Road Trips,  Travel

Money Saving Tips during Road Trips

Do you love to go on road trips, but feel they’re so expensive? Here are our top money saving tips to have a cheap(er) road trip. There are ways to save on road trips without sacrificing adventure and fun.

Money Saving Tips

Road trips in itself can be a money saving way of going on vacation. It’s a perfect way to explore on a budget. You can make a road trip as cheap or expensive as you want. Fuel and food are the most costly parts of your road trip. Followed by accommodation. But even on these 3 you can save. So let’s explore the best money saving tips.

1. Homecooked Meals

Eating out every evening will add up in costs pretty quickly. If you home cook your meals this can save a lot of money which can then be spent on something else. Such as eating out a bit more expensive once a week on your road trip. Self-catering doesn’t need to be time consuming, pick out easy to prepare meals and you can be done in 10 to 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a kitchen at your disposal, than get a pre-packaged salad from the grocery store. Mostly still cheaper (and healthier) than eating out.

2. Pack a Tent

Our tent on the campsite with the mountains behind
Our tent on the campsite with the mountains behind

Bring a tent when going on a road trip. In most countries it’s cheaper to stay at a campground than to go to a hotel (or apartment).

Certainly as a family this can save a lot of money. Check out our list of best family campgrounds in Europe that are perfect to stay at during a road trip.

3. Boondocking

Find free places to stay at overnight. Check before if you are allowed to camp overnight. Or if your vehicle is allowed to stand there 24 hours and if you can sleep in it. Not all countries allow that. Especially in Europe there are only a handful of countries were boondocking is allowed. For instance in the Netherlands you can’t really legally do this.

However if it’s legal this is a great way to save on costs. It can save up to 40 to 100 euros a night. You can even sleep in your car at night, which is dry and saves money. We’ve done this once on our 6 Week European road trip. However this was due to everything being fully booked and not so much to save money.  

4. Buy at the Grocery Store

Buy your food and beverages at a grocery store instead of a gas station. This is usually, at least in Europe, cheaper. Gas stations are usually a lot more expensive than a grocery store. Gas stations are more convenient because they’re along the road and highways. Grocery stores are usually not along a highway or a main road, so they take extra time. But prices at gas stations can be double or triple the price compared to a grocery store. Next to that a grocery store usually has more choice in products than a gas station, and larger packages.

5. Reusable Bottles

Cold drinks from Starbucks, two yellow colored smoothies in plastic cups
Drinks from Starbucks, delicious, but not exactly cheap

Bring reusable bottles on your road trip. Refill them with water and other beverages. This is cheaper than plastic bottles or juice boxes. If you refill your reusable bottles from the tap or with 1-liter or 2-litter packages this will save a ton of money. Next to that it’s environmentally friendlier, since you use less packaging.

And if your kid is like my son, 1 juice box isn’t enough. And you’ll spend a fortune buying juice boxes.

Bring coffee and tea in a thermos with you.

6. Bring Your Own Snacks

One of our ways to save money on a road trip is to pack your own snacks. Either homemade or store bought. It’s cheaper (and can be healthier) then buying snacks on the road or stopping at roadside restaurants. It also saves time when you don’t have to stop for every craving. You can eat while driving or at rest stops without a restaurant and (long) lines.

I’ve prepared muffins, sandwiches, quiches, burgers and more to take with us on the road. We’ve bought local delicacies at grocery stores and bakeries to bring with us. Nothing beats a croissant, éclair or macaron from a local bakery in France. Or a pastel de nata in Portugal.

7. Picnic

Picnic lunch, Paul and Yuri sitting on opposite sides of a picnic bench
Picnic lunch

Another way to save money on a road trip is to have a picnic for lunch. We’ve done this on all our road trips in the US with our son, such as on our Florida road trip. We’ve also done this in Europe, but there was more rain. Eating in the car is just not that special and can feel cramped. Certainly when you’ve just been driving a lot and you want to stretch your legs. Or have a toddler with you.  

Having a picnic for lunch can save money and time. You can do it when you want to. You only have to find a picnic bench or a place to lay your plaid down. Our experience is that this is easier in North America then in Europe. A picnic lunch can also be healthier compared to eating at fast food chains or roadside restaurants.

8. Stick to a Budget

A road trip on a budget is the perfect way to keep in check what you’re spending, but still get to enjoy your road trip. Set up a budget you can spend per week or per day. During the trip note down all your spendings per day so that you know if you can splurge or need to reign in your spending.

