How to Save Money on Your Next Road Trip

by Amanda Finn
Follow these money-saving hacks and tips to ensure that your next road trip doesn’t stall out your bank account.

Summertime means sun, fun and vacation. While the first two can be free, vacations, in general, are expensive commodities. Especially with soaring gas prices, it’s more expensive than ever to get away from it all, but it doesn’t have to be.

A good old fashioned road trip is still a great way to get away without dropping a small fortune. Whether you’ve got a personal car that gets gas mileage in spades or you need to rent a car, road tripping your way across the country is a cost-effective way to see the sights.

Keep in mind that while driving is the longer option that there are other costs associated with hitting the road. For example: On long haul drives, you’ll either have to hunker down in your vehicle or rent a hotel room/Airbnb. (You might be able to snag some good last minute accommodation deals, but depending on how much you spend flying might be the best option for your traveling.)


Tune-up.

If you are set on taking your personal vehicle out on the open road, it’s in your best interest (and your car’s) to get a tune-up before you head out. Not only will a check-in alleviate some of the pressure on your car, but it also lessens the likelihood of a costly emergency repair while you’re in the middle of Nebraska.

Back in 2016, HuffPost referred to website founder Karen Hoxmeier of MyBargainBuddy.com in their piece on road trip savings tips. Maintenance, unsurprisingly, is at the top of their list.

“Improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by having your tires inflated to the proper pressure,” Hoxmeier advised. “Gas mileage can be improved by one to two percent by using the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil in your car.”

It’s also advised to watch the weight you’re putting into your car. Every 100 pounds of baggage in the trunk reduces a car’s fuel economy by one to two percent.

YourMechanic.com suggests that 500 miles should be the general threshold for driving over flying, but also advises that it isn’t a hard and fast rule. When it comes to five major US vacation destinations they have ruled the following as either DRIVE or FLY:

  • San Francisco to Los Angeles: DRIVE

    • Flying: 10 hours and $450+ (airfare and taxi)
    • Driving: 11 hours, 16 minutes and about $100
  • Washington, DC to New York City: TRAIN

    • Flying: 9 hours, 10 minutes and $590+ (airfare, taxi and checked bag)
    • Driving: 10 hours, 34 minutes and $250
    • Train: 8 hours, 13 minutes and $270
    • Bus: 14 hours, 47 minutes and $75
  • Atlanta to Disney World: DRIVE

    • Flying: 10 hours, 8 minutes and $579 (airfare and taxi)
    • Driving: 12 hours, 36 minutes and $120
  • Los Angeles to Las Vegas: DRIVE

    • Flying: 9 hours, 30 minutes and $466 (airfare and taxi)
    • Driving: 11 hours, 30 minutes and $168
  • San Francisco to New York City: FLY

    • Flying: 19 hours, 46 minutes and $830 (airfare and taxi)
    • Driving: 3 days, 11 hours and 50 minutes and $1500+

*Estimates made in 2016 through BeFrugal’s Fly or Drive Calculator assuming one checked bag per flight and driving a 2010 Honda Accord.

Prepare to save.

One way that road tripping can be a money saver is the opportunity to pack your own snacks and food. Without having to worry about airline baggage rules and regulations, you’re free to pack a cooler with anything and everything your heart desires. By packing snacks and even meals ahead of time you’ll save money over buying overpriced gas station snacks or loading up on McDonald’s off the highway.

Food prep is also a time saver according to Trip Savvy as you won’t be pulling over or searching for restaurants which distract from your travel.

Trip Savvy also recommends planning on going the speed limit or using your cruise control whenever possible. By remaining at a steady speed, you’ll maintain the ideal MPG rate while also avoiding speeding tickets.

“While it might sound like an annoyance, going the speed limit, or hovering around 65mph, will ensure your car stays efficient on gas for the duration of your trip,” Trip Savvy said. “… Speeding excessively or taking local roads that require you to stop constantly (or traveling during peak times) will have an impact on your gas tank.”

Another way to save time and money is to look into toll transponders. If you’re planning on going through a state with a lot of tollways a transponder can allow you to go right through the toll stops and usually save yourself some money (And sanity since you won’t be scrambling for change).

If you’ve got some time before you hit the road, Financially Fit and Fab suggests going through your driving route to scout some potential hotels. Depending on how long you have before your trip, it’s possible the hotels are offering early bird discounts. Some hotels also offer last minute discounts as well, but that option is a bit more risky as the hotels could be full when you need to book.

Should you decide to spend a bit of time at your stopover spots, Financially Fit and Fab also advises checking out some local guidebooks for free or discounted nearby activities.

“Purchase guidebooks and take advantage of free attractions,” Financially Fit and Fab suggests. “You can visit them free or at discounted prices, just do your research. There are many free attractions in the US such as museums, art galleries, parks, historic sites, and music festivals.”

Lastly, you’ll want to plan ahead when it comes to gas purchases.

Thanks to the magic of app technology there are a handful of apps to help you scour out the closest cheap gas before you head back out for another day or several hours of travel. Gas Buddy, Waze, and Gas Guru will be some of your best friends on a road trip. You may also want to buy gas in the morning when gas is denser as it gives you more fuel for your buck.

When it comes to road trips there are a lot of ways to save money, but most importantly you can personalize your adventure more than you can with air travel. From unlimited snacks, music, car karaoke, roadside attractions, and more, the Great American Road Trip is an institution well worth exploring.

To learn more saving money on travel-related expenses, check out these related posts and articles from OppLoans:

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