If you plan it right, you can have just as much fun on a cheap road trip as an expensive luxury vacation. The best part of a road trip will be the memories from the great experiences you have, so it doesn’t matter how much a trip costs!
Do car maintenance before you go. It’ll be a lot cheaper (and faster) to change your oil and check your tire pressure, brakes, and coolant before you leave, when you can shop around and get the best price. If you have a problem in the middle of Nevada, the nearest repair shop could be an hour or more away, and crazy expensive if they’re the only shop around. Speaking of tire pressure, check your car manual for the suggested PSI; if they’re under- or over-inflated, you’ll waste gas.
If you want to do a road trip on a tiny budget, forget about hotels. WAY too expensive. Camping is cheap, but make sure you reserve your space at a campground ahead of time, and schedule your pit stops accordingly. Stay with friends along the way, or try couchsurfing.com to stay at strangers’ homes for free (make sure you screen them first).
If you really must stay in a hotel, it’s typically cheaper to check out prices online and reserve a room before you go. Avoid traveling during holidays, when rooms will be pricier. Occasionally hotels will offer slashed rates to fill up rooms last minute, but it’s risky. Hotel Tonight is a mobile app that offers same-day bookings, often up to 70 percent off at luxury hotels. You could try reserving a room beforehand, then check rates as you get closer – if you find a cheaper rate, cancel your initial reservation and book the lower one (do your research to make sure the first booking is refundable. Often the lowest-fare rooms are nonrefundable).
Bring your own food
If you like a good ol’ PB&J, you’ll be totally set. Make several beforehand, and bring along the jars in case you need more. Some other great easy foods are granola bars, trail mix, apples and bananas, cereal, and ramen noodles at the campground. Be sure to pack these beforehand – a small bag of peanuts can cost you triple at the gas station. Pack a cooler for perishable foods, and you can grab ice as needed when you fill up for gas.
Bring your own water
…and NOT bottled. Take your own water bottle, and fill it up with water at the gas stations or rest stops. Free!
Travel in packs
Invite as many friends along as will fit comfortably in your car, and share the cost of gas.
Choose a destination with free attractions
Road trips to NYC or LA are going to be more expensive than say, Moab, Utah or Yellowstone National Park. If you’re on a tight budget, you’ll probably want to steer clear of big cities, and stick to places with beautiful scenery and fun outdoor activities.
Drive at a steady speed
60 mph is the optimal speed for good gas mileage (http://www.mpgforspeed.com), so go as close to it as you can. Accelerating quickly and slamming on the brakes a lot will increase your car’s gas consumption, so try to keep it at a steady speed as much as possible. Plus, a speeding ticket can pretty easily ruin a cheap road trip.
Skip the souvenirs
All that thimble or snow globe will do is sit on a shelf or in a drawer, never again to be looked at until you sell it at your garage sale. Pictures will serve as better memorabilia, so make sure to bring your camera. If you have to get something for a friend, send them a postcard – they’re cheap, and who doesn’t get excited to receive something in the mail?