9. Get Off the Highway for Fuel

A lot of times the price of fuel at gas stations along the highway is more expensive. Definitely in Europe it’s one of the ways to save money on road trips to go off the highway and get your fuel at a gas station a bit further away from an exit.

However this is not an advantage you’ll have with a fully electrical car. The price of charging along the highway is more expensive than of the highway. However the chargers along the highway are usually fast chargers and off the highway aren’t. So what takes 40 to 50 minutes with a fast charger, takes some 8 hours or more with other chargers.

10. Travel Off-Season

If possible travel off-season. Accommodations are usually a lot cheaper at that moment. It’s not always possible, when you have kids in the school going age or are a teacher you can’t go off-season. But if this isn’t the case try to plan your road trip off-season. Most accommodations charge way more in the popular periods.

Do check if you’re not going at a moment that everything or a lot is closed. We had this on our Scandinavian road trip. We hadn’t realized that a lot of attractions were closed in September. They were only open in the Summer (and some things in Winter also).

11. Cheaper Country

One of our ways to save money on trips is to go to countries that are cheaper than the Netherlands. So for instance Croatia, Portugal, Czechia and Montenegro. Fuel, accommodation, eating out and the grocery stores have a lower price point than in the Netherlands. However Switzerland and Norway have a higher price point. Some countries are the same price point or it differs, some things are more expensive others cheaper.

If you pick a country where the overall price point is lower than in your home country then you can do more with the same amount of money.

12.  Avoid Toll Roads

Northeast Portugal, a road running thorugh the middle, with a motorcyclist riding on it, hills on both sides
Northeast Portugal

Toll roads can add up fast in your costs. Driving from North to South on the main highways in France is about 100 euros. Take the by-roads or backcountry roads, this takes more time, but will cost a lot less. Next to that the b-roads usually have a better view than the highway.

We did this on our France Spain Portugal road trip. We avoided the toll roads in Southern France, drove past sunflower fields and cute France towns and avoided some 70 euros in toll.

13. Free Attractions

Sunset at Key West, the sun is setting. It's yellow, shining on the ocean in a beam. There are clouds, the sun is below in the middle. On the left is a sail ship
Watching the sunset at Key West is totally free

The last one of our money saving travel tips is to add free attractions to your itinerary. Add parks, free guided city walks, self-guided walks, free museums and so on to your itinerary. Some museums or other attractions aren’t free, but have a free day once a month or so.

So That are Our Money Saving Tips and Tricks

So this is how to save money on trips! All these 13 tips we incorporate again and again on our road trips.

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  • Anja

    Also… great accommodation outside town centres, great restautants outside touristic centres… I love to drive but often chicken out and resort to public transport but when we do go on a driving holiday, I really enjoy it

  • Nikki

    Excellent tips! Love the idea of finding gas off the highway and avoiding toll roads. Thanks for sharing ways to make travel more affordable. 🙂

  • Terri

    The most important part about buying your food at a grocery store instead of eating at fast food restaurants near the highway is access to healthy food. You can choose fruits and salads instead of junk food while saving money.

  • Amy

    So many great tips! Before hitting the road buy any snacks you would normally purchase at gas stations at warehouse stores like Sam’s Club and Costco. Cheaper than buying those bars at a gas station. Alternatively make your own at home and pack them before leaving.

    • Kiki

      Lot of practical and useful tips on how to save money on a road trip. Travelling during off season and exploring the free things to do in a place are some of my favourites.

  • Koffer Toni

    From budget-friendly meal strategies to smart accommodation choices, your tips are a road map to frugal yet fulfilling adventures. I appreciate how you’ve shared personal anecdotes and real-life examples, making the advice relatable and actionable. As someone who loves hitting the open road, I’m excited to implement your suggestions on my next journey. Thank you for showing us that memorable travels don’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Here’s to more affordable and unforgettable road trip escapades!

  • Annie

    I think I learned all of those while travelling around Europe. You mention that fuel is cheaper away from the highways, and food is expensive at gas stations. We found that stopping at big supermarkets with their own gas stations was cheapest for both food and fuel, and often had a canteen where you could get cheap hot meals – useful on cold days.

  • MicheleinPlaya

    GREAT road trip tips! We have road-tripped through southern Mexico, all of Belize and Guatemala and found all of these tips to be true. It’s commonly advised to stick to the toll roads in Mexico but we have had some of our best adventures off the beaten path!

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