel. Only a few hundred years ago most people never traveled more than 25 miles from their homes. But in the 21st century more than a third of the world’s population commutes to work or school, drives across large cities to shop, and travels hundred or thousands of miles for business, vacation, and when relocating. Most of us travel by road.

When you are traveling several states away you are venturing into unknown territory.  You don’t know where the traffic slows down, how much the gas is, or where the best hotel rooms are.  And if you are like me you probably depend a little too much on your smart phone to tell you at the last minute where you can stop for gas or stay the night.  I think there are better ways to travel by road and on some trips I do the following to keep my expenses down.

Tip No. 1: Map the Route in Advance

It is too easy to assume you are going to travel by Interstate highway all the way.  You should look at each state’s travel advisory Website to see where all the construction projects are.  You may be heading for trouble and only a slight detour might save you time and gas.

You should also spend some time looking for good places to stop for gas.  If you buy gas at a shopping club like Sam’s or Costco you’ll want to know where they are along the way.  You may have to drive into town once in a while to get gas.  See if you can plan these stops so you take care of other business, too.

Tip No. 2: Compare Gas Prices in Advance

If you have to trust to potluck for gas then at least use GasBuddy to find out where the best gas prices are along your route.  You don’t want to pay highway prices if you don’t have to.

Of course if you see really low prices at convenience stores you have never heard of you should look for their company Websites and see if these are high end chains or just locally owned stores.

There is nothing wrong with a locally owned store but the chains often have higher standards of cleanliness that make their stores more appealing to the general public.

Tip No. 3: Reserve Hotel Rooms in Advance

The smart phone has spoiled us.  We can search for nearby hotels with almost no problem and Google shows them to us on the map.  But how much more will you pay for a bad room if you just take whatever is available?

I like to reserve my rooms in advance when I travel by road.  If I think I am going to be late I call my hotel and ask them to extend the guarantee.  I have never had a hotel refuse to do that.

Tip No. 4: Use Rest Areas for Walking Breaks

This may not seem like a money-saving tip but if you stop somewhere in the middle of a traffic jam because you have been sitting too long you may have trouble getting off and back onto the highway.

I believe in taking regular breaks while driving across country.  I try to stop for a few minutes every hour.  I plan my stops in advance as much as possible.  This way I know I won’t have much trouble getting off of and back onto the highway.  The more time and gas you waste scooting around an unknown town the more money you waste.

Tip No. 5: Take Some Food With You

A lot of people do this but they don’t think about using the picnic areas at some of the public rest stops.  If you know you can time a lunch stop at a rest area with picnic tables, why not?  You can also plan to stop at state and national parks that allow picnics, too.

The idea is to take control of your time, your budget, and your diet while you are on the road.  You know how good your own cooking is.  Why trust your life to some random restaurant you have never eaten at before?

Now you may think, “But I’m driving through a nice town and I want to try some of their restaurants.”  Okay, that’s fine.  It won’t save you money but if you want to be a restaurant tourist then that is completely understandable.  Just do it by intent, not by accident.

Tip No. 6: Check out the Travel Tip Sites

There are Websites like Consumer Travel Tips that help you save time, money, and inconvenience while you are traveling.  You should bookmark these sites and use them to check out the latest ideas for making your travel that much easier.

Another good site to check out is The Time Management Plans Blog, which is loaded with all sorts of tips for saving time in your schedule, including while you travel.