Roadtrip on a Budget

Death Valley, roadtrip, sunset, Dunheger Travel Blog


The summer is getting closer everyday, and after enduring a long, grueling winter, there’s no better way to reward yourself than by getting out and hitting the open roads. The best laid plans can be cut short, though, by improper planning and lack of funds. If you want to get out and stay out for longer than the average adventurer, there are a few things you can do to save money and cut expenses when traveling by car. With the right budget and these few simple travel hacks, there’s no limit to how far you can go.

Meals on Wheels:

Since you are road-tripping, inevitably you will have a personal vehicle to get from place to place. While many people make the mistake of stopping for fast food, buying junk at gas stations, and visiting restaurants on a daily basis, food expenses are the number one budget breaker for most travelers. Instead, spend the cost of one meal on a decent sized cooler that will comfortably fit in your trunk or back seat, and fill it with essential snacks, drinks and preplanned meals. Purchase some large Tupperware and make meals each time you stop at friends or families houses, or if you plan on couchsurfing or finding a hostel that offers a community kitchen.

Meals on wheels, Dunheger Travel Blog
Meals on wheels, Flickr © C.C. Chapman

Foods such as pasta, tuna and chicken salads will last for days if you keep ice in the cooler, and breakfasts can be taken care of with one large tub of yogurt and a box of dry oats. Fruits and vegetables can be purchased daily at small markets on the side of the road, and hot dogs, bacon and canned foods can be cooked around an open fire when camping. Sandwich making are also a great idea and can be assembled in picnic areas of rest stops. Dry foods, such as a loaf of bread, will also save room in the cooler.


Figuring out where to stay while traveling is another one of those money-guzzling commodities that can actually be avoided with proper planning. National Parks are free to camp in, and there are a number of online websites that will show free campsites near you when you use the search term boondocking. If you have driven too far and find yourself getting tired, all truck stops have open spaces that will allow you to sleep in your car, and as a bonus, there are often showers for a small fee and places to brush your teeth in the morning. Just make sure to wear flip-flops before you purchase any public shower time.

Camping, Dunheger Travel Blog
Camping, Flickr © Rob Lee

Aside from these options and staying with friends and any extended family you may find, couchsurfing is a great way to meet new people and get a free bed for the night, and hostels, though slightly more expensive than the other options, are still much cheaper than buying a hotel room every night. If you plan on camping the whole way through, keep in mind that State Parks only charge a minor entrance fee and provide showers in the camping areas for your convenience. If you follow these suggestions, you may actually only need to purchase a hotel room for fun 2-3 times a month while traveling.


Although there isn’t much you can do about the price of gas, making sure that you have the right vehicle with good gas mileage can certainly save a ton of money in the long run. While it isn’t practical to run out and purchase a new car just for a road trip, there are a few things you can do to make sure your vehicle is running at top performance. Before you take off for the best road trip of your life, spend a little extra time and money making sure that your car is up to par. It can save you hundred of dollars in mechanic fees down the road and a ton of headache.

Prepare your car for roadtrip, Dunheger Travel Blog
Prepare your car for roadtrip,Flickr © William Warby

Also, by making sure that belts are working properly, fluids are filled up and the oil has been changed, you can save gas money as well. Try buying a system cleaner liquid that pours into your gas tank and removes the gunk from your spark plugs, check to make sure that your tires stay inflated properly the whole trip, and always stay within the speed limits. In the long run, these tips will save an enormous amount on gas and will keep you from having to deal with auto-shops in foreign places that can take advantage of your dilemma.

No matter how you travel, the more money you save, the more you will have to either keep going longer or to spend on a nice meal when you find yourself in a place that prides themselves on cuisine, or you’ll just have extra money for attraction fees and souvenirs along the way. There’s never been a traveler that didn’t love keeping money in their pockets, and these few tips can most likely double or even triple the amount of time you can stay out on the road. Regardless of how you do it, make sure to always stay safe, know the rules of where you’re staying, and constantly be aware of your surroundings. Have fun and happy roadtripping!