20 Budget-Friendly Tips To Help You Save Money On Your Summer Road Trip

20 Budget-Friendly Tips To Help You Save Money On Your Summer Road Trip

Traveling has become expensive, even for the most frugal consumers; taking to the road and skies this summer will cost them more than what they bargained for.

While inflation has managed to cool from its peak last year in June, reaching an eye-watering 9.1%, most recent government data shows that inflation in May 2023 hovered around 4.0% - the lowest it’s been since March 2021.

Following a series of interest rate hikes initiated by the Federal Reserve, making borrowing more expensive for consumers and businesses, inflation figures still have a long way to go before falling to their desired-low 2% mark.

Despite inflation cooling slightly, other economic sectors are experiencing year-over-year price increases, including travel and leisure.

Domestic airfares rose by 14.1% between 2021 and 2022, bringing the average itinerary airfare up from $332 to $378. Costs have remained stubbornly high due to pent-up traveler demand, higher labor costs, and tight supply chains.

Thinking of driving? Well, you might be lucky to see average gasoline prices drop over the next few months. However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration expects retail gasoline prices to remain above $3.45 per gallon through August.

Auto repairs and services are now 23% more expensive, far outpacing the core inflation rate and surpassing government estimates.

With higher costs climbing deeper and deeper into consumers’ disposable income, budgeting for upcoming summer travels might become a harder - and more expensive - exercise than what many thought it would be.

If higher costs are scaring you off and leaving you with cold feet, but you’re still desperate to take that family vacation or road trip to a desired destination, read below how you can save on your upcoming summer road trip.

Plan. Plan. Plan.

The first and most necessary step to take is to plan. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply packing a bag, jumping in your car, and hitting the road. Unplanned holidays can be a costly endeavor, leaving you with minimal cash to spend once you’ve arrived at your destination.

Not only this, but on-the-day bookings at hotels, last-minute itinerary changes, and unforeseen expenses can also become a financial burden during your holiday. Make sure that you plan from the day you leave to the time you arrive at your destination and the things you want to see and do.

Make budgeting your friend

It’s time to get comfortable setting up a holiday budget. Yes, when we’re on holiday, we’re often overwhelmed with all the different things we can experience, but this often leads to overspending.

During your planning phase, budget appropriately, from gasoline to accommodation, food, and even a bit of extra cash in reserve for emergencies. The last thing you want to do is run out of money while being away from home or not being able to pay for experiences you wanted to enjoy.

Share costs

Whether you’re planning to travel with your family or maybe even by yourself, find ways to split the costs among each other. Dividing the costs between those coming along for the ride will have an equal share in paying for gasoline, accommodation, food, and other things.

Instead of taking the financial burden on yourself, talk with your partner to see how you can share costs among yourselves. Thinking of road-tripping alone? Get a friend to accompany you; that way, you can split the most expensive costs, leaving more money in your pocket to enjoy other things.

Look for deals online

During the summertime, everything becomes slightly more expensive, but luckily this is only for a short while. As you’re planning your itinerary and budget, search for deals online or on forums to see where you can save a bit of money on things like parking, accommodation, dining, or entry fees.

Oftentimes there are a host of different discount rates offered to students, veterans, and senior citizens. Doing some research will help you find affordable experiences that can fit your budget, and it might even lead you to find online-only deals that can save you an extra bit of cash.

Service your car before you leave

While it may be an additional expense, you might want to consider servicing your car in advance to avoid any possible breakdowns during your road trip. This would mean that you might need to pay for things such as oil changes or tire rotations, but at least you will be assured that your vehicle will get you where you want to be.

Not only this, but it also helps minimize unforeseen costs during and after your trip. If you have a service plan, double-check with your service provider to see whether they can help pay a portion of the service costs or assist with a payment plan.

Choose affordable attractions and destinations

There’s a lot to see and experience during your time on the road; however, if you’re road-tripping on a budget this summer, consider indulging in experiences that fit your budget. Instead of visiting a pricey theme park, see if there’s a nearby public park, or other similar attractions you can enjoy for cheaper.

Instead of traveling to expensive cities, where nearly everything becomes immediately overpriced, choose towns and villages that offer more original experiences for a lot less.

Pack non-perishable food

This might depend on your end destination, but if you’re planning to be on the road for several hours at a time, only stopping to rest now and again, you might want to bring along non-perishable food and snacks to help keep you fueled.

Additionally, if you plan to stay over in towns along the way, packing food that you can prepare at your accommodation (if allowed) will also help you save on costs instead of having to dine at restaurants or purchase takeaway meals.

Stock up on essentials beforehand

Another budget-friendly tip is to stock up on essential products such as non-perishable food, water, toiletries, and other items before you leave for your adventures. Bringing these items along minimizes the need to stop at a grocery store unless needed.

Buying these items beforehand helps you to be prepared for any unforeseen changes that might take place during the length of your trip. Not all destinations might have your favorite supermarket or grocery store, and smaller convenience stores are often more expensive along essential highways.

Cook meals at your accommodation

Plan your accommodation so that you can prepare most of your meals at the place where you will be staying. Make sure to double-check whether there are enough facilities to accommodate your dietary needs, such as a stove, fridge, eating utensils, crockery, etc.

Buying a few essential ingredients, either beforehand or at your destination, and preparing meals at home can save you a lot of money. During the itinerary planning, make sure to book accommodation where it’s possible to prepare your own food; this way, you’ll have more money left to spend on other experiences.

Pack pre-made meals

Another trick is to pack ready-made meals which you can bring from home. Bringing prepared meals along the first leg of the trip can help save you a bit of money, rather than having to stop for lunch or dinner during your travels.

