Saving Money on Road Trips: Vacation Cost Cutters

Save money on long road trips

04 Aug Saving Money on Road Trips: Vacation Cost Cutters


Save money on long road trips

How we cut costs on our last vacation trip

Over the last couple of weekends we traveled out of town to two different weddings. When you live on a tight budget you don’t necessarily have a lot of cash to just pack up and take off for a few days like that. It would be easy to reach for a credit card and just worry about the trip’s expenses later.

But in our house we don’t do that. Since we don’t believe in debt anymore, we don’t have credit cards. And that’s just fine by me, since I can’t stomach the idea of paying for gas, food, and fun for months after they’ve been consumed.

Setting Savings Goals for Vacation

So what did we do? I’m so glad you asked! First,we established a goal. We started calculating the miles we would be traveling, the cost of hotel rooms, and tolls we would have to pay. We also added in a meal or two along the way because we figured the kids wouldn’t go all weekend without eating. We had a pretty good idea of how much money we needed to save in order to pay cash for the trip. We didn’t want to dip into savings so we worked really hard to cash flow everything.

We knew several months in advance that we would be taking these trips. So we started identifying areas where we could cut back so we could save a little money for the trip. When we came in under budget at the end of the month, instead of splurging on eating out we chose to save the money for the trip. We reallocated some funds and adjusted some categories in the budget as well.

Saving money on Hotels & Food

Next, we used bookingbuddy.com [affiliate link] to find the best hotel rates where we were staying. I like Booking Buddy because they compare prices across all the discount travel & ticket websites like Travelocity and Expedia. We were able to save a few bucks on the rates, although the security alarm at the credit union across the street woke us up in the middle of the night. I think I might splurge on a hotel in a nicer neighborhood next time. We did save about $60 for both weekends, though.

After we added up all our projected expenses we realized the trip budget was going to be pretty tight so we started looking for ways to reduce expenses. We packed a cooler full of ice from our freezer and brought along sandwiches, drinks, meats and condiments for making sandwiches to eat on the road and in the hotel room. That freed up a couple of meals on the road that would have cost us about $80 at restaurants for both trips.

Saving Money on Tolls

Finally, we knew we had to go through a lot of toll booths on the way to both weddings, so we borrowed a friend’s iPass to save time and money. We paid our friend back for the tolls we incurred, but since we used the iPass we saved upwards of 50% on each toll. Yes, we could have taken the slower free roads but that would have cost us a lot of extra time on the road. Not to mention that would have resulted in lots of extra time in traffic, and poorer gas mileage. So the convenience was worth the tolls to me.

So the combination of booking cheaper hotels, borrowing the iPass, and bringing our own food saved us $140-ish for both trips. Not bad at all. When it was all said and done, we had enough to replace the front brakes on our van, which made the whole trip safer, too.

Readers: How do you save money on road trips?

5 Comments
  • Tushar Mathur
    Posted at 08:48h, 08 August

    All good tips. Will use them on our next family trip for sure.

  • Financial Success for Young Adults
    Posted at 09:28h, 08 August

    Planning is defintely the key to saving money in general. It’s because of planning that I know that I cannot take a road trip at all this summer 🙁 But I will be able to take a cruise or small vacation in December, which is what I am working towards.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 09:50h, 08 August

      Talk about delaying pleasure – sacrificing a little today so you can enjoy something later. That’s winning with money in my book!

  • Luke Sleaford
    Posted at 05:32h, 18 July

    I carry a cooler with beverages also. Saves some money and time stopping. I will also buy some snacks ahead of time. When at the hotel, we will buy a case of bottled water, from a local grocery store, and put in the room refer, saves a lot compared to their $3 a bottle for water. We will take advantage of the microwave also and cook meals when we can. Of course we do like to eat out as well, but doing these does save on our food budget.

    • Matt Wegner
      Posted at 05:49h, 18 July

      We do the case of bottled water too, Luke. We don’t always get a room with the microwave so we tend to pack cold meals in the cooler. Great way to save money though.