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Are you going on a road trip soon but have a small budget? Driving can be significantly cheaper than flying and there are other ways to keep travel costs low. There are several frugal ideas to help you save money on a road trip this year. Here are a few ways to save money on a road trip.

save money road trip
Save money on a road trip by using rewards and planning ahead. Credit: Lincoln

Know How You Can Budget For A Road Trip

The secret to saving money when traveling is making a travel budget. Setting initial spending limits helps you know your limits so you can look for the right deals. Planning ahead at least several weeks before you leave can help you save money as you don’t overlook common road trip expenses.

It can also help you better structure your trip. For instance, if you know that you will definitely want to visit a tourist attraction, you can see if they have discounts for buying ahead of time or online. They may even offer discounts if you use an app.

If you are using a rental car, your credit card might come with primary insurance, such as the Chase Sapphire rental car benefits. Knowing this beforehand might save you some money.

Set Daily Spending Limits

Maybe you set aside a certain percentage of each paycheck to pay for your vacations and road trips. Having a total spending limit makes it easier to determine how luxurious of a trip you can have. In the past, your travel budget may have helped you decide whether to fly in a premium class or basic economy class.

A daily road trip spending limit lets you plan each day of your trip so you don’t run out of money before you come home. It may also be so that you have enough money to go on a follow-up trip sooner instead of later.

You may also need to budget for if you get sick while traveling or if you have to quarantine. Having extra money for any unexpected bumps is a good idea during this time.

Make a Packing List

You should bring as many snacks, drinks, and other road trip essentials from home. Buying meal supplies, snacks, and drinks from the grocery store cost a fraction of what a restaurant or gas stations charge.

Planning your packing list at least two weeks before you leave prevents you from forgetting a key item like toothpaste or a phone charger. Making a list might seem boring, but it’s an effective tip for how to save money on a road trip.

You also have time to make last-minute online purchases. Amazon and other retailers are not promising two-day shipping on orders during this time or they are charging more to ensure a quick delivery.

Related: Best credit cards for grocery purchases

Plan Your Route

You most likely already know where you’re going but may need to finalize your stops and potential activities. Knowing where you want to go is vital to know how to save money on a road trip.

Gas is one of your biggest road trip expenses (use a gas credit card to earn more rewards for your purchases). Plugging your planned route and travel vehicle into the GasBuddy Trip Calculator projects your total gasoline costs. You can also determine which cities you will stop in and your total drive time.

In addition to estimating your gas costs, making a travel plan should factor these costs too:

  • Lodging: Hotels, vacation rentals, campsites, etc.
  • Food: Meals while driving and meals while sightseeing
  • Activities: Sightseeing, equipment rentals, tours, and entertainment experiences

You might also set aside some cash for souvenirs or other spontaneous purchases.

Compare Prices and Book in Advance

Comparison shopping whenever possible helps you find the best value. You might use a travel booking portals or manually visit each website. The best rewards portals can help you get more value out of your travels.

Joining mailing lists can also help you secure discount codes and limited-time deals. As it can take several days or weeks to find a discount, try getting on the list or joining a loyalty club several months before your road trip.

Also, look for tourist bundles like CityPASS to get special discounts.

Advance reservations can help you save money as you can get “early bird discounts.” Regarding vacation rentals, booking in advance means you have more places to compare. Waiting until the last minute means you’re subject to be stuck with the priciest properties or least privacy.

Due to social distancing, many places like theme parks and national parks require you to buy online tickets. As you must book in advance, trying to save a few bucks in the process can be easier than you think.

Redeem Travel Points

Redeeming travel rewards points for travel statement credits or cash statement credits is an effortless way to save money on a road trip. Using hotel night certificates and hotel points for award nights means you might pay $0 for lodging.

In addition to using points for this road trip, you should use a rewards credit card to earn bonus points on your travel, dining, and gas station purchases. You can also keep it simple by using the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card that earns 2 miles per $1 on all purchases that you can redeem for travel statement credits once you get home.

You may even use your airline credit cards for hotel booking perks. Your travel credit card may come with other benefits that you may not be aware of. Additionally, some credit cards have added bonuses to help cardholders during the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Best Credit Card Rewards For Road Trips

Use Travel Apps

There are lots of low-cost or free travel apps that can help you find travel deals to save money and time.

For instance, the GasBuddy mobile app helps you find the cheapest gas prices along your route. The price per gallon can easily differ by 20 or 30 cents within a short distance. For instance, you might fill up right outside a major city as gas prices tend to be higher in downtown areas. Gas prices at state lines can be considerably different too.

AAA members and other car insurance apps might show you exclusive discounts at tourist landmarks and hotels across the United States.

Navigation apps can monitor your route for speed traps, accidents, and construction zones. The app may recommend an alternate route so you can still reach your planned destination in a decent time.

Also, don’t forget to consider using streaming apps on your phone. You might be able to get special discounts if you’re a loyal customer. Some credit cards are also waiving streaming fees or offering subscription credits.

Chase Offers
Chase Offers give you one-time statement credits and help you save money on road trips. Credit: Chase

Your credit card app may offer one-time offers.

Related: Best Credit Cards for Everyday Spending

Inspect Your Vehicle for Trouble Spots

Taking a few minutes to check your vehicle’s fluid levels and performing preventative maintenance can give you peace of mind. You’re also less likely to need roadside assistance or get stranded and pay for emergency repairs and lodging.

Also, consider bringing a roadside safety kit and other basic tools that can prevent you from calling a mechanic if something like a flat tire happens.

Related: Car Insurance Guides and Resources

Summary

Choosing to road trip cheaply doesn’t mean you won’t have an epic road trip. Getting the best deals means you might be able to do more things and also worry less about overspending. You also have extra cash in case you decide to make an unplanned splurge or have a head start for planning your next road trip.

FAQs

How much cash should I bring on a road trip?

Even if you plan on using a credit card for every travel purchase, it’s a good idea to always bring at least $100 in cash. You might bring more if you’re going to a remote area with limited ATM access or lots of small businesses that don’t accept credit card or debit card payments.

Make sure to notify your bank of your travel plans. A travel notification prevents an unnecessary freeze on your credit card that forces you to pay with cash.

You may decide to keep some of your cash in a hidden yet safe place like a money belt or suitcase. In case you lose your wallet, you at least have some cash to buy essentials.

How can I travel cheaply?

It can be easier to go on a cheap road trip than you think. Here are several ways to budget for a road trip:

  • Make a packing list to avoid on-the-road purchases
  • Compare prices before leaving and make advance reservations
  • Redeem credit card points and hotel points to book award travel
  • Use the GasBuddy app to find the cheapest gas prices
  • Prepare your own meals instead of visiting restaurants when possible

Is it cheaper to rent an RV or stay in a hotel?

If you don’t have hotel points or travel points to redeem for award hotel nights, you must pay cash for RV rentals or hotel stays.

It’s possible that hotel nights are cheaper as renting an RV can have several hidden costs:

  • Credit card car insurance doesn’t cover RV rentals (you must buy RV rental insurance)
  • RVs get worse gas mileage than cars
  • Campsites cost money to stay at
  • You may need to buy propane to cook meals in an RV
  • RV rentals might have a daily charge

Staying at budget hotels in safe neighborhoods can cost less than renting an RV. Of course, renting an RV gives you more privacy as you have a self-contained unit for sleeping, bathing, and preparing meals. This additional peace of mind during the pandemic can be worth any potential extra costs to avoid common areas like breakfast rooms. Check RV rental services like RVshare to compare prices and determine what is best for your needs.

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Josh Patoka
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