Are you are seeking adventure, opportunity and new discoveries? If so, buckle up! All of that awaits you out on the open road! Learn how you can plan a fantastic, cheap road trip that will have you cruising the highways by summertime!
How to Take a Cheap Road Trip – Plan Your Adventure Now!
It’s about the planning, the vehicle, and for sure…where you plan to sleep! If we can figure these things out, we can travel for CHEAP! Let’s disect it, solve it, and have some fun on the journey. Good luck!
Plan Your Cheap Road Trip Route
The first step in any adventure planning is simply deciding on a destination.
Whether you decide to…
- trek across the country,
- roam the coast, or
- take a weekend sprint across the state…
…it’s important to know how many miles you plan to cover and what general direction you are headed.
Budgeting for these miles will give you a pretty good feel for how much you need to save up before hitting that asphalt. (Of course, you will need to figure out the average fuel mileage on your car as well, but we will talk about choosing the right vehicle in a minute.)
A good idea is to tack on about 300 to 500 extra miles into that budget because you just never know where adventure may lead. Sometimes you run into detours, get lost or decide to take the scenic route. One of the best apps for mapping out your projected route has got to be Roadtrippers. This app shows you all the awesome attractions and offbeat areas along your route you may otherwise have missed.
Check it out and get started with your road trip route planning today!
Related: How to Save Money for Travel
Decide On Your Set of Wheels
Next, you will need to decide on what kind of vehicle you are taking. If you take a car or small SUV, you will definitely save on fuel costs, however you may need to do some extra planning for places to sleep outside of your car.
If you decide to go with a larger SUV or van, its pretty easy to camp out in your vehicle. However, there are plenty of people who’ve decided to turn their station wagons and sedans into mini-campers. So it can absolutely be done! You just have to decide on your preferred level of comfort from the start. For inspiration on how to set up your car camper, check out these awesome ideas!
I prefer to rent a vehicle (make sure it includes unlimited miles!) and convert it into a temporary camper.
Depending on how long you plan to go, you can often get discounts for longer term rentals. Of course, this means you can’t build your set up, but you can still customize a temporary option.
For example, not many car seats lay perfectly flat when folded down, so in order to make my rented minivan work, we got a large piece plywood cut down to size and used that as the foundation for the bedding. Throw some memory foam down or a portable air mattress, and you’ve got a sweet little set up for a cheap road trip travel vehicle!
It may seem counter-intuitive to rent a vehicle when you are trying to plan a cheap road trip, but if you don’t already own a reliable or an easily converted vehicle, it can save you a lot of money in the long run.
Let’s just say the rental costs you a total of $40-$60 a night (usually you can get these rates on a long term rental), you’ve just covered the cost of lodging for less than half the rate of an Airbnb or hotel. With apps like RV Parky you can scope out places that are approved for overnight parking and feel safe knowing you won’t get asked to leave in the middle of the night.
Of course, you likely can’t beat the cost of staying at a campground, so if packing a tent is more up your alley, you will definitely be able to make your road trip even cheaper to the tune of about $10 a night.
Maybe Car or Tent Camping Just Isn’t Your Thing. Don’t Despair!
Airbnb can still be an affordable option if you are willing to share areas of a home. Many hosts rent out a single room – some even offer a master suite with a bathroom – to the tune of $50-$60 a night. Just be sure to do research on average costs per area. Rental costs in southern Virginia can vary drastically from costs in Northern California.
The one downside to having to rent rooms is that it requires more advanced scheduling and doesn’t quite allow you to fly by the seat of your pants! However, if you prefer a more scheduled approach, then this could be the best option for you.
Finally, maybe you are lucky enough to have friends local to the areas you are visiting. If not, check out couchsurfing, which is pretty much like it sounds. Find hosts who are willing to let you crash on their couch each night. This approach – while probably better suited for adventurous souls – will help you keep your cheap road trip on budget.
Adjust Your Meals
While lodging and fuel are definitely at the top of your road trip costs, the cost of food can add up very quickly!
- For foodies and food bloggers, this may be a worthwhile expense.
- It may even be considered a write-off for some.
- For the rest of us who just want to explore for as low a cost as possible, this expense is one we can work down pretty effectively.
Breakfast can be cheap and easy with foods like …
- apples and bananas,
- granola or protein bars,
- trail mix, nuts & seeds,
- jerky, etc.
These foods don’t need to be refrigerated and are pretty filling. You can also eat similar things for lunch and eat out for dinner, assuming you don’t have a car camper set up to cook.
Or, flip it around and enjoy a hearty breakfast and plan on snack foods for the rest of the day. If you practice intermittent fasting, you already have built in savings!
Don’t forget to download apps for some of your favorite fast food chains. You can usually find discounts or accrue points toward a free meal if you purchase enough. If you still would rather enjoy the local cuisine, just be sure to budget for it ahead of time!
Expect the Unexpected On Your Road Trip
As you probably know by now, things rarely go according to plan.
Since you want to keep it a safe and cheap road trip, you should always be prepared for…
- a flat tire,
- a mechanical failure,
- an injury,
- and possible theft,
…to name a few possibilities.
Keep it cheap and fun by making sure that…
- all your (health/car) insurance is up to date,
- you have a spare and/or replacement tire & Triple A,
- a first aid kit has been packed,
- you have an emergency fund, and
- that you share your location with a family member each night.
Planning a cheap road trip is almost as much fun as the trip itself! What tips and tricks would you add? Tell us about the best and cheapest road trip you’ve ever taken!
AUTHOR Kerah Kemmerer
Hello! I'm Kerah. I'm a writer and personal finance enthusiast with a background in marketing. I'm also a wedding and portrait photographer, part-time RVer and a lover of simple and minimal living. Always up to some project or adventure over @krisandkerah on Instagram.