3 Easy Ways to Save Money on a Cross-Country Road Trip

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

Relocating for a job can be expensive. This is a concept all too familiar to me at the moment, but through my recent experiences I have learned a lot about frugality, determining what’s most important, and making wise financial decisions in spite of emotional attachments to your possessions.

I’ve also learned a little bit about saving money while on a cross-country road trip. Here are three tips from my 5-day journey from Michigan to Washington state.

Tip #1: Be Conscious of Ways to Reduce Fuel Expense

Because we had literally packed everything we owned (after a major downsize) into the back of a Rav4, the cargo rack carrier, and a small luggage hitch, our vehicle was heavier than normal.

While we didn’t have much choice in this decision, carrying more weight will always cost more fuel. Travel as lightly as possible for the best gas mileage. Here are some other ways to have better fuel efficiency:

  • Use cruise control when possible.
  • Use the fan or open the windows instead of A/C when possible to reduce the load on the engine over long distances.
  • Get your fuel-injection system cleaned every 25,000 miles (especially prior to a long trip).
  • Choose routes that avoid steep inclines or stop-and-go traffic. This isn’t always an option (such as when driving through mountain ranges like we did), but it’s important to be conscious of.
  • Use gift and rewards cards at participating gas station chains. You’ll often get as much as a $0.04 discount per gallon. If you know you’re moving, stock up or request them as going-away gifts.

Tip #2: Spend a Lot Less on Roadway Meals

First of all, we opted to stay with a hotel chain that always includes continental breakfast. This gives us one ‘free’ meal each day, so we can eat our fill before hitting the road (besides, according to many health experts, you’re supposed to eat your largest meal of the day for breakfast!).

Before leaving, we also filled our coffee mugs for the road to avoid spending more at a coffee chain. By the afternoon, we occasionally needed another caffeine jolt, but at least we weren’t making expensive coffee stops twice-a-day.

For lunch we never eat fast food when on a road trip. This means thinking ahead and packing a cooler bag with road-appropriate snacks such as protein bars and shakes, trail mix, and fruit. Of course, if you’re not stopping at all, you’ll be more limited on which items the driver can eat while on the road.

We did pick up a few snacks and drinks at gas stations during re-fueling stops, but ate a lot healthier and less expensively than if we’d chosen fast food. We did eat out for dinner each evening, and were able to enjoy healthier meals  than we’d have eaten on the go.

Tip #3: Join a Hotel Rewards Club

If you’re already a frequent traveler for work, you’ve probably already realized the advantages of this. Each visit to your hotel chain earns you points which can be accumulated towards free stays and perks.

We used a free night my husband’s work travels had accumulated, so we only had to pay for two nights instead of three. Besides that, as a rewards club member, you’ll always be treated as royalty.

Besides these tips, there are also many other ways to save money, such as ensuring your vehicle is serviced prior to a trip to avoid towing charges and unexpected repairs. Lastly, if your trip is part of a relocation expense, be sure to save your gas, food, hotel, and other receipts to claim as a deduction on your income taxes.

What tip do you have that helps save money on cross-country moves?

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