15 best budget-friendly road trip ideas in 2023
Are you craving adventure but worried about the cost? A road trip is a great way to explore new places without breaking the bank. Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a longer excursion, there are plenty of budget-friendly road trip ideas to suit your travel style.
In this article, we’ve compiled 15 of the best budget-friendly road trip ideas for 2023. From camping in national parks to exploring off-season destinations, these tips will help you plan an affordable and unforgettable adventure.
1. Research and plan your route ahead of time to save on gas and toll expenses.
Researching and planning your route ahead of time is one of the best ways to save money on a road trip. Here are some tips for planning your route:
- Use a map or GPS app to find the most direct route to your destination.
- Check for toll roads and plan alternative routes to avoid them if possible.
- Research gas prices along your route and plan to fill up at the cheapest stations.
- Look for scenic routes or detours that might save you money on gas or offer free attractions.
- Plan rest stops or overnight stays at locations with free parking, such as rest areas or Walmart parking lots.
- Check for road closures or construction that might impact your route and adjust accordingly.
By taking the time to research and plan your route ahead of time, you can save money on gas and toll expenses, as well as avoid unexpected delays. Plus, you can build in fun stops and detours along the way to make your road trip even more enjoyable!
2. Pack your food and drinks to avoid expensive roadside dining options.
Packaging your own food and drinks is a great way to save money on a road trip. Here are some tips for packing your food and avoiding expensive roadside dining options:
- Make a meal plan and grocery list ahead of time so you know exactly what to pack.
- Bring a cooler with ice packs to keep perishable items fresh.
- Pack non-perishable snacks like granola bars, trail mix, or dried fruit.
- Make sandwiches or wraps ahead of time and pack them in plastic containers.
- Bring reusable water bottles and refill them at rest stops or gas stations.
- Consider investing in a small portable stove or grill for hot meals on the road.
- If you do need to stop for food, look for fast food chains with dollar menus or value meals.
By packing your food and drinks, you can save money on expensive roadside dining options and also have more control over the quality and nutritional value of your meals. Plus, you can enjoy picnics and meals in scenic locations along your route.
3. Consider camping or staying in budget-friendly accommodations like hostels or motels.
Camping or staying in budget-friendly accommodations like hostels or motels can be a great way to save money on a road trip. Camping allows you to enjoy the great outdoors and often costs less than traditional lodging options. Many campgrounds offer amenities like showers and restrooms, and some even have free activities like hiking trails or swimming areas.
Hostels are another affordable option, with shared rooms and communal spaces that encourage socializing with other travelers.
Motels are a step up from camping and hostels but still tend to be cheaper than hotels. They offer basic amenities like a bed and private bathroom and are often located near major highways for easy access. By choosing budget-friendly accommodations, you can stretch your travel budget further and still have a comfortable place to rest your head at night.
4. Take advantage of free activities like hiking, visiting parks, or exploring local attractions.
taking advantage of free activities is another great way to save money on a road trip. Here are some tips for finding free activities along your route:
- Research local parks, hiking trails, and natural attractions ahead of time.
- Look for free museums, art galleries, or cultural events in the area you’ll be visiting.
- Check for free concerts or outdoor festivals happening during your trip.
- Ask locals or other travelers for recommendations on free or cheap things to do in the area.
- Look for free walking tours or self-guided tours of historic or interesting neighborhoods.
- Take advantage of free activities offered by your lodging, like swimming pools or game rooms.
By prioritizing free activities, you can save money on entertainment expenses and still have a memorable and enjoyable road trip. Plus, you’ll get to experience the local culture and natural beauty of your destination in a more meaningful way.
5. Visit off-season destinations to save on lodging and activity costs.
visiting off-season destinations is a great way to save money on lodging and activity costs during a road trip. Here are some tips for choosing an off-season destination:
- Research peak tourist seasons for your desired destinations and avoid traveling during those times.
- Consider visiting destinations in the shoulder season, which is just before or after the peak season.
- Look for destinations that offer outdoor activities year-round, like hiking or skiing.
- Research lodging options in the area and look for off-season deals or discounts.
- Check for seasonal discounts or promotions for local attractions or tours.
By visiting off-season destinations, you can often find cheaper lodging options and enjoy discounts on activities or attractions. Plus, you can avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful and relaxing travel experience.
