Road tripping around the US, and beyond, can get very expensive, very quickly. To help us stay on the road longer, and spend less, we learned a few tricks along the way. This is a starting guide to saving money while out on the road.
✓ Pick a primary hotel chain
With hotels it’s all about the points and how many points you can earn to get free nights or heavily discounted nights. Often you can earn more points as your status with a hotel goes up so having a primary hotel helps you earn those status tiers faster. For instance a Hilton Silver status earns a 20% points bonus while a Diamond status earns a 100% points bonus – so with Diamond status you can get to free nights much quicker.
Our typical order for finding and booking a hotel
Hilton → Choice Privileges → IHG → Booking.com
✓ Sign up for a hotel credit card
Hotel Credit Cards can offer immediate savings at the time of booking, future savings in the form of earned points, as well as an immediate jump in status which comes with its own perks. On top of the earned bonuses hotel credit cards will often have a signup bonus where large amounts of points can be earned in the first 2-3 months after meeting a required spend amount – typically from 50,000 – 100,000+ bonus points.
We’ve switched to using a hotel credit card as our primary way of paying for everything since we earn points, plus multipliers, on every purchase. Multipliers can range from 2x – 6x points based on the purchase. Points will add up very quickly.
See our Hotel Credit Card Guide to see what signup bonuses are currently being offered and what other perks you can expect.
✓ Use Booking.com
Booking.com offers a tiered loyalty program called Genius Levels. What makes their program better than others is that once you reach a tier you stay at that tier for life. You never have to worry about staying qualified.
On top of the Genius level discounts of 10-20% you can also earn Travel Credits on each stay. This means you earn dollars (credit) towards future stays which can significantly decrease the actual cost for a stay.
It’s really a game you play in your head with booking a stay. Are the points earned directly through a hotel (stays with Booking.com typically don’t earn hotel points) worth more than the savings and travel credit of Booking.com? Regardless you should earn Genius Level 3 with Booking.com as quick as you can and get those discounts & room upgrades.
tip: Booking.com may have rooms at sold out properties so it’s good to check with them.
✓ Use the amenities offered by a hotel
You paid for your stay and included in that price are the amenities so use them and the savings will add up.
How to save:
- Use the in-room shampoo and coffee. I know the shampoo isn’t the highest quality but it does get the job done.
- The complimentary breakfast is the perfect on the go breakfast. Before checking out we grab our breakfast and snack for the road. Works perfectly for us.
- Fill a travel mug with coffee for the road – get a good travel mug as it can keep your coffee warm for hours.
✓ Get food from grocery stores
Restaurants tend to be the second most costly thing while road tripping just behind places to stay. Anyone road tripping long term will quickly find out at that eating in restaurants every day just doesn’t work.
How we eat while on the road:
- Breakfast: Complimentary hotel breakfast or we buy frozen breakfast sandwiches
- Lunch: For lunch we usually eat quick grab foods from the grocery store like tuna, sandwich stuff, fruit with cheese & crackers. Basically we buy stuff that we can take to a “lunch spot” (park, beach, trailhead).
- Dinner: While we do eat at restaurants to try local foods, special must-try foods and cool eating spots, more often we hit the grocery store for salads, sandwiches and buffet bars to help reduce our travel costs.
Grocery stores greatly reduce our overall food costs so we can splurge on desserts and those special dinners.
✓ Find free activities
Tourist attractions tend to be very expensive and will quickly drain your travel budget so finding cheaper alternatives is important to keep a reasonable travel budget and allow you to stay on the road longer.
- Search out hiking trails with a payoff; waterfalls, lookouts, caves, natural formations. Pack in a lunch and make it more than just a walk in the woods.
- Use a service like Roadside America to find those quirky, and often overlooked, roadside attractions.
- Take a walk in a small quaint downtown exploring the shops, local food and of course ice cream.
- Make the journey an adventure by getting off the main interstates and taking the back country roads. We have found many of our favorites places by doing this.
✓ Buy water and juice in bulk
It seems obvious but the cost of water, juice and soda at gas stations or convenience stores is overly inflated in price. You can save 50-75% by buying in bulk. We have a space in our vehicle for bulk water, juice and keep a basket right behind us filled with single bottles we can grab while driving.
✓ Spend time at state, county and national parks
There are 1000s of amazing parks across the US and Canada to explore. Did you know that there are over 400+ properties in the National Park System? Add that to state and county parks and you’ve just found 1000s of places to explore that cost much less than the more “touristy” attractions. Most parks let you spend the day there for less than $10 and many are free.
Your savings will add up quickly without sacrificing a great adventure.
note: We want to be on the road as long as possible and that means cutting costs where ever we can. Every $100 pays for another night on the road. Saving money where we can adds up to more adventures.
Have a question or comment?