4 Summer Budget Friendly Road Trip Tips

Today I am fortunate enough to bring you a great post emphasizing how frugality and living the good life can go hand in hand. Today’s post is also from Trisha who has been a guest poster on this site numerous times in the past. Check out more of her work via her site, thatdangvegan.com, or via her twitter @thatdangvegan.

Enjoy the post!

4 Summer Budget Friendly Road Trip Tips

My boyfriend and I just took a trip from Idaho (where we live) through Oregon, Nevada, and California. We stayed in Nevada for a week, visited San Francisco, checked out the redwoods, dined out in Reno, and celebrated my birthday. We stuck to a budget of $300 for the entire week. Want to know how we did it? Here are my tips for not overspending on summer road trips this season.

Do a Car Check Before You Leave

I know that your parents always nagged you about getting your car checked out before you leave for a road trip, mine did too. When I was younger it always seemed like a waste of time and money, but actually it’s quite the opposite. Getting your oil changed, fluids topped off, and tire pressure checked is not only safe, but much more cost effective than having an emergency on the road. Even if you really don’t want to get your oil changed or you just did it, I highly recommend at least checking your tire pressure yourself. Having a tire blowout is scary and expensive to replace, especially when you’re on vacation. Not to mention, when you’re on the highway, a tire blowout can mean much more damage to your car than just your tires. Furthermore, correct tire pressure allows for optimal fuel efficiency. So, you just might save a few dollars that way as well. Do yourself a favor, get your car checked!

Choose a Budget Friendly Hotel

If you’re simply getting antsy and want to get out of the house for the weekend, check with friends or relatives that live nearby. When we want to get away, we stay with his family who lives just a state away, in Nevada. From there, we can take a car to California and visit tons of awesome places. On our trip to San Francisco, we stayed with some friends for a night and came back to Reno before coming back home. For the entire week long trip, we only paid for food, gas, and shopping.

Of course, not all of us have friends and family we can stay with when we take a summer trip. Instead, do some serious deal hunting and find hotels that offer discounts. You’re more likely to get a better deal if you stay during the week. So, if your schedule will allow it, try to take a trip Monday through Thursday. Time to start saving up that paid time off!

You can also check out sites that offer discounts if you book in advance or with hotels that are trying to build in popularity. Sites like Groupon are great for finding a great deal in both ways. I know that many summer trips are spur of the moment, but if you can book even a month or two in advance, you’ll probably be able to save some dough.

Set a Budget and Stick to It

Summer trips are the optimal time for, “Why not? I’m on vacation!”, which isn’t always a bad thing, but you should still have a budget in mind. If you’re able to start planning a month or so in advance, try and set aside some money from each paycheck that is just “fun money.” That way when you come across something in a shop that you “just have to have” you won’t have to charge it to your credit card. You’ll be able to sleep better at night knowing that you didn’t just spend money that you really don’t have.

Aside from “fun money”, It’s a good idea to sit down, by yourself or with your travelling party, and add up all the costs associated with the trip. It’s likely that you’ll think of a fee or cost that you probably would have forgotten about until it was too late. Taxis, parking, gas, and tolls — all of these things add up, especially if you’re travelling through a big city. Having them all written down on a sheet of paper will help you organize who needs to pay for what. A little organization always helps me feel less overwhelmed by the big picture.

My boyfriend’s family often gives us gas cards and Costco gift cards as little extras in our gifts. We like to save these all year and use them on our trips. During our entire week long trip, we only had to pay for gas once. We also use the Costco cards to stock up on snacks and other things that might take away from our budget while we’re travelling.

Set Up an Emergency Fund

My boyfriend came up with this idea and it’s completely genius. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it. When we were on our trip we made sure to have money set aside for hotel, shopping, food, and even a little extra. Of course, we also have money in our savings account, that we didn’t plan on touching. So, aside from all of that he came up with an emergency fund of $200 just in case we really got ourselves into a pickle. That way, if the car breaks down or we are stranded and have to find a hotel for a night due to bad weather, we can dip into the emergency fund — not our vacation money or savings account.

You might not be able to do this if you’re planning on taking a trip in the next couple of months, but save for next year! Put $5, $10, or $20 in your emergency fund whenever you can. By next summer you’ll have a nice little savings that you can use only if you really need it. If you skip your trip that year, you can either save it another year or just put it into your savings. Win-win!

Creating the perfect road trip budget simply takes time, patience, and planning. If you plan a little bit in advance and save throughout the year, you’ll be able to take the summer road trip of your dreams without too many hassles or hiccups.

What summer road trip tips do you have to share? I’d love to hear them! – Trisha

6 comments… add one
  • Mrs. Adventure Rich Jun 29, 2017, 6:42 am

    Great tips! I would also add “stock up on portable snacks/food”! We often find that road trips where we stop for meals and snacks get very expensive very quickly. But with a little planning, you could have a small cooler packed with cold drinks and other perishables, trail mix/granola bars, some PB&J sandwiches and any other food you may need. It also helps to keep us on the road (vs trying to stop at meal times or whenever someone is hungry).

  • Mrs. Picky Pincher Jun 29, 2017, 8:10 am

    When it comes to summer road trips, I prefer to pack groceries and make my own meals on the road. I like whipping up sandwiches or cold noodles to eat at rest stops. It saves a lot of money and I don’t feel as gross from eating fast food.

  • Frugal Mainer Jun 29, 2017, 10:21 am

    One other tip I would add in addition to pack some (if not all) food, that I have always used is to budget not what I think my expenses will be, but to determine in advance what I am willing to spend, then stick to it. For example, I budget “x” amount for various meals had in restaurants while on the road. That way when deciding where to go to eat or when I look at the menu I know how much I have allocated for each meal. Same with shopping and essentials (including even little items like coffee, etc) that we all know we do buy while traveling… I have learned not to pretend I don’t do or get certain things — but budgeting carefully for them allows me to make a trip without major surprises or oops at the end.

  • Ryan @ JustAnotherDollar Jun 29, 2017, 12:46 pm

    Great advice! We used several of these in May when we took a much needed post-tax-season trip to Glenwood Springs, CO. We usually try to avoid the most popular seasons when travelling, and probably saved close to half the total cost of the trip by visiting in “mud season”, even though the weather was great! Our AirBnB cabin was about half the peak rate and many of the attractions in town offered discounts and weren’t overcrowded.

  • Lance @ My Strategic Dollar Jul 6, 2017, 7:38 am

    The only thing I would add is pack food! When I don’t pack food I spend so much more on roadtrips.

  • Joe @ Average Joe Finance Jul 12, 2017, 7:29 pm

    Completely agree with sticking to a budget. Thinking that vacation is a license to overspend is way so many people can’t afford to go on vacation. If you look at people who go on frequent trips or trips across the world, they travel modestly. They live like the locals do. You can still have fun on vacation but you don’t have to do very experience there is to offer.

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