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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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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