We’ve spent 6 months road tripping around the US and Canada, on a very tight budget. During that time we’ve learned a lot about planning a road trip on a budget so I’ve put together this list of budget road trip tips to help you plan your next adventure!
Budget Road Trip Tips- Plan an Unforgettable Road Trip on a Budget
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Snacks and Food:
- Buy (or make) your favourite dry drink mixes like hot chocolate, lemonade, tea or mocha, and bring along in resealable containers. Add the dry mix to travel mugs and use hot water from fast food places, restaurants or gas stations to make your drinks
- Instead of expensive gas station road trip snacks, make a stop at a grocery store to pick up some favourites. Use your ziploc bags to repackage them to save space if needed
- Bring a ‘snack bin’ to help stay organized. I use a rubbermaid bin to keep our snacks in one place
- Buy water from the grocery store instead of buying bottles on the road, and use refillable water bottles. A 4L jug is usually about $0.80-$1.50, instead of $1 or more per 500mL bottle at gas stations.
- Fill up water bottles for free at most gas stations: There is almost always a water option on the fountain soda machine!
- Buy a Flying J/Pilot travel mug for $2-4 and sign up for their free MyRewards program. Save on each drink refill, get every 10th fill free, and get a number of other offers in store. (Many other truck stops have reusable drink cups for purchase, we just liked the Pilot program)
- Buy bread, buns, tortillas and sandwich fixings at a grocery store and make your own each day instead of eating out
- Bring hot or cold cereal and add milk or hot water for a quick meal in the morning
- Carry a few packets of dry soup mix, and use your reusable mug to add hot water for a quick lunch
- Visit a Costco or Sam’s Club for a cheap lunch. No membership needed! Most have a selection of fries, hotdogs, pizza and sandwiches. Try the cheesy garlic sticks at Sam’s! Have a membership? Do a sample run!
- Stop into a Del Taco (mostly on the west coast & south central US) and check out their Dollar Menu. Delicious, filling, fresh and cheap! Keep your receipt and fill out their short online survey to get $1 off your next $3 order. Have each person order and pay individually to save $1 multiple times each visit! (Everything in the photo to the right came to only $4!)
- Get a Groupon account, and check it out along the way. Here’s a post about making the most out of Groupon!
- Happy hour is your friend! Most restaurants and many fast food places offer discounts of up to 50% off certain items during happy hour. One of our favourites is Sonic, who offer half price corn dogs and drinks from 2-5pm
- If you plan to road trip with kids, make note of which restaurants offer free kids meals and on which day of the week.
General Roadtrip Tips:
- Bring large freezer-sized and sandwich-sized ziploc bags. They’ll come in handy many times on your roadtrip!
- Pick up a couple of disposable, resealable Ziploc containers at a dollar store (go for name brand this time, you’ll appreciate it). Great for cereal, soup, leftovers, salad, popcorn…
- Bring along utensils, either metal or plastic
- Bring a large ziploc bag into gas stations and fast food places to fill with ice for your cooler. If you’re already making a purchase and bring your own bag, most stores will not care. If necessary, pay their $0.50 ice charge
- Pack a power inverter that will plug into your cigarette plug and provide a wall socket. Great for charging electronics, boiling hot water and powering a cooler. This one even fits in your cup holder!
- Shop around for a bank account that will offer no foreign transaction fee, and is accessible in other countries. Canada’s Scotiabank and USA’s Bank of America are sister banks that have locations worldwide.
- Pick up some window covers from Amazon. If you’re sleeping in your vehicle, this will help maintain your privacy. We ended up with 2 sets, and found that when double up they were nearly impossible to see through, even if you have your forehead pressed to the window.
Admissions and Activities:
- Search Groupon & Google for discounts before purchasing any admission or event tickets.
- Invest in a Costco membership to save on gas, and be sure to check the local store for discounts on restaurants and activities
- If you homeschool, go HERE to create a free student and teacher ID card. Many places offer a discount to students or teachers. Most won’t advertise, but don’t hesitate to ask! I got 10% off our computers with this card, and can participate in the Chapters/Coles teachers appreciation days with it!
- Carry an AMA/CAA membership. Invaluable in case the need for a tow, gas, or locked key rescue arises. Plus, many places offer a discount for card-carriers. Also check in to a local store when looking for admission tickets. They often offer better deals in store than what you’ll find elsewhere.
- Get an Airmiles card. Flash it everywhere and start racking up those points
- Use Priceline’s ‘Deal’ or ‘Make an Offer’ feature to get a great deal on a hotel, flight or rental car
- Get the GasBuddy app. Gas prices vary SO much, even between stations that are side by side. You’ll save several cents per gallon/litre by driving an extra minute or 2
- Check Groupon when it’s time for a oil change. Bigger cities often have multiple options, and you’ll get a fantastic discount! We found a full synthetic oil change in Albuquerque (and again in Kansas City!) that came to $25 with one of their additional 20% discounts!
WiFi & Phone Service:
- Visit a fast food place, coffee shop or truck stop for free WiFi and charging outlets. Some places will want you to buy something, but that’s a fair trade for their internet and outlets!
- If you plan to park at a Love’s, Flying J or Pilot truck stop overnight, you can buy a month of unlimited internet for $20, or daily use for about $4
- Bring an unlocked cell phone and just buy a sim card to put into it. I use AT&T, they have a month to month plan that offers unlimited calling, texting and data in US, Canada and Mexico so it fits our needs well. You can get a sim card from any convenience store, Walmart or cell phone shop though
- Make use of truck stops, Walmart, Home Depot and Sam’s Club to park overnight for free. If you see other campers and semi-trucks around you’re likely clear to park anywhere. If not, you’ll want to ask a manager inside to be sure they allow it. Some Cabela’s offer parking as well. Allstays offers several helpful apps to find a parking spot!
- Truck stops have showers, and nice ones! For $10-12 you can have a hot shower, towels provided. Time is unlimited and they are very private. If you have children, request the handicap shower so you can have the space to shower together
- Start Housesitting. Try sites like Trusted Housesitters, Nomador, House Carers International, Mind My House and many others. You can also join facebook groups local to where you are going, and post your availability and info in there. If possible, gain a couple references by housesitting for friends and family
- Couchsurfing. Join and create a profile to enjoy the free network of travellers and hosts around the world
- Workaway and WOOFing. If you’re willing to work in exchange for accomodations and food, these are great opportunites worldwide
- Airbnb. It’s a great way to live more like a local than a tourist, and not have to pay hotel prices! With people hosting around the world, you’re bound to find something that suits you. Use this link to sign up and get $20 off your first booking!
This list of road trip tips will help you plan your next road trip on a budget, so I hope you found some of them useful! Do you have any tips that I missed? Share them in the comments below!
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