Road Tripping on A Budget

Did you see the recent eclipse in North America?

One of my friends was determined to see totality, but we don’t live in the right place.We COULD have flown, but because Nashville was one of the the most popular eclipse destinations, flights were more expensive than usual.

Our solution?


Why road trip?

When you’re young and broke, traveling is not a thing of luxury. Road trips are usually cheaper than any other form of transportation, especially if you’re traveling in a group.

If you’re driving alone, the cost difference between driving and, say, taking the train or a budget airline might not be that great, but as soon as you start adding people to your travel group, the benefits grow by a huge amount. Gas for a road trip is a lot cheaper than four tickets on the bus or train.

Another benefit of road-tripping is that you have more control over your trip. You won’t be stuck in a station or on a runway waiting to leave, and you can usually find a way around unexpected traffic; not to mention finding fun little road-side places to stop along the way and taking as many pee breaks as you need to.


The downsides

Road trips are not all sunshine and rainbows, of course. They take longer than flights, and if something goes wrong with your car, you’ll have to deal with it yourself or call roadside assistance. And of course, someone has to be driving the car, which can be tiring and tedious. If these things don’t bother you, you might be a born road-tripper.

Budget-saving tips

Okay, so you’re sold on the idea of a road trip. However, if you aren’t careful, the costs of a road trip can sneak up on you. If you’re driving to save money, there are steps you can take to make sure you keep your expenditures low.


Fast food and gas station purchases can be quite expensive, and when you’re tired and hungry, it’s hard to make good spending decisions. To minimize your impulse purchases, pack food to go.

I usually make a run to Trader Joe’s, Costco, or another grocery store a day or so before I head out on a road trip. Grab materials for sandwiches, or just a bunch of snack-food, and set out on your trip knowing that you won’t be forced to eat crappy gas-station food because you’re hangry.

Tried and true deliciousness:

Golden Island Korean BBQ Pork Jerky from Costco — It’s sold at other stores, too, but the Costco size is a great deal that works well for road trips

Popcorn (minimize toppings to keep greasy fingers off the car seats)

If you have a cooler: Sandwiches, boiled eggs, or a big tub of hummus with pita chips or veggies to dip.


Decide ahead of time how the cost of gas will be split among the road trippers. You can split it evenly, have those who drive pay less, or have one person pay for it all but then not pay for some other part of the trip. The point is, decide BEFORE you go, so no one gets surprised and everyone can plan their trip budget a little better.

Take the most gas-efficient vehicle possible, but remember that cramming a bunch of people into a tiny car just to save on gas might not be worth it if you are all miserable for the whole trip.

Download an app like Gas Buddy or consider joining a rewards program like Shell’s, which gets you 5¢ off every gallon. It’s not worth wasting more gas trying for a few cents off a gallon, but if you can minimize costs without wasting trip time, go for it.

Other car stuff:

Whoever owns the car you’re taking should do a quick once-over of the car before you take off. This includes checking the tires and fluids, and double-checking the insurance on it to see what’s covered.

Many credit cards come with a roadside assistance benefit. Everyone going on the trip should check his or her cards for this benefit so you will know what your options are if something does go wrong and you have to get towed.

If anyone in the group is a AAA member, you’re set, as AAA will tow any car you are in, regardless of who’s driving.


Longer road trips can be a real drag for those people not driving. Of course, you can chat and have fun together, but 6 or more hours is a long time to talk to anyone. Luckily, longer road trips can be improved by a little advanced prep.

Pre-download movies, shows, or books. Even if you have an unlimited data plan, you never know what service is going to be like along the way.

Bring some games. Sure, you can play the license plate game, but that tends to get old past the age of 10. With smart phones and tablets, there are tons of games that are playable on the road. Guessing games like Taboo and electronic versions of Trivial Pursuit or other board games are easy to play in the car, and the driver can be involved without taking his or her eyes off the road or hands off the wheel. Check out the app store before you hit the road.

Grab an audiobook or two. I know this might sound like an “old-person” thing to do, but a good book on tape can make those hours on the road fly by, plus they give everyone something else to talk about during the rest of the trip. I listened to all of the Cormoran Strike murder mystery novels during road trips and it was so fun to discuss and argue about whodunnit.

There are tons of places to get audiobooks, too. Libraries have lots of books on CD and the app OverDrive lets you borrow digital library copies, even on the road. Of course, Audible and Amazon have their own audiobook services, but they require a subscription, although someone in your group might be able to snag a free trial.

Check out some podcasts. Shorter than audiobooks, podcasts offer a vast assortment of free material on almost every subject you can think of. Take turns having everyone in the car pick a podcast to listen to, or start listening to a serialized one for an audiobook-like experience.

Podcast Suggestions: Serial and S-Town are both excellent, real-world stories, and The Black Tapes or Welcome to Night Vale are fun fiction podcasts. Criminal, The Moth, Something True, and so many more are also very popular. All the ones I’ve mentioned are for adults, however, so you might need to do some more looking if you’re traveling with kids.


There are tons of ways to stay on a road trip.

Crashing with friends or family is usually the cheapest way to go. Couchsurfing is another (FREE!) option for solo travel, but it might not be an option if you’re traveling as part of a bigger group.

If you are in a group, it might be wise to look into getting an AirBnB or HomeAway. Splitting the cost of a full apartment often works out to be cheaper than renting several hotel rooms. I’ve used these sites for every trip I’ve taken for the last couple of years, and it’s been fantastic.

Money Stuff

Road trips are stressful enough without having everyone worrying about how their budget is faring. Know ahead of time what everyone is hoping to get out of this road trip. Are some people looking to sight-see while others are all about the night scene? Are people willing to pay for tours or are you planning to be self-guided? How much is everyone willing to pay for accommodation, food, etc.?

In our case, we knew where we’d be for the eclipse, but the rest of the time we were in Nashville, different members of our group went to different sights and did different activities based on our interests and budgets. No one wants to be grumpy the whole way home because he or she didn’t get to do that one special thing or had to spend too much. Try to be on the same page before heading off on your adventure.

Keep track of anything anyone spends on the group, like buying tickets or reserving your lodging, and use PayPal or Venmo to make everything even after the trip.


I bet this is more than you ever thought you’d read or think about road trips, huh?

I hope you some of these ideas help you plan for your next road trip. Whether you’re prepping for Fall Break or you’re looking ahead to next summer, consider planning an awesome road trip with family or friends and save some pennies for future adventures!

Got any road trip tips of your own? Let me know and I may add them to the post!

Join in the conversation! Or don't. Fine, be that way. ;-)

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