6. Opt for a shorter road trip to cut down on gas expenses.
Opting for a shorter road trip is another way to save money on gas expenses. The longer the trip, the more gas you’ll need, and gas expenses can add up quickly. By choosing a shorter road trip, you can not only save money on gas expenses but also have more time and flexibility to explore your destination.
One way to make the most of a shorter road trip is to focus on a specific region or area, rather than trying to cover too much ground. For example, if you’re based on the East Coast, you might choose to explore the New England region or the Appalachian Mountains. If you’re on the West Coast, you might focus on the Pacific Northwest or the California coast.
Another way to save on gas expenses is to choose a destination that’s closer to home, so you don’t need to drive as far. This could be a nearby national park or state park, or a neighboring city or town that you haven’t explored before.
By choosing a shorter road trip, you can still have a fun and memorable travel experience while saving money on gas expenses and having more time to enjoy your destination.
7. Use loyalty programs or credit card rewards to save on gas and accommodation costs.
Using loyalty programs or credit card rewards is another effective way to save money on gas and accommodation costs during a road trip. Here are some tips on how to make the most of loyalty programs and credit card rewards:
- Research gas station loyalty programs and sign up for ones that offer discounts or rewards for fuel purchases. Some programs offer cashback or discounts on fuel, while others allow you to earn points that can be redeemed for gas or other rewards.
- Look for hotel loyalty programs that offer rewards or discounts for frequent stays. Many hotel chains offer free nights, room upgrades, or other perks to loyal customers.
- Consider using a travel rewards credit card that offers cashback, points, or miles for purchases. Some credit cards offer higher rewards for gas or hotel purchases, which can help you save money on these expenses during your road trip.
- Use cashback or rewards apps that offer discounts or cashback on gas purchases. Some popular apps include GasBuddy, Ibotta, and Rakuten.
By using loyalty programs or credit card rewards, you can save money on gas and accommodation costs, and even earn rewards or perks for future travel. Just make sure to read the fine print and understand any fees or restrictions before signing up for a program or credit card.
8. Rent a car instead of driving your vehicle to save on maintenance and wear and tear.
Renting a car instead of driving your own vehicle is another great way to save money on maintenance and wear and tear during a road trip. Here are some reasons why renting a car can be a smart choice:
- Rental cars are often newer and better-maintained than your own vehicle, which can reduce the risk of breakdowns or other mechanical issues on the road.
- Rental cars usually come with unlimited mileage, which can save you money on gas and wear and tear on your own vehicle.
- Renting a car can also save you money on maintenance costs, as you won’t have to pay for oil changes, tire rotations, or other routine maintenance that your own vehicle may need after a long road trip.
- You can also choose a rental car that’s more fuel-efficient than your own vehicle, which can save you money on gas expenses during your road trip.
- Renting a car can also give you access to a wider range of vehicles, including larger or more comfortable options that may not be available in your own vehicle.
Overall, renting a car can be a cost-effective and convenient option for a road trip, especially if you want to avoid putting wear and tear on your own vehicle. Just make sure to compare prices and read the rental agreement carefully to avoid any surprise fees or charges.
9. Consider a group road trip to split the costs with friends or family.
Consider a group road trip with friends or family to split the costs and make your trip more affordable. Here are some reasons why a group road trip can be a great idea:
- Sharing the cost of gas, lodging, and food with friends or family members can significantly reduce your expenses and make your trip more affordable.
- A group road trip can also be more fun and social, as you’ll have company to share the driving, explore new destinations, and create memories with.
- With more people, you can also take advantage of group discounts on activities, tours, and attractions, which can help you save even more money.
- Sharing the driving responsibilities with others can also reduce fatigue and make the trip safer for everyone.
- You can also split the cost of renting a larger vehicle, such as a minivan or SUV, which can offer more comfort and space for your group.
Overall, a group road trip can be a great way to save money and have a more enjoyable travel experience with friends or family. Just make sure to plan ahead and communicate well to avoid any conflicts or misunderstandings during the trip.
10. Look for discounted attraction tickets or coupons online.
Let’s say you’re planning a road trip with your family to a popular tourist destination, such as a theme park or a national park. You’ve done some research and found out that the admission fees for these attractions can add up quickly, making the trip more expensive than you initially anticipated.
To save money and stick to your budget, you decide to look for discounted attraction tickets or coupons online. You start by checking the official websites of the attractions to see if they offer any deals or discounts for purchasing tickets in advance.
