17 simple ways to road trip on a budget
There’s no 2 ways about. Travelling on a budget isn’t always easy and road trips aren’t the cheapest way to travel. If you don’t plan your road trip in advance, the final costs might be much higher than you would like. Even so, you can still road trip on a budget by following a few simple, yet frugal tips.
#1 Avoid travelling during the peak seasons
If you choose to travel at the height of the season, expect to pay a premium. Even some weekends during an otherwise low season can see price hikes if there’s a major holiday or event on. Do your research first. Travelling during the low season or at the very end of a high season can save you a small fortune. You may have to compromise on weather and for some activities this doesn’t work . There’s no point heading to Andorra to ski in October when there’s little to no snow. For a road trip on a budget, time it right and you’re hard earned cash will go so much further.
#2 Plan ahead
Planning in advance gives you the time to hunt out great deals on accommodation, flights, transport or events. This doesn’t always serve you well. You can often find better deals at the last minute but by planning ahead, at least you have the option.
Essential reading: A beginner’s guide to planning a road trip
#3 Bring some basic camping gear
Even if you don’t intend to do much camping, if you have a tent and a sleeping bag in the car, you can save money on accommodation if the mood takes you. Without the basic gear, you have no choice but to pay for lodgings or a hotel.
#4 Ditch the hotel in favour of camping, hostels and AirBnB
There are some fantastic campsites the world over and many offer a cheaper alternative to hotels with plenty of facilities. Some even have well equipped cabins for rent. Hostels aren’t just for young backpackers either! We’ve stayed at loads of hostels that have fantastic facilities, far better than many hotels. You should look around though and take notice of the reviews. If you’re looking for a home away from home, then AirB’n’B might be for you.
iOverlander is a terrific website with loads of overnight wild camping spots and parking locations. It’s maintained and updated by overlanders and terrific source of information globally. We use it to find free or very cheap places to park and camp overnight.
#5 Sleep for free
If you’re travelling in a motorhome or campervan, you can sleep for free across the majority of the European continent. Take a look here at how to sleep for free in Europe. Failing that, try to get off the beaten track and do a spot of wild camping. Your savings will soon add up.
Essential reading: the definitive guide to wild camping in a camper van
#6 Eat like a local
When you arrive in a new town and fancy dining out, keep an eye out for where the locals dine out. These restaurants are most likely to offer authentic and good quality food at great value. You’ll have a more authentic dining experience too.
#7 Self catering
The cost of dining out soon racks up and it’s far cheaper to cook for yourself. If you’re travelling in a camper van, you’ll have onboard cooking facilities. If you’re camping, you may have a bbq or camping stove. Otherwise, find accommodation with access to an equipped kitchen. An AirB’n’B or youth hostel will be ideal. Stop off at the local food market and enjoy some home cooked food. If you’re not able to carry food with you when you move on, buy food in small quantities. Even better, extend your stay by a few days to use up all your leftovers.
#8 Carry a pressure cooker in your camper van kitchen
Your food will cook so much faster in a pressure cooker than in a standard saucepan. We can cook rice in 3 minutes at full pressure so we only have our cooker on for around 7 or 8 minutes in total. In a normal saucepan, this would be more like 20 – 25 minutes. So we save almost 60% of the cooking fuel. We save even more on a stew because it cooks in around 20 minutes total, and gives us the most tender, melt in the mouth meat!
Essential reading: Van life kitchen essentials
#9 Find free activities
Yep – free! You can find a surprising number of activities you can do for free, helping you road trip on a budget no end. Keep your cash for your bucket list items and get creative or use the internet to find free activities to do in the neighbourhood. The great outdoors is always a good option and if you’re in a city, try some of the free walking tours. Make sure to check out offers for free admission to museums on certain days or local events taking place too.
#10 Avoid paying for your own money
Using ATMs or your credit card abroad is an expensive way of accessing your cash. Check out credit and debit cards that have no charges. Better still, find a card offering a points reward systems you can use towards the cost of other travel related expenses. We use a debit card with zero charges and in 2 years, we’ve not had a single banking charge for accessing our cash abroad or on our transactions. Read here how we access our cash overseas without ever paying for the privilege. Do not overlook this. There are sharks out there waiting to take your holiday fund!
#11 Grab yourself free souvenirs
Most of us want to have a keepsake from our travels. As we travel long term, it isn’t practical or economical to buy trinkets for ourselves or our family and friends. Consider keepsakes that don’t take up much space or cost anything. Photo journals are an obvious choice. Or ask one of the local kids to show you how to make something authentic like these camels made from palm leaves. They cost us nothing.
#12 Bring your own first aid kit
#13 Make sure to pack all the road trip essentials
If you don’t have some basic essentials with you, you could bust your road trip budget by having to fork out on items you left at home. Don’t underestimate the importance of sensible packing. Some items will cost you a premium once you’re on the road so plan ahead.
Essential reading: Ultimate road trip packing list
#14 Invest in a good travel insurance policy
Yes there’s a cost to this one but bear with me. Imagine you have a medical emergency. Without a good travel insurance policy, you will pay for any treatment from your own personal finances. Medical fees add up fast and it’s not unknown for people to have to sell their homes to pay their bills. Sometimes you have to spend to save. Get a quote in the widget in the sidebar.
#15 Don’t pay over the odds for your fuel
Motorway service stations are rarely short of customers at the fuel pumps. But these people are paying more for their fuel than if they left the motorway network to top up. If you want to save on fuel, don’t fill up on the motorway. Supermarket fuel stations tend to offer the best value, depending on which country you’re in.
If you’re lucky enough to have a huge fuel tank, fill up in the cheapest place you can. When we had Mowgli the Unimog, we had a 560 litre fuel tank giving us a range of about 2000 miles. We chose the cheapest countries to fill up in and planned our fuel consumption around them. It saved us hundreds of pounds.
#16 Avoid toll roads
We plan our routes to avoid the toll roads on our mapping systems. Some countries like France and Spain are full of tolls and they can cost a huge amount of money. The alternative route is bound to be more scenic and enjoyable as well as helping your road trip on a budget!
#17 Travel slowly
As van dwellers, we have the luxury of time so if we like somewhere, we can stay as long as we want, explore slowly and spread the cost. Even when we have a budget busting spending spree, we can make up for it over the next few days by cutting back. If you have only a few weeks or months on your road trip, we know it’s tempting to cram everything in and get miles and miles of tarmac under your wheels. But we think it’s worth travelling slowly; knowing more of one place than very little of many. You’ll get greater discounts too for long term rentals on accommodation or transport. It’s a win-win.
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