Remember that some ingredients might need to stay cold, so it’s best to plan that you have a cooler box to transport these meals in. Other items might need to be consumed earlier than others, and you might need to warm up some dishes, so ensure you have all the necessary equipment.

Look for happy hour deals

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cold beverage or warm cooked meal at a local restaurant occasionally. If you find yourself in a town or city with multiple restaurant options, look around for places to offer happy hour deals and meal specials.

Look out for two-for-one meal deals or half-price drinks during happy hour, maybe you’ll even score a free dessert if it’s your birthday. A lot of restaurants cater to different occasions and often provide affordable meals and drinks, so be sure to look out for these specials.

Use disposable containers

We’ve talked about bringing ready-made meals and other prepared meals along with you. However, these containers tend to take up a lot of space in your car, especially when they’re not being used anymore.

To save on space, and a bit of cash, buy disposable paper or plastic containers that can be thrown out once you have reached your destination. Be environmentally conscious, shop for eco-friendly products, and only dispose of these containers in assigned bins where necessary.

Budget-friendly stays

There are several options to choose from when booking your accommodation. From Airbnb’s, camping, hostels, house share, house sitting, and even Couchsurfing, the options are nearly endless for budget travelers.

Booking budget-friendly stays can help reduce your most important expenses, and for younger travelers, it’s often easier to stay in hostels or even a house share. For families, Airbnb and camping could be a more affordable option, maybe even house sharing with other families.

When booking your accommodation, make sure that it has all the necessary arrangements you will need throughout your stay. Remember to consider the safety and security of the places you will be staying at, this way, you will have more peace of mind and ensure that your belongings will be safe during the night and at times when you’re out exploring.

Stay with friends and family

Perhaps you might want to plan your road trip in such a way that you can stay with friends or family along the way. This might not be part of your original plan, and you might need to reroute your overall road trip, but this is another great way to save on lodging costs.

There’s a good chance someone in your close family knows of someone else that lives along the route you’re looking to take or even at the destination, you’re going to. Make the most of the available resources you have before acquiring more or having to book additional accommodation.

Become one of the locals

Wherever it is you might be looking to go this summer, a good way to get the most out of any experience and stretch your dollars even further is to become one of the locals. This is more figurative than literal.

Ask around town what are some of the best places to visit that are not flooded with tourists or charge exuberant entry fees. Maybe ask your server at a restaurant, or even the local attendant at the store, for advice on where to go if you want a more authentic experience.

Try to engage with other locals, or maybe read up on local forums, tourist information websites, and a few social media groups to get an idea of where the locals go to hangout or eat without having to spend a lot of money.

Comparison shop

We often use comparison shopping when we want to make a big purchase. Simply put, comparison shopping is looking for the same product or service at different stores or providers to find one that is the most budget-friendly or within your expense margin.

The same can be done for your holiday. Comparing the cost of different itinerary items such as lodging, meals, experiences, and even gasoline prices will help you plan around a budget that works for you and your family.

Compare the cost of major expenses such as hotels and Airbnb; which one might be more affordable? Will cooking for four people be cheaper than getting takeout, or is it better to buy two or three large pizzas? There are many different things you could do to help compare the price and cost of something to help you choose one that is more suited for your budget.

Have a packing list

Once you begin to reach the start of your road trip, create a packing list that will help you determine the different items you might need to bring along, and thighs you can leave at home.

Having a packing list not only helps you plan better, but it ensures that all essential items are brought along, and nothing important is left behind. This is especially important regarding things like first aid kits, warm clothing, walking shoes, water, and other essentials you might need during your trip.

Packing lists are not only for helping to organize your trip better, but it also makes it easier to pack the things you will use and need, and avoid unnecessary luggage that will make your car heavier. The more you pack, the heavier your car, the more you’re likely to spend on gasoline along the road. Packing light is always a better option for long-haul road trips.

Borrow and rent equipment

Depending on your itinerary, and what you might be needing, there’s a good chance that you could end up borrowing or perhaps even renting some equipment instead of having to purchase new ones.

There is bound to be someone that has a spare set of what you might need, whether it’s a cooler box, a picnic basket, or perhaps even a tent, or camping chairs. Not only is it more affordable to borrow what you need, and can return at a later stage, but it’s also more environmentally friendly, minimizing the need to buy new things.

Download roadside apps

One of the ways you can prepare yourself is to download a roadside assistance app on your smartphone. Nowadays, insurance providers and other roadside assistance companies all have their own app, which allows for quick and efficient contact.

With these applications, you can be assured that your insurance company is aware of your movement and your whereabouts. A lot of the time it’s also safer this way, especially if you’re traveling to destinations which you have never been to before.

Make sure whether or not it’s necessary to inform your insurance company about your road trip, and whether they might have any safety tips for you and your family during the length of your trip.

Avoid unnecessary expenses

Throughout your trip, avoid spending money on things that won’t necessarily contribute to your experience. Think of things that you might end up spending money on that don’t add direct value to your road trip.

There are many things we tend to spend money on during our holidays, only to realize later they weren’t as valuable or authentic as we might have thought.

The best way to avoid spending money on unnecessary experiences is to have a budget and stick to it as much as possible. This is why it’s important to plan so that you know what you need to budget for and how much money is needed for everything.

Remember to have fun

As much as you’re trying to be more money conscious, remember to enjoy your holiday. Yes, it’s important to have an itinerary, a budget, and a packing checklist, but often we can get so caught up in all of the planning that we forget to have fun.

Make a note of it, and encourage your family to enjoy the experiences as much as possible. The best possible way to do this is to ensure that you’re always present in the moment. While it’s good to be aware of your expenses during a road trip, especially now, don’t let money and tight finances get between you and your family’s way of having an incredible summer experience.