Jumping in the car and hitting the open road can be exciting. In my early 20s I never appreciated road trips. I attribute it to the yearly drive my parents and I took from Iowa to Florida to visit my grandparents when I was growing up. I thought it was pure torture, and we didn't have the portable DVD players or electronic games to play back then so we really had to figure out how to entertain ourselves. Nor did I have the appreciation for nature, quirky stops, or my dad's music choices at that age.
Now I'm in my early 30s and I'm gearing up to take a road trip to South Dakota in just a few weeks and I couldn't be more excited. We're going to check out the badlands, wind cave national park, mount rushmore, and so much more, but most importantly, south dakota will be my 30th state visited, bringing me that much closer to my goal of visiting all 50 states before I turn 40!
so as i plan for this upcoming road trip i keep thinking of the best ways to save money. there's still lots of traveling left for me to do and last i checked my money tree wasn't growing in the backyard, so i want to be aware of my spend and still have a great trip.
in my effort to see this beautiful country i've compiled a list of 5 purchases and tricks that i've used to save money during road trips in the past, and i'm going to share them with you so you can make your next road trip the best it can be, and save a little money as well (win-win!):
NOTE: this post contains affiliate links. if you order from these links than i will receive a portion of the sales that i'll use to travel more, test travel products for you, and maybe have the occasional glass of wine after a long flight.
1. bring your own snacks (and eat at grocery stores instead of restaurants)
your favorite snacks cost so much less when you buy them at a grocery store instead of a gas station. plus, you're more likely to make healthier snack decisions when you shop on amazon or at the grocery store before you leave, as opposed to when you're standing at a gas station looking between the candy and chip aisles.
in addition, if you're out on the road and you have the opportunity - pick the grocery store to eat at over the restaurant. grocery stores are actually held to higher standards than restaurants because they not only sell food, but they serve food, so typically you're getting freshly made food; bonus if the grocery store has a restaurant in it! in addition, the cost of meal will be cheaper, which will save you lots of money if you're traveling with kiddos.
some of my favorite snacks to stock up on for the car include:
2. buy a case of bottled water before you hit the road
we've all bought water at a gas station. at best, you can maybe get a 2 for 1 deal for around $2. that has literally been the cheapest I've seen water for sale in my travels. and when you're flying you don't have much of a choice, but when you're traveling you definitely have a choice - buy a case of water! for around $15 you can get this 24 pack of water, which is less than $1 per bottle.
in addition, you can carry a reusable water bottle with you when you travel. it may be hard to find a place to fill it on the road (which is where that case of water comes in handy!), but when you get to your destination and are traveling around it's perfect to have a reusable water bottle you can fill in your hotel or restaurants. plus the reusable water bottle won't sweat through into your purse or backpack like a disposable water bottle might.
3. sign up for hotel reward programs + book using hotels.com (or reserve an air bnb)
alright I'm not being compensated for this plug in any way, shape or form - use hotels.com. for real. here are the three reasons that I will swear by them:
a. they'll price match. and it's easy. if you find a lower rate on any other website for the same hotel and dates then all you have to do is screenshot it, fill out a quick form, attach the picture of the lower rate, and boom. your rate is reduced to match.
b. after 10 nights worth of stays you get a free hotel room. it's really that easy. hotels.com will average the amount of money you spent on your 10 nights to give you the value of your free night, so it's a fair calculation based on your usage. you simply have to pay the hotel fee, and to give you a frame of reference we used a free hotel night a few months ago in Chicago and our cost was $8.24.
c. hilton, marriott, the five seasons, motel 6, etc. - they all offer hotel programs. and you should sign up. it's free and you'll start earning points, which will eventually add up to free, upgraded or discounted rooms. and when you book your hotel using hotels.com you can find the hotel you want, book, and you can still earn your points. this of course doesn't apply to independent or small boutique hotels, but it's free to start earning points and before you know it you may have enough for a free night at a hilton and you didn't even have to do anything special to earn it!
4. book a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast
if you find an affordable hotel you like and it offers complimentary breakfast, you probably don't even realize how much money or time you're saving.
when we went to Fort Collins, Colorado over Labor Day weekend last week we knew we wanted to get an early start to getting over to Rocky Mountain national park and hiking, but we also knew how important it was for us to eat breakfast in order to have the energy to hike. since our hotel offered complimentary breakfast we were able to make a quick stop in the lobby, eat a healthy breakfast, and be on our way 20 minutes later. finding a place to eat could have taken 20 minutes, let alone going through the entire process of being served, cooking our food and getting the check. so we not only saved ourselves money, but also loads of time.
5. visit a mechanic for a tuneup before you leave
i was definitely guilty of not doing this before back when i was younger and didn't know any better, but it's never a bad idea to get your car in good shape before heading out on a roadtrip. sure, your car may be just fine for your in town driving, but if you're going to hit the open road (which will undoubtedly lead you to long stretches of highway with not much to stop at), then spend the small amount of money to get a tune up before you leave, and potentially save yourself hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars between a breakdown, a tow, the cost to fix whatever is wrong, and your time.
i hope you'll find these tips for saving money on your next roadtrip helpful, and if you have your own tips to save money, i'd love to hear them!
are you going on a roadtrip soon? pin these tips so you have them handy as you plan!