5 Tips for a Frugal Road Trip This Summer

My guy and I are embarking on our first road trip together; driving 2,400 miles from North Carolina to Michigan and back to North Carolina. With a dog. Part of me is wondering what the hell I got us into, but the logical money-focused side of me knows this is the cheapest way.

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We’re heading to one of my best friend’s wedding and then on to my guy’s friend’s house to celebrate the 4th of July. (Kinda confusing, I know. Got all that?) Since we’d be flying into Podunk, Mich., plane tickets were WAY over budget for the full-time student/new entrepreneur. We’re talking like $700 each; more if we rent a car or have multiple destinations.

After a lot of number-crunching, our trip– if we were to fly– would cost more than $2,000 (including food, travel expenses, rental car on the other end, accommodations and other miscellaneous expenses). Forget that. Instead, we’re picking up a rental car and spending some quality time on the road.

Keeping costs down on a road trip isn’t nearly as difficult as you’d think.

If you can drive your vehicle, you automatically save money. In our case, we didn’t trust either of our vehicles to go the 1,200 miles (one-way). So, we hit the web to get the best deal on a rental. A rental car for a week cost less than 1 plane ticket. Plus, the rented Chevy Malibu gets WAY better gas mileage than either of our SUVs.

Frugal Road Trip Tip #1: Score Full-Size Rental for Economy Price

Did you know if you’re a USAA member you can get up to 25% off rental cars? Just log into your account and then go to “Our Products” and then “Travel Discounts” under “Shopping and Discounts.”

Since we only have 2 days to get to the wedding in Upper Michigan, we’re going to do as little stopping along the way as possible. But we still gotta eat! And because I’m one of those people who eats when I’m bored or stuck at a desk or in a car, I hit up the grocery store for some healthy snacks.

Frugal Road Trip Tip #2: Never Pay for Things That Melt

Find room for a cooler and make your own ice. (Beware: this could take a few days if you have to manually make ice with 2 ice trays.) When buying snacks, think string cheese, high-quality lunch meats, vegetables and fruit. Don’t worry, I got my guy some non-healthy MAN food like Doritos and Dr. Pepper.

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Healthy Road Trip Tip #3:  Avoid Twisty Roads, But if You Can’t …

Always carry ginger ale in case of car sickness. Always. Trust me.

Since we’re not machines, we are going to have to stop and have a bit of a rest during this trip. We lucked out to have a friend we could stay with at the mid-point of our drive, allowing us to save on a hotel room.

Frugal Road Trip Tip #4: Bunk at Second-Cousin Eddie’s House

Reach out to friends or family members who live along your route to see if you can crash with them. Not only will you (probably) get a free place to stay, but most they will enjoy spending a little time with you.

Frugal Road Trip Tip #5: Leave the Full Priced Hotel Rooms to Civilians

No one along the route? Find hotels that offer military discounts through Military.com. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount if you stop at a Mom & Pop place or don’t have a reservation. Need a pet-friendly hotel? Check out Official Pet Hotels or PetsWelcome.com for hotels along your route.

With all that planning, the hardest part is going to be the actual driving … and being stuck in a very small space for the better part of 2 days. Heaven help us.

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Just kidding. It’s going to be a blast. Plus, we’ll spend half the amount of money compared with flying.

How do you stay sane during a road trip? Share your tips and tricks with us. 

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