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How to Save Money on a Road Trip

Good news – you decided to go on a road trip and live out of your car! By living out of your car, you’re thinking it shouldn’t be too expensive since one of the most expensive items are hotels, right? We would agree, but there are other ways to save a buck or two especially if you plan for it. We are here to help you reduce your spending with our tips and tricks to keep those expenses down and the good times rolling.

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**This post contains affiliate links and On the Move with Liza and Stephen will be compensated if you purchase after clicking on our links, with no cost to you.


Going on a long road trip was one of the first things we did once we retired. We traveled to 15 states over 6 months living out of our converted 2002 Honda CRV. This series was created to help you with the lessons we learned on our journey including how we created our platform bed inside our car. We hope this will help you where ever the road takes you.


What to do before getting started with building your platform bed.

Overview of car camping.

Cooking outside is fun, but it can also be difficult. Here are some things to consider when car camping.

Getting a good nights sleep is essential to car camping. Here are ways to ensure you sleep better.

Money saving tips while on the road.


Where You Should Spend Money

One of the first things you need to decide 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

We 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 prepare the night before and 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.

When 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.

Next, one of the things we do before and during our road trip to save money is to stockpile condiments. When we get takeout or go to a restaurant, we save our condiment packets to take with us. For example, 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 to 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

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

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. Take a look at our beginners guide to outdoor cooking if you want some ideas on how we managed.

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.

Bonus savings: If you go to a designated campsite, walk around after checkout time as most people leave their unused firewood behind. Here is a great way to get some added wood to roast marshmellows during your stay. Also, depending upon where you are in the world, 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.

Follow us on Instagram: @onthemovewithlizaandstephen to see where we are and come along on our adventure. Consider subscribing to our blog. If you have questions, try reviewing our other posts or sending us an email.


If you are interested, we wrote a financial series to learn how to become financially independent or retire early. You may also enjoy our hiking series.


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