How Do I Save Money While Traveling? Tips for Cars

How Do I Save Money While Traveling? Tips for Cars

If there’s one thing that I can’t compromise on in this life, it’s the love for travel, but grownup responsibilities mean grownup expenses. The Budget Travel Tips series from First Choice Power examine how you can travel while finding a way to save money. Whether you’re in school, have a family, or just don’t have the income you wish to support your travel dreams, we share tips on how you can still see the world – without going into debt!

Traveling by car is one of my favorite ways to travel. Unlike travel by air, one experiences the landscape in a whole different way. The undulations of the landscape are absorbed one mile at a time, and the opportunity to witness wildlife is around each bend.

A few summers ago, we drove from Houston, TX to Banff, Canada, putting thousands of miles on our car, and camping the whole way. Hugging the great Rocky Mountain Range up and back, we drove thousands of miles that didn’t seem that far at all, because the view outside our windows contained some of the most captivating scenery we have ever experienced. There is no way we would have seen those roaming buffalo and mountain goats, majestic waterfalls, and incredible rainbows, had we taken an airplane to get there.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and we did it within a budget.

How Do I Save Money While Traveling? Tips for Cars
Driving allows you to stop and take in the scenery – like these ice packs in Glacier National Park, Montana!

With the relatively low price of gasoline at the time of this publication, traveling by car is cheap, and the ideal way to see new places on a budget. And it doesn’t have to be arduous, long and boring. Pack these tips with you the next time you have a smooth and fun trip as you travel by car.

1) Get Your Oil Changed and Other Maintenance

It’s important that your means of transportation doesn’t wind up breaking down, as the costs for towing and repair will certainly break your budget. Take care of those car maintenance needs before you head out on your journey. Sign up for a AAA policy if you don’t already have one. You never know when disaster may strike, and often the cost of one of these policies is well under the cost of one tow during the year.

2) Plan your Route and Get Off the Beaten Path

How Do I Save Money While Traveling? Tips for Cars
Driving gets you off the beaten path to see stuff like this animal bridge across a highway in Montana.

Map out your route from home to your destination, and keep an open mind while doing so. Consider the alternative routes you can take to get there!

While the major highways might get you there on a quick and straightforward path, often the old country roads (often marked as “Farm-to-Market” (FM) or “Ranch-to-Market” (RR) roads) are more scenic. If you are traveling near rivers, consider a road that hugs the river.

Not only that, you might find a nice spot to pull over to have a picnic. Or maybe you’ll find some rustic BBQ joint in the middle of nowhere!

3) Use the Rest Stops

Texas has built beautiful rest stops all across this state. Many rest stops also have nice benches and tables where you can enjoy lunch. Take advantage of the trash cans and empty out the trash you’ve accumulated on your travels.

Most of the restrooms are cleaner than restrooms at convenience stores, and there’s the no guilt of having to spend money by purchasing a drink or chips to simply use a toilet.

They’re also the perfect place to let your pets out to get some exercise. Keep them on the leash of course, and bring those doggy poop bags!

4) Pack Travel Snacks and Lunch

When you’re traveling on a budget, every dollar counts. Be smart by packing healthy snacks and lunch items. And instead of buying drinks, bring a gallon or two of water with you along with your refillable water bottle.

Rather than stopping for coffee, you could also pack a thermos of coffee, along with a small jug of milk. Get pastoral, pack a quilt, and have a cup of coffee at a rest stop while you take in the view.

5) Camping or Couch Surfing?

How Do I Save Money While Traveling? Tips for Cars
RV parks are a cheap way to camp, especially if you need a few amenities beyond camping.

If you really want to get away from it all and travel dirt cheap, then car camping or staying with friends is really the cheapest route to take. Staying at hostels also provides cheap lodging, and you are likely to find folks open to a potluck meal at dinner time.

How Do I Save Money While Traveling? Tips for Cars
Hostels not your thing? Stay in a teepee like this one in Taos, NM!

And by car camping, we don’t mean sleeping in your car (though this could be an option for those of you with minivans or other large backseat areas). Car camping is when you stay at a campsite you can drive up to, as opposed to hike into.

The advantage to car camping is numerous, the most important one being that you don’t have to carry all of your stuff in at one time. Water is the heaviest camping item of all, so with the car, you can keep your water supply close at hand. Don’t always assume a camp site has running water. They often don’t.

Break out the map, and start planning your next road trip now!

Up next in the Budget Travel Tips series: Travel by Bus!

Photos courtesy of Ebony Porter.

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Born in Australia, Ebony has been in Texas long enough to consider herself a Texan-Aussie. Ebony has been writing for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, for more than 10 years. When she's not writing she's building quilts, growing her own food, or camping with her family somewhere far from the sounds of the city.