How to Spend Money Wisely » Travel

6 Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip

My family and I used to drive across Canada every other year. We had family out in Ontario, and we lived in BC, so every second year we would pack up the car, or the van, or the trailer, and head up over the mountains and into the plains. I have both fond and traumatizing memories from those road trips, and those memories are ones I would like to someday instill in my children. However, with the cost of gas steadily rising and the price of flights dropping, going on a road trip hardly seems like the bargain it used to. Here are six ways you can save money on a road trip.

Bring a Cooler

One of the easiest ways to save money on a road trip, big or small, is to bring a cooler. If you are doing a day trip to the beach, then you can easily bring along some sandwiches, snacks, and drinks. Even if you are on a longer road trip, a cooler can help you save a lot of money. It will certainly help with packing along some food for the first day or two, but it can continue to be useful as, alongside some gas station ice, you can pack up your lunch leftovers from Dairy Queen and bring them along with you. It opens up the possibility of shopping at grocery stores and packing some extra food for the next day’s lunch instead of always having to hit up a restaurant.

Plan Ahead

Know where you are going ahead of time. Not only can you use your route plan to estimate your gas costs for the road trip, but understanding the directions will keep you from getting lost, which will not only frustrate you, but will also save you from expending unnecessary gas trying to figure out where you are. Planning ahead will also allow you to figure out (and maybe even book) hotel or motel lodgings.

Get an Entertainment Book

I’ve used an Entertainment Book every time that I’ve flown to Hawaii, and the initial investment ($20-$40) is easily repayable within a day or two of travel. Whether it is for cheaper car rentals, reduced rates at entertainment sites, or 10% off dinner, an Entertainment book will not only allow you to save money, it can also provide inspiration for adventure.


Tents can be ridiculously cheap. If you are planning on taking this tent up North, in the middle of winter, then I wouldn’t suggest some Canadian Tire special, but if you are just going to be staying a night or two somewhere in the middle of summer, then you don’t need the highest end tent to make do. If you are able to reserve a spot at a camping ground, you may find that camping, especially in national parks, can be very affordable. Of course you may have to do without the luxuries of a private shower and television, but isn’t that half the reason of getting away from your house in the first place?

Portable BBQ

Combined with camping and bringing a cooler, having a small portable BBQ along for the journey can be an excellent way to diversify your meal options, as well as save some cash on expensive take-out. Drop by a local grocery store, grab some sausages or burgers, and fry them up on a picnic table by the beach or at your camp ground. You can always supplement your burgers or fries with extra ketchup or mustard that you grabbed from that fast food joint when you were there, and anything else you need you can grab from your cooler. It is best and most cost effective if everyone eats the same thing, of course. You don’t want to have to buy one package of hot dogs, one of hamburgers, as well as a steak and buns for all the above.

Use Your Social Network

Tap into your friends, families, and your friends of friends for some cheaper travelling. While I don’t suggest posting on Twitter that you’re going to be leaving your house all alone for 3 weeks, I do recommend looking up old college buddies and seeing if they wouldn’t mind you pitching a tent in their yard on your way through your home town. However, once you are in your vacation town of choice, look up local secrets and hints on your preferred social networking tool. Use the search function in Twitter, check out the local results on Google Buzz, see where everyone is on FourSquare.


  1. youngandthrifty

    I love the entertainment book- it’s especially cheap during this time, when they expire in November (so you have a few months left).

    I didn’t get it this year though unfortunately- I kind of miss it.

  2. Janine

    I’m shocked with your suggestion to ask for a friend if you can build a tent within their backyard. It’s something new to me. On the other hand, I agree with you. Plan your trip in order to avoid overspending while your on the road. You to bring everything you need for your trip so you won’t drop by on a grocery along the way.

  3. Scott

    These are great ideas, we used to camp our way across the country when we were young. We would tent, and stay where we had realatives along the way. One more tip, buy only the food you need for the day, and make sure you check out produce stands, they are fresher and less expensive.

  4. Nathaniel

    I like your idea of road trip on a budget! Enjoying the beauty of nature isn’t always have to be expensive. We just need to be creative and to learn how to make happy in our own simple way of achieving happiness.

  5. Jason

    We can still enjoy our trips without spending too much. As long as we have all the basic needs that we have and an extra money in our pocket, a simple vacation may result to a memorable one.

  6. Pam

    I totally agree with your tips. My husband and I have gone on a lot of road trips in both Canada and the States and we cook our own food, sleep in a tent or in our car, and we can see a lot of places without spending an arm and a leg. It certainly can be done. All it takes is a little preparation! Thanks for sharing.

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