There's nothing quite like a good old-fashioned Summer road trip. Piling in the car, turning up the tunes, and exploring hidden treasures in new towns — that's what Summer is made of. But when money is tight, it may seem like the sunroof-down, Instagram-worthy road trip of your dreams is out of reach. Fear not, frugal adventurer; we have your back with these tips for saving big bucks without sacrificing the fun.
1. Solidify a budget beforehand — and stick to it
Budgeting isn't too difficult; just allocate how much you're able to spend on things like food, entertainment, gas, and lodging, depending on how much you have saved up for the trip. The hard part is actually sticking to it, which can be hard when you get distracted by all the new experiences (aka all the different foods) you're encountering in each state. Plan out and document beforehand what your exact budget is, whether it be on a piece of paper or on a budgeting app.
2. Pack your own snacks for days on the road
This is where wholesale stores like Costco come into play. Stock up on portable snacks that don't require refrigeration, like museli bars, trail mix, or pretzels (or make your own snacks!). And don't forget to buy drinks, which are cheaper when bought in bulk.
3. Plan ahead to get the best hotel prices
If you're making your road-trip plans last minute, chances are you'll be stuck with hotel options that are slightly out of your price range. But if you plan a few months in advance, you'll be able to compare and see which days and locations are the most affordable. And on the note of affordable lodging, don't be afraid to try a motel or hostel, where you can typically squeeze more friends in one room, thus splitting up the final cost even more.
4. Look for hotels with complimentary breakfast
What's better than breakfast food? That's right . . . free breakfast food. Be sure to consider the free-breakfast factor when you're searching for hotels ahead of time. And always be sure to snag a few extra apples and muffins for the road before you check out! Getting your money's worth is the name of the game.
5. Get a gas app on your phone
Have you ever filled up your gas tank only to discover a cheaper station right down the road moments later? Phone apps like GasBuddy (which actually does work in Australia, even though we don't call it "gas") eliminate that pang of gas buyer's remorse by finding the cheapest petrol station near you. It even plots the stations and their respective prices on a nifty map, so all the work is done for you. So long, overpriced fuel!
6. Know your route — and don't venture out from it too much
Part of the appeal of road trips is the open road and the sense of adventure that comes with it. Though it's probably tempting to stop off at every strange roadside attraction you pass on the interstate, sticking to a mapped-out route is important for saving money on petrol.
7. Speaking of driving, do so strategically
This doesn't mean weaving in and out of traffic to make it from point A to point B the fastest. I'm talking about when you're doing the cruising. It's best to avoid rush-hour times (typically 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.) because that's when you're more likely to get trapped in fuel-guzzling traffic. Stick to the middle of the day, and try not to plan your trip near major Summer holidays like Jan. 1, because petrol prices tend to skyrocket around then.
8. Bring on the friends
This one is a no-brainer — the more friends you bring along for the trip, the more you can divide up the costs of things like lodging, gas, and snacks. The more, the merrier!
9. Pick your activities wisely
Sure, it's tempting to do the most touristy, bucket-list-worthy things in each new city you visit. But unfortunately, those often aren't the most wallet-friendly options. Sometimes it's best to just get a cheap bottle of wine, sit in a local park, people-watch, and enjoy the company of your friends or family.
10. Take out cash from the bank before you leave
Chances are you'll come across a cool dive bar or local pizza restaurant that only accepts cash payments. Most ATMs or convenience stores charge a fee if you want to withdraw cash. Although the $2-$3 charge may seem minimal at first, those dollars sure do add up, and they could've been spent on more important things — like a tacky souvenir . . . or that bottle of wine.
11. Score major deals on sites like Groupon
A little online couponing never hurt anybody, especially when the deals are as great as Groupon's. Mooch off the hotel's WiFi to surf the web for great deals on local restaurants and attractions in every city you visit.