13 Ways to save money on a USA road trip

Caroline Cunningham

Travel throughout the U.S. is considered to be expensive comparably to some countries. But for the budget traveler, there are still ways to majorly cut down on a expenses during a long U.S. road trip. Here's how:

1. Have a travel partner

Although I'm an advocate for solo travel, having a partner to experience the U.S. with can majorly cut down on costs by splitting accomodation and gas bills.

2. Opt for cheaper accommodation


(Photo from Unsplash by Victor Larracuente)

Accommodation is usually one of the bigger costs in any trip, and especially traveling the U.S.. Hotels can wrack up so it's cheaper to opt for low-cost Airbnb's and camping.

3. Book accommodation outside of popular areas

If you're booking a hotel or Airbnb room, check areas a little farther out than the tourist areas, where accomodation is much cheaper.

Likewise with camping, free campgrounds are usually available outside of national parks.

4. Cook for yourself and only eat out occassionally


(Photo from Unsplash by Kyle Peyton)

Cooking can save a ton of money as groceries are much cheaper than three restaurant meals a day.

If you are a foodie though, and consider trying restaurants a priority in your trip, then consider going to food trucks, less expensive dining, and splitting dishes with your travel partner. Sometimes it doesn't take an expensive meal to have a great meal, anyways!

5. Stay in expensive areas for less time

Exploring cities tends to be more expensive than exploring nature, and some popular national parks tend be pricier than off the beaten path destinations. To stay on budget, plan your itinerary cost-friendly by spending less time in the more expensive areas.

6. Fill up your gas tank strategically


(Photo from Unsplash by Suzanne Emily O'Connor)

When filling up your gas tank, be strategic about the timing and place so as to save money. Filling up your tank in a heavily populated city, right off a big exit, or inside a national park can be significantly more expensive. 

In order to find cheaper gas, I recommend using the app GasBuddy.

7. Choose free or cheaper activities

When in nature or a national park, finding free activities is not difficult. Exploring and hiking through the wilderness is probably why you came, anyways.

However, if you’re visiting a city, opting for free or cheaper activities may be more difficult. But it doesn’t necessarily mean less fun! When planning your activities, consider those that are more of an experience for your buck. Groupon is also great for finding deals.

8. Buy an annual national park pass

If you plan to visit more than three national parks during your U.S. road trip, then buying an annual national park pass will save you money.

This card allows you and whoever else is in the car into every national park in the U.S. for an unlimited amount of times within a year. It is only $80, and for comparison, usually the entrance fee to one national park is $30. So this purchase is well worth it!

9. Check for tolls

Typically tolls, especially on the west coast will not be a problem. However, you should still look out for them, especially on the east coast.

Sometimes taking a toll road may be a few dollars, but occassionally much more. When entering directions to Google Maps, be sure to check if toll roads were added to the route.

10. Plan ahead while on the road


(Photo from Unsplash by Cam DiCecca)

Although it sounds tedious and boring, planning ahead can save a lot of money. Last minute, convenient plans are usually more expensive.

While on the road before heading to your next destination, check for tolls, check for gas stations along the way (you may be in an area all ready where it’s cheaper than later), and go grocery shopping so you have snack for the road and aren't tempted by every restaurant, etc.

11. Keep your car serviced

To avoid car malfunctions, be proactive about servicing your car. Although this saving tip requires spending money, in the end it will save you (especially if your road trip is very long).

12. Follow local traffic and parking laws

Most people are unaware, but many states have slightly different parking and/or traffic laws. When driving cross country, play it safe! Getting pulled over or paying an expensive parking ticket is such a bummer.

13. Be prepared by packing efficiently before leaving

To minimize your costs while on the road, stock up on everything you need before leaving. For example, all camping gear you’ll need, products that you may be able to get cheaper online, etc.

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My aim is to inspire adventure and empower people with the tools to travel. You can expect articles about solo female travel, budget travel tips, destination guides, and authentic storytelling.

Fairfax, VA

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