How to Save Money on a Road Trip

Table of Contents

1. Where You Should Spend Money

2. Getting Supplies

3. Hotel Opportunities

4. Low-Cost Camping

5. Hiking


Good news – you decided to go on a road trip! Since you are living out of your car, you’re thinking it shouldn’t be too expensive, but that’s not always the case. Well, we are here to help you reduce your spending with our tips and tricks to keep those expenses down and the good times rolling.

Where You Should Spend Money

One of the first things you need to investigate is where you want to spend money and where it's okay to be cheap. To give an example, Liza and I spent money on our sleeping bags because we also use them when we go backpacking. So, we went for a higher-end sleeping quilt with a low-temperature rating. If this isn’t important to you but having a top-of-the line camp stove is, then that’s what you should consider spending more on.

Getting Supplies

Oatmeal and bananas

Next, we would recommend bringing food and supplies from home. For breakfast, we always eat the same thing, and we love it. It may not be for everyone, but we have cold-soaked overnight oats we can prepare the night before that are ready for eating when we wake up. Oatmeal is cheap and nutritious, too. We add peanut butter and granola with some fruit, and our bellies smile. If you need to go shopping, try to plan ahead. Look for larger grocery stores and sign up for their respective savings cards as shopping in small towns can be more expensive.

One of the things we do before and during a road trip to save money is to stockpile condiments. When we get takeout or go to a restaurant, we save our packets and keep them to take with us. When we have been on a long-term road trip for several months, we do not purchase (or have only minimally purchased) mayonnaise, ketchup, peanut butter, honey, mustard, soy sauce, or duck sauce. You will be surprised what you can do with these condiments! We also have an abundance of stevia, some sugar packets for our coffee and a couple of backup half-and-half capsules if we need emergency rations, compliments of our coffee shops. Thank you!

Hotel Opportunities

Part of our trips consist of going to hotels every six or eight days to wash our clothes, do work, or visit cities. For us, our expectations are only of a clean hotel with a washer and dryer. Bonus points if they have complimentary breakfast. Breakfast offerings mean that we can resupply our condiments and, of course, vary our breakfast meals.

Drying clothes on rack

We also use the hotel as a reset before we go on our next road trip extension since we are living out of our car. We take this opportunity to clean everything, including the interior of the car. Depending on the next leg of the trip, we might take advantage of the electricity and cook some basic meals – like quinoa, rice, and pasta – in our Instant Pot. In turn, this will make it easier when we are cooking outside.

The other opportunity is in the soaps, shampoos, conditioners, and lotions that come complimentary from the hotels. We purchased refillable containers and will mix the contents with our current ones – we aren’t too fussy with these things. As a bonus, sometimes we can request items we may have run out of from the front desk which saves us from going to the store and helps us to further save money on our road trip.

Low-Cost Camping

Camping in places like those operated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can be a wonderful experience, especially because these properties are low-cost or even free. Since there are no designated campsites, you may need to take additional safety measures with your food because of wild animals. Typically, you cannot reserve these sites so it is first come, first serve, and there are usually restrictions by state, so research ahead of time. Consider using an app called TheDyrt or for more information.

An additional option for low-cost camping is to join nationwide campgrounds like KOA which have membership discounts, although these do cost more than most government-owned properties.

If you go to a designated campsite for a couple of days, walk around after checkout time as most people leave their firewood behind and you can use it during your stay. Depending upon where you are, pinecones make great kindling, or you can bring cotton balls with added Vaseline, but research and practice this ahead of time.


Two hikers

One of the biggest pleasures of our road trip journey is hiking. Getting an annual subscription to the National Park Service (NPS) Homepage (U.S. National Park Service) is a terrific way to save money on a road trip if you use the pass at least a few times each year. An app like AllTrails is a terrific way to find trails by location which includes maps, waypoints, and directions which you can purchase annually. You can also access state parks with vehicle fees or annual passes which might be great for travelling to larger states. It’s easy to look these up ahead of time by searching for ‘hiking trails”.

With a little planning, you can reduce your spending while on your road trip adventure. We gamify the above to make things fun and keep our spending down. In turn, this allows us to either save money or spend it on cool experiences along our road trip journey.

We would love to hear what you do to keep your costs down while living out of your car.

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