Tips for a Cheap Road Trip


Knipsel

In the past I have had great fun making a number of road trips. In Europe, a three-week trip took me through Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands. In the U.S. I took two one-week road trips in the U.S., one by myself and one with Sarah. The best part of it was that these trips weren’t even all that expensive!

I’d like to share some of the ways in which I managed to save costs on 4 areas: driving, eating, sleeping, and getting discounts.

Driving

On rental cars:

  • In case you don’t have a car yourself and you can’t borrow one, spend time researching rental agencies for your specific trip. It is worth every minute – you can easily save more than 50% from the first offers you will find. Comparing websites such as Kayak are useful starting points, but you can find better deals by going to the websites of rental agencies themselves.
  • Don’t forget to check for coupons. Just Google the name of the agency you are considering plus “coupons”, and you’ll often pick up some savings.
  • If you can, avoid premium locations such as airports, as they charge premium rates.
  • Try to return the car to the location where you picked it up. Otherwise, the agency will charge you for having to return the car to the pick-up location.
  • Make absolutely sure that you very carefully document every possible example of damage to the car before you start driving by taking pictures of every dent, scratch, and stain. You would not be the first (or last) one to be charged for damage that previous drivers have caused – I got screwed over once by Hertz.
  • Don’t take their GPS, but borrow one from a friend, or use a smartphone for your navigation.
  • Return the car with a full tank. The agency will charge you a (very!) premium rate for topping it off.

On the rest:

  • Make sure that you have insurance, regardless whether you are driving a rental car or not, but avoid double coverage. Not taking insurance sounds cheap but is just risky. You can decline the expensive insurance options that the agency offers if you are already covered with your current insurance, or if you pay for the car with a credit card that offers coverage.
  • Gas is gas, the only thing that matters is the price. There are a few fuel apps that help you to quickly find where fuel is cheapest, easily saving you dozens of dollars. My favourite is GasBuddy. Especially useful is the map function, which enables you to quickly find the cheapest option to get gas along the way you are actually going.
  • Parking in the U.S. is cheaper than in Europe, but on either side of the Atlantic you can save a lot of money by quickly checking and using a parking appParkWhiz helps to find and reserve parking spot well in advance. BestParking is useful in finding a cheap shot wherever you are. Apps such as Parkmobile make sure that you only pay for the time that you are actually parked somewhere.

Eating

  • The best way to save costs on eating is to stop eating avoid eating out. Even breakfast and quick snacks from places along the way quickly add up. You are using a car, so you can visit grocery stores. Make a first trip to the supermarket to stock up on essentials such as granola bars, water, salty snacks, etc. If you can, bring a cooler in your car. If you plan to camp during your trip, or if your accommodation has cooking amenities, cooking yourself can be cheap (and fun!).
  • If you do go out for dinner, there is a host of dining apps that can assist you in really quickly finding excellent places to eat. My favourite is Yelp, which has a wide coverage and extensive reviews, helping you to quickly find a place to eat either near you or near any other location.

Sleeping

  • There are alternatives to hotels which are really a lot cheaper. First of all, there is ‘couch surfing‘ – you can sleep on someone’s couch for free. Not my favourite option, though – I like to have some privacy, at least. I have used Airbnb a lot, both in Europe and in the U.S. You can very easily (even at the last moment) find very cheap rooms in every medium-or-bigger-sized city. Go for options with at least 5 reviews, and you are pretty much ensured of a good experience. Often, it includes breakfast and gives you to means to cook for yourself at night.
  • During road trips I always include some nights in a hotel (if only because I just love hotels). Booking.com is my favourite platform for exploring the options, with Tripadvisor as a close second, which allows you to easily search for and compare affordable options. For hotels it is usually the case that you should either reserve rooms far in advance (to get the good priced options) or at the last moment (to benefit from last-minute deals). Do not forget to sign up for hotel chains’ loyalty reward programs – they are worth it. I stayed in China for work in a certain medium-class hotel in Shanghai for ~25 days. I collected points for no less than 5 comfortable hotel nights during my road trips in the U.S.
  • Hostels are of course an even cheaper alternative, but they often come with expected downsides as shared amenities and noise. Hostelworld is an excellent app to find the best last-minute deals, wherever you are, often for $20 per night and less.

Discounts

  • There are many ways to getting a discount on regular prices. The first one is through (online) coupons. Just Google whatever you are planning to do with the world “coupons”, and you’ll quickly find out if there is something to save. Sarah is a master at doing this, for instance getting us 20% discounts at Macy’s and a free premium upgrade at Hertz.
  • Study what your Credit Card already offers you (or what a new one may offer). They for instance often include some sort of travel insurance. In additional to any such extras they may offer, any purchase you do using the card earns you points that will help you pay for the next trip.
  • The Tripadvisor app is unmatched when it comes to finding the right (affordable) things to do and see along your way. It lists all the possible attractions and reports prices and extensive reviews.

Did I miss anything? If so, let me know! In any case, have a good trip and drive save!

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One comment on “Tips for a Cheap Road Trip

  1. jmonck says:

    I would suggest making sure to rent a fuel efficient car, and camping as cheap to sleep option.

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