How to have a cost-efficient road trip
Man and woman on a road trip

Piling into the car for a road trip has been a travel tradition for generations. Whether the destination is a city, a beach, or a national park, a road trip is a great way to discover new places on your own schedule without spending a fortune. While road trips tend to be more cost-effective than other kinds of vacations, the costs can still add up rapidly if you’re not careful. Follow these easy tips to stretch your budget farther on your next road trip.

Plan ahead

The best thing you can do to save money on the road is to plan in advance. This includes finding the best routes to avoid tolls, aiming to fill up where gas is cheapest, staying in areas with friendlier prices, and avoiding peak travel times like long weekends if you can. Knowledge is power, and in the case of a road trip, knowledge is also savings.

Camp out

There tend to be two types of road-tripping families: those that camp and those that don’t. If you’re among the latter category, the appeal of sleeping on the ground and sharing communal toilets and showers may be a tough sell, but this is by far the most cost-effective kind of accommodation on the road and can be a fun way to introduce your kids to the joys of “roughing it” in nature. Just be sure to book your sites well in advance, and shop around for the best rates.

Rent a home

If four walls, a roof, and a comfy bed are essentials (it’s supposed to be a vacation, after all) then you’ll benefit from doing a bit of homework on your accommodation options in advance. While the prices of rental homes vs. hotel rooms can sometimes be similar, there are advantages to renting a house or apartment instead of staying in a hotel. For one, with a bigger group come bigger potential savings, especially if everyone doesn’t need their own dedicated bedroom. For another, renting a place with a fully-equipped kitchen means having the ability to cook your own meals, which can save even more money.

Location matters 

Whether you’re booking a hotel or a home, remember the realtor’s creed: location, location, location. Stays near major attractions like stadiums and theme parks will cost more, as will stays in city centres. Instead, look for a booking well outside the downtown core or out of the city altogether. This might mean spending more time driving and paying for parking when you get there, but by researching travel distances and parking rates online you can make it pay off in your favour.

Bring your own food

Next to lodging and fuel, food will be among your biggest expenses on the road. Packing your own snacks, lunches, and food staples will allow you more flexibility in terms of how and when you eat, save you money, and help you avoid unhealthy food choices – which tend to be the predominant kind along the highway. If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, you can also create a rough meal plan of easy dishes like chili and spaghetti that require a few simple ingredients, either brought from home or purchased at a grocery store en route. Bring a travel kit of kitchen essentials like cooking oil, spices and sandwich necessities, which will keep you from buying smaller (and less cost-effective) amounts along the way.

Get a tune-up 

A little prevention goes a long way, particularly when you’re driving long distances. Ahead of your trip, bring your vehicle into the shop for a tune-up, and deal with any possible issues, from changing the oil to replacing the tires to refreshing the wiper blades. Whatever you spend now will likely be less than you’ll pay to get it done on the road, not to mention saving yourself the stress and inconvenience of spending hours (or days) without a vehicle during your vacation.

Don’t speed

The journey, they say, is more important than the destination – especially when speeding tickets are concerned. Take your time, enjoy the scenery, and avoid the cost and hassle of falling on the wrong side of the highway patrol. Nothing sours a vacation faster than a speeding ticket.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
Looking for a home and auto insurance quote?