Taking A Frugal Road Trip

Hey everyone! Things are looking a bit grim in the U.S. and the rest of the world. Inflation is high, the stock market is crashing, and a recession is looming. We are all feeling a bit poorer these days. Even with these problems, many of us are splurging on travel. The last 2 years were so depressing and isolating. We are determined to have fun this summer, no matter what.

For us, we’re taking a road trip to visit friends and families in California. This trip was put off twice already. Our families are all getting older and we need to see them. We can’t put it off anymore. We’re hitting the road, even with the sky-high price of gasoline and hotels.

However, we’ll try our best to keep it somewhat frugal. That’s our nature so we’re looking for ways to save on this road trip. I’ll share how we keep it cheap. Let me know if you have any tips.

Save on sleeping

Oh wow. The price of a room is insane. Motels cost about $100-150 per night. Moderate hotels run around $150 to $200. I didn’t look at nicer hotels because $200/night is already a lot more expensive than what I’m willing to pay. These prices look high even for California. Inflation is rough on the wallet. Here are some ways to save.

  • Stay with families and friends. We’re going to stay with families on this road trip. It isn’t as convenient or private as a hotel room, but we’ll save over $1,000 by staying in the guest room. This is actually good because we haven’t seen them for a while. It’ll give the kids a chance to get better acquainted.
  • Camping. This is a great way to save some money if you’re visiting for more than a few days. The problem is you’ll have to bring camping equipment. But check out the next two bullets.
  • Cabins and Yurts. I love staying in cabins and yurts. We’ll stay in a yurt for one night on this trip and it is very affordable. The park system hasn’t jacked up the price as much as hotels and motels. It’ll cost us $48/night + $8 processing fee this year. It can be difficult to find a vacancy, though. Most cabins and yurts are booked up months in advance. We got lucky.  
Last time we stayed in a yurt.
  • Camping in your car. Another option is to sleep in your car at a campground. This is only convenient if you have the right vehicle. We can fold down the backseats in our minivan and 2 people can sleep back there pretty comfortably. Oh, we got a couple of narrow folding mattresses. You need something comfortable to sleep on.
  • Use points to book hotels. Some hotel credit cards have great signup bonuses. I got a bunch of points from IHG. I’ll use them when we go to Thailand and the Maldives later. If you book 3 nights with points, you’ll get another night free. It’s a nice deal. The IHG card has a great sign-up bonus right now – 140,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months. Check out the IHG card if you need some free hotel rooms in the future.
  • The IHG
  • More sleeping in your car. If you really need to save some money, you can sleep in your car even more often. You can park at Walmart overnight. I haven’t done this, though.

You can get more tips about sleeping in your car from Jim @ Route to Retire. They are on a long road trip around the USA.

Save on eating

Food can get expensive on the road if you aren’t careful. Of course, you could eat fast food, but that’s not very healthy. They probably aren’t that cheap either. I haven’t gone to a fast-food place for a long time. Well, we indulge in fast food when we go on a road trip, but just once or twice per trip.

Actually, the only tip I have here is to buy some food from the grocery store deli. They are more affordable and you can find healthier choices. When my parents took us on a road trip, they used to get the whole roast chicken, salad, and a loaf of bread. That’s plenty for a family of 5. I usually pick up some sandwiches, trail mix, fruits, and snacks these days.

Save at the pump

Oh man, I heard gas in California cost like $7-8 per gallon. Filling up will be painful on this trip. I wrote a whole post about saving at the pump. Check it out!

Alright, that’s all I got today. Are you going on a road trip this year? Do you try to be frugal or just splurge a bit.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to follow along with our travel. This summer should be a lot of fun.

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. They have many useful tools that will help you reach financial independence.

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21 thoughts on “Taking A Frugal Road Trip”

  1. Wow, $7-8/gallon – that’s off the charts!

    Thanks for the shout-out! I was reading your post and nodding my head with each of the bullets. We’ve done most of those on this trip but I’d still like to do an overnight in a yurt sometime… seems pretty cool!

    We’re wrapping up our time in Vegas right now. We saved a fortune by grocery shopping and eating almost all our meals in the room. When you’re on a road trip versus flying in, you have the bonus of being able to just haul coolers up to your room! 🙂

    Have a great time on your trip!!!

  2. I haven’t seen hotels that high, so we’re just spending like we normally would. In fact, we just booked our most expensive vacation ever. It’ll only be my second time going to Europe and we have a lot of countries to see. It’s more of a personal thing as we’ve been saving and investing for a long time and now it’s time to build some memories.

    I’m still trying to save money in other places where it makes sense. That allows me to justify not being as frugal during vacations.

  3. Great tips. I recently drove to California and had to pay $7.25/gallon to fill up. The pump stopped at $100 before my tank was even full (not a big car). I never thought choosing the right gas station would be part of saving money on a trip, but here we are!

  4. Not sure if anyone has realized this , but the best place to have a relaxing vacation is … at home .

    A lot less stressful than being on the road .

    No ?

