Road trips are a great way to see the area you want to explore. You see so much more than you planned on seeing if you just flew there! You may stumble upon places you never planned to visit that you fall in love with. This can also be a relatively cheap way to travel… if you know how to do it. Road trips can also QUICKLY add up if you aren’t careful. After driving across the country 12 times, here’s some advice I’ve collected along the way.
1. Free Camping
This one is a life saver!
On my most recent road trip, we spent about 2 weeks on the road. We calculated that we saved about $300 during that time because of free camping…. how crazy is that!
Another issue you might run into currently is even finding campgrounds, specifically in national parks. Right now, most campgrounds are first come, first serve. With the parks already being packed and people not knowing this amazing advice I’m about to give you, the campgrounds are FULL. You could easily have no other option than to use free camping options.
How I find free camping
This is truthfully where I find my best campsites. You can look around the area you are heading to find campsites and read the reviews. Okay but seriously READ THE REVIEWS! Don’t just go to some random spot, make sure someone claims this area is safe and make sure you have a car that can handle the roads. In Colorado, almost all the roads we accessed required high clearance and 4 wheel drive.
-The Dyrt app
A great place to filter for campsites anywhere from free or paid. This will have a few free sites but seems to be the most helpful in finding paid ones in your price range.
Also a great app for road tips in general! This can help you find free campsites, but also dump stations for RVs and places to get water.
Side note: free camping has its trade offs… be prepared. This is often referred to as “dry camping” because there are no amenities… no showers, no bathrooms, no water etc. Prepare yourself and bring enough water, toilet paper/wipes, and a shovel (💩).
ALSO! ALWAYS TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU ARE GOING! Send your family group message the coordinates of your campsites! You may not have cell phone service.
2. Meal Prep/cook Beforehand
This will be a time saver, mess saver, and a money saver.
Trust me, after a long day of driving or hiking or whatever you are doing, cooking dinner on your burner stove is going to be very unappealing. This is when people might opt for eating out and that can be a quick way to go over budget. If you plan before, you can use up anything left in your fridge or pantry.
Some prep ideas:
Quesadilla-you can completely cook these before hand and put them in your cooler to reheat or you can assemble it with cheese and then have a bag of already cooked protein with veggies to keep cold and add to later.
Burritos-same thing, cook it completely before or cook the ingredients you need to assemble it. Transfer from freezer to cooler and warm up when you want it, super easy. (These can be for dinner or make some yummy breakfast ones!)
Pancake mix- keep it in a baggie and then cut a corner for easy and mess free cooking. B 4 D anyone!!?
Overnight oats for breakfast
Chili- tons of recipes on Pinterest to suit whatever taste you want. Keep in cooler, easy heat up!
Protein and veggie kabobs- choose whatever you like, cook before hand, heat up at your campsite.
Heads up! There are so many great recipes you can make over fires, but you could easily be traveling during a fire ban. Pre cooking meals will truly be the best thing you ever did in this case.
If there is a fire ban…. don’t build a fire… don’t be a jerk
Finding decent gas prices is ESSENTIAL! I use the app Gas Buddy to find the cheapest gas in the area
4. Budget and Save
This one is obvious but it’s still necessary to a good trip. It’s very important to take the time to figure out how much you NEED (gas and food) and then how much you WANT (souvenirs, meals out, entrance to parks, etc.)
When I’m planning a trip, I make a goal of how much I want to save. I always add an extra couple hundred to what I calculate for incidentals or if something comes up I want to be able to do. I like to give myself 6 months to a year to save (the longer you have the less you have to put away monthly). I take the amount I want to save and divide that by how many months I have then I make a goal to put that amount away each month. If I have to take something out during that time because life happens, then I make a point to always return what I take out.
Sometimes putting the entire amount away each month is hard, specifically if you are a broke grad student like me. I’ll spend the whole month squirreling away enough to meet my monthly goal. I have little things I like to do to make this goal easier. For example, if I want to go out to eat but end up not, I’ll put that amount away in my savings. If I am about to go get Starbucks and I stop myself, that’s another few bucks I put away. If you look at my transaction history, you will seriously see random amounts anywhere from $3-$20 being transferred from my checking to my savings. If I get refunds for anything, I also try to put that in my savings.
Typically, I’ll start saving for my next trip the day I get back from my last. The longer you have, the easier it is! It’s really hard to come up with $1500 in a month…
If you want to do any sort of excursions, or don’t know what you want to do necessarily, check Groupon in your area! I have a friend who got a buy one get one free sky diving… Unfortunately, I didn’t find any on my most recent road trip, but it’s worth a try!
6. Farmers Markets
Not only will you be able to save some money on some bomb produce, but you will also be supporting local businesses! This is also a free activity for you to attend and can be just interesting to walk around and meet people. I use google and Facebook to try to find farmers markets and times.
Please reach out if you have any questions! I’d also love to hear how everyone else saves money on road trips!