Tips for Saving Money on a Cross-Country Road Trip

by Miranda Marquit · 4 comments

road trip
I don’t normally get into penny pinching, but I do like to try to get good value for my money when I’m planning a big expense. The good news is that I normally find a few areas to save money on when I do make the effort. This was again the case when I took eight days to drive from my old home in Pennsylvania to my new home in Idaho.

After the moving truck was loaded and on its way, we packed up the car with what was left, and headed out. Here are some things I did to save some money while we traveled:

Drive Moderately

One of the ways to improve your gas mileage while on a long road trip is to drive moderately. I didn’t go over the speed limit in an attempt to keep my gas costs lower. This was especially important, since we had items tied to the top of the car and bikes on the back of the car.

I also make it a point to maintain my car so that it runs smoothly and gets the best gas mileage possible. Over the course of 3,000 miles (we tool several detours to see things a little out of our way), those savings can add up.

Use Rewards Programs

Rewards programs can help you save money when you book hotel rooms. You can save more money by looking for campgrounds to stay at, rather than hotels. While my son and I enjoy camping, and we’ve stayed at campgrounds in the past, this time we stayed at hotels each night.

For the most part, I’m still building up my Marriott rewards after using them all over New Year to come visit my family for a week. However, I had rewards from Orbitz, and was able to use those to book some of my rooms, saving money on each night’s stay.

It also helped to book during sales. Since I knew I’d spend two nights in two different locations during the trip, and I booked during a promotion that offered an additional discount for staying multiple nights. I managed to save about $600 just in hotel room costs during the trip.

Discounts on Activities

Don’t forget to look for discounts on activities. I wanted to turn our cross-country move into a vacation, which is why we spent a little more than normal on this trip. However, I still wanted to save money somewhere, so I looked for discounts on activities.

We got a City Pass when we passed by Chicago, which allowed us VIP admission into five different attractions. The Pass had already paid for itself after visiting two attractions, so we basically got three admissions for for free.

When we stayed at one hotel, it came with free passes to a local waterpark. Since we were there to visit a waterpark, it was convenient to receive free passes — and it save us money, too!

Look for discounts if you are planning ahead. Sometimes I sign up for Groupon and Living Social in cities I know I’ll be visiting, just so that I can get access to potential deals in those areas.

While I’m sure there are things I could have done to save even more money on my road trip, I’m pretty pleased with the outcome.

How do you save money when you go on road trips?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Alley says:

    My husband and I are musicians, so that means 2 things: 1. we travel a lot and 2. we’re broke! OK, #2 is a bit of an exaggeration, but “money’s no object” is a phrase you won’t hear passing our lips in the foreseeable future.
    Anyhoo, when we need to stay at hotels, we actively seek out those with either kitchenettes or at least a microwave and mini-fridge so we can bring our own food with us. Typically these are properties that cater to the extended-stay market.
    Candlewood Suites have nice kitchenettes, also stayed at a Shilo Inn property in Idaho Falls that had microwave/mini-fridge combo, plus a separate sink for washing dishes.
    Soon, however, we will be changing up our tactics as we recently acquired a used 5th wheel. The “Boomer Bus” may soon be rolling to your town, ready to party it down!

  • Jon @ Penny Thots says:

    Another tip would be to avoid tourist traps. Yes there are some out there that are really cool and worth it, but there are others that are a waste of time and money. Luckily you can check out reviews online to see which one they are.

  • Paul Moyer @SavingFreak says:

    Definitely great ideas. My family has been looking into renting an RV for a cross country trip. Jeff Rose over at Good Financial Cents has a great write up of how they did it . My wife did this with her family as a child and her dad said that the savings in food and lodging made a huge difference in the cost.

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