  5. Over the years we visited family a lot. It took us awhile to realize we needed some time for just our family. So if you can swing it, I highly recommend staying 1-2 nights somewhere on the way back. It will help unwind after being around others for so long.

  6. My family vacations growing up were ONLY road trips (except for a flight in grade school to see Disney and Kennedy Space Center). We’d strike out from DC to visit Toronto, Chicago, New England — it was always driving. And when we arrived, we’d always either stay with family or camp. Unfortunately my childhood travel in the back of a ’78 Malibu Classic wagon doesn’t really apply to today’s gasoline, food, or lodging situations… or to my wife’s preferences! Which is a shame; her shiny new Golf is an ideal gas-sipping borderline-luxury road trip vehicle.

    Cheers to all of you headed out on four wheels this summer. I hope bumps in the road are few and far between!

    • Same with us. Our vacations were always road trips to national parks. It was fun. I don’t think I appreciated those trips enough, though. Kids always want to stay home. 🙂

  7. Just finished a road trip from Phoenix to Lake Tahoe! Gas in California was 7.00 so we filled our car up just before crossing into california. (Az& NV) it saved almost 1.50 a gallon!! Eating out was pricey so we brought fruit & snacks, wine with us. We invested in a good cooler a couple years ago & it makes all the difference!
    We did eat a few meals out but ate @ 4-5 so hit a couple happy hour prices. We ate breakfast in our timeshare that we lucked out getting! Hotels, nice ones were 450-800!!!! Crazy prices! Lake Tahoe is high!
    We were going to take the ski lift chair ride but it was 63.00 per person so we hiked nearby & got the same view & exercise!
    Beach is still free! It’s a beautiful view.
    We enjoyed ourselves! Everything is expensive!

    • CL, I moved our son to Memphis a few years ago. We stayed in Needles, CA and then crossed over into Arizona. We needed to fill up but something told me to check gas prices in Arizona and low and behold, just over the river, gas was $2 cheaper!

    • We’re on our road trip now. Food is quite expensive on this trip. Even fast-food costs like $10 per person.
      We visited Lassen Volcanic National Park. That cost $30, but it was well worth it.

  8. We’re moving 1500 miles this summer, so that’s going to be a lot like a road trip — and I’m not looking forward to the expensive fuel prices! But, it should be a fun trip!

    Costco is one of my frugal hacks for road tripping. They’re in most decently sized cities, they have the cheapest gas prices around (usually), and the deli has great deals on food too!

    Enjoy your summer road trip Joe!

  9. As for me, I will not go on any road trips this summer.

    I will likely fly to Vancouver for a week in early September and then to Toronto for three nights in late September. The hotel rate in Toronto particularly will be high at around $275 CAN a night.

    During the second week in October, I plan to make another flight to Vancouver for a week.

    In short, as long as my residual income is sufficient to not touch my retirement portfolio or my Prosperity bank accounts, I will still splurge on a number of things including going out to restaurants practically every evening.

  10. We’ve done a LOT of frugal road-tripping in recent years. When you live in Colorado, and your family is in Michigan, it’s the easiest way to do it without spending a bazillion dollars. We live in a fifth-wheel, and have taken it cross-country several times. (Wal-Mart parking lots are not that big a deal…but you have to find out which ones are ok with overnight parking. Try an app that gives you these — we use several, including RV Parky.
    But with current gas prices, we have been just driving, sans fifth-wheel. Here are some things we do, over and over:
    *Instead of buying sandwiches made up, buy the bread, meat, cheese separate — and make the sandwiches yourself. (Small packets of condiments scavenged from fast food will do the trick — or bring a bottle of your favorite mustard or barbecue sauce. They don’t need refrigeration. (Mayo does.) Also helpful: ready-cooked bacon and real bacon bits.
    *Other good foods to bring along: baby carrots, celery (rinse and cut in chunks, then bag — bring a container of dip, if you like that), bubble gum (keeps you awake if you’re driving!), beef sticks or jerky, popcorn or something else crunchy.
    *Start the day with a hot breakfast…even if we snack or eat our own food the rest of the day, a hot meal first thing really helps. It’s usually McDonald’s big meal…or something from their dollar menu. (Dollar menus are a godsend — and reasonably consistent across the country.)
    *Water bottles save on buying pop — or purchase a six- or twelve-pack of pop yourself and bring it with. (Plan B: get the largest drink at McDonald’s — they’re $1.)
    *Rest areas! These are good places for getting some sleep. Look for lots of semis parking — they’re safer. We have slept in cars, and in the fifth-wheel, and have never been bothered, as long as there are lots of semis. (We were asked not to park on the side of the road at a very busy rest area once — but that was it.)
    *Bring your own pillows. You’ll sleep better both in the car, and in people’s guestrooms.
    *Ask the locals where the best places to eat and sleep are. Sometimes they’ll mention that “my aunt’s cousin’s daughter” has a great B&B or restaurant.” Take them up on it!
    *Use the Gas Buddy app to find the cheapest gasoline in whatever area you’re traveling in. Warning: they can be inaccurate…so make sure you use the station that’s closest to the road you’re traveling on.


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