After some searching, you also find several third-party websites that offer discounted attraction tickets or coupons, such as Groupon or LivingSocial. You compare prices and read the reviews to make sure the deals are legitimate and reliable.
Finally, you find a great deal on discounted tickets for the theme park and the national park, which allows you to save a significant amount of money. You purchase the tickets online and print them out before your trip.
11. Research local events and festivals for free or low-cost entertainment options.
Let’s say you’re planning a road trip to a new city, and you’re looking for entertainment options that won’t break the bank. One way to do this is to research local events and festivals that are happening during your trip.
You start by checking the city’s tourism website or social media pages to see if they have a calendar of events. You also look for local newspapers or magazines that list upcoming events and festivals.
As you research, you find that there is a free outdoor concert series happening in the city’s park during your trip, featuring local musicians and food trucks. You also discover a street festival that celebrates the city’s cultural heritage, with free admission and low-cost food and activities.
By planning your trip around these events and festivals, you can enjoy free or low-cost entertainment options that are unique to the city and offer a chance to immerse yourself in the local culture.
In addition to the entertainment value, attending local events and festivals can also be a great way to meet locals and fellow travelers, learn more about the city’s history and culture, and create lasting memories of your road trip.
12. Visit destinations close to home to save on travel costs.
If you’re on a tight budget, consider visiting destinations that are close to your home to save on travel costs. By sticking to places that are within a few hours’ drive, you can avoid the expense of airfare or long-distance travel.
Look for destinations that offer a range of affordable activities, such as hiking trails, parks, or museums. You can also save money by packing your own meals and snacks instead of eating out.
By choosing destinations close to home, you can also minimize the amount of time and money spent on lodging. For example, you could take a day trip or find a budget-friendly hotel or hostel for an overnight stay.
13. Choose destinations with free or low-cost parking options.
it’s important to consider parking fees, which can quickly add up and put a dent in your budget. To save money, look for destinations that offer free or low-cost parking options.
Many parks and beaches offer free parking, while some museums and attractions may have discounted rates for visitors who park in designated areas. You can also look for public parking lots or street parking that offer lower rates than private lots.
Another option is to use a parking app that can help you find the best deals on parking in your destination city. These apps allow you to reserve parking spots in advance and often offer discounted rates or coupons.
By choosing destinations with free or low-cost parking options, you can save money on one of the hidden costs of road trips and use the savings for other activities or expenses.
14. Take advantage of free city tours or walking tours for a budget-friendly way to explore.
Many cities offer free walking tours that are led by knowledgeable locals who can share insights about the city’s history, architecture, and culture.
These tours can be a great way to explore the city’s landmarks, neighborhoods, and hidden gems, all while learning about the city’s unique character. Some tours may also include free samples of local food or drink, making it a fun and tasty way to experience the city.
In addition to free walking tours, many cities also offer self-guided tours that you can download for free from their tourism websites or mobile apps. These tours often include maps, audio guides, or written descriptions that you can use to explore the city at your own pace.
By taking advantage of free city tours or walking tours, you can explore a new city without breaking the bank and gain a deeper appreciation for its history, culture, and people.
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15. Use a travel budget app to track your expenses and stay on budget.
Using a travel budget app is a smart way to stay on track with your expenses during a road trip. These apps allow you to create a budget for your trip, set spending limits for different categories like gas, food, and lodging, and monitor your progress toward your financial goals.
One popular travel budget app is Mint, which can connect to your bank accounts and credit cards to track your spending and categorize your expenses. With Mint, you can set alerts for when you’re close to exceeding your budget limits and get a real-time snapshot of your spending habits.
Another popular app is You Need a Budget (YNAB), which focuses on helping you prioritize your expenses and make intentional spending decisions. YNAB allows you to allocate your money to different categories based on your priorities and can help you stay motivated to save money and reach your financial goals.
By using a travel budget app, you can take control of your finances and make the most of your road trip without overspending.
Going on a road trip doesn’t have to break the bank. By implementing these budget-friendly ideas, you can enjoy a fun and memorable trip without sacrificing your financial well-being. From planning your route ahead of time to using travel budget apps to track your expenses, there are many ways to save money and make the most of your road trip.
Whether you’re traveling solo or with friends and family, these tips can help you stay within your budget and avoid overspending. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and have a great time exploring all the amazing destinations that are waiting for you!
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