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You know that trip you’ve always wanted to make across the country but never thought it was feasible? I had that same thought when my boyfriend and I decided to road trip across the country from Pennsylvania all the way to Colorado, down to Las Vegas, across to the Grand Canyon then back to PA. We had 10 days to drive 5,000 miles on a college budget. Sounds impossible right?[space_20]
The first tip to saving money to road trip on a budget is planning ahead. I can’t stress how important this is to make sure you stick to your budget. It might take some time and induce some stress but I can promise you it will pay off in the end. This includes everything from using the most gas efficient vehicle, searching for hotels ahead of time, finding the cheapest gas along the route, and designating a specific daily budget that you must stick to.
The first thing we did to prepare for our cross country trip was figuring out which of our family members had the most gas efficient vehicle and asking to borrow it for the week. I can’t even begin to tell you how much money this saved us. The car I drove only got 15 miles to the gallon while my moms got 30. That means three things: we had to get gas half as often (less $), we stopped half as many times, and had less chances to get sucked into buying gas station food when we already had snacks in the car to eat.
We used gas buddy to calculate our gas costs when building our budget. It allows you to enter different vehicle information so you can compare costs. This was extremely helpful as we budgeted and decided on a car to use.
That brings me to my next point. We made it half way through our trip only buying 2 meals! We spent $75 on healthy snacks that we could eat on the road before we left. I got grapes, apples, and bagels for breakfasts and cheese, bologna rings, sausage, crackers, oranges, pretzels, and some chips for on the road snacks and something to munch on before bed. I also brought along a huge case of water and 6 of the 6 pack bottles of soda.
After getting all these food and drinks, I invested in a nice cooler at Walmart big enough to hold all of our items, but small enough to be carried on our shoulder into the hotel room every night so our food could be put into the fridge. I know I said I got us some healthy foods yet I brought soda and chips. I personally don’t drink coffee or energy drinks. I’ve had bad experiences where my energy level just plummeted from them while driving. Drinking Pepsi and eating something crunchy has kept me awake driving 10-12 hour days.
I know this seems like a lot to haul around on a daily basis but think how much money we saved just on one case of soda! I bought 6 of them for $2.50. You usually pay $1.79 for one at a gas station. Right there I already saved $8.24 without tax for just one six pack. That adds up very quickly. We essentially spent $7.50 a day in food and drinks where you could easily spend that per person on one meal if you stopped somewhere to eat.[space_20]
Another important thing to look into is how far you think you will make it each day and research hotels ahead of time. If you already have the names and numbers of the cheapest hotels, this will make it much easier. This was one area we didn’t plan far enough ahead in and definitely regretted it. That being said, DO NOT book all of your hotels before you leave. You may be able to drive much farther than you thought one night or you might not be able to make it as far as you thought another night.
If you book your hotels too far out, you might risk losing money spent on that hotel room you can’t get out of. My advice is to book your hotel a few hours before you plan to stop. I was usually the driver so he would look up cheap hotels with vacancies in the town we set our goal at and call all of the hotels. One super important thing to keep in mind is that sometimes their online prices are different than what the hotel itself offers. Ask what the price is and if you can get the online price if it turns out to be cheaper. Sometimes you have to order it online to save $20 for the same room. It’s definitely worth the couple minutes to do so in my opinion.
Another thing I recommend is downloading gas apps that tell you what the cheapest price in your area is. There have been times where we thought about getting off an exit and because of the app saved 20 cents a gallon just by driving 5 miles further. It is a very handy app to have and you get points for reporting the gas prices every time you stop.
While planning ahead is very important in order to road trip on a budget, don’t be afraid to deviate from those plans if you find something more affordable or worth going over budget for. Above all, this is an adventure so don’t hold yourself back because you’re too focused on your spending. Be sure to check out my other blog posts about how to save money and plan your trips!CLICK here to read more about this trip!