Travel for Cheap on the Road! | 10 ways to save money on the road

Now that it’s a New Year, it’s a great time to start planning travel adventures for the upcoming year, what better than a bit of Road Trip inspiration to get any of you reading excited about affordable travel on the road in 2016!

saving money on the road

So a bit of backstory, in May 2015, my favourite boy and I embarked on a month long road trip around the USA (well the western side of the USA) and seeing as we are ‘poor’ students, we decided that instead of taking the easy (yet more expensive) way out by staying in motels as we went, we would car camp for almost a month all around the west of the USA. We had bought the car (a Chevrolet Suburban) in March and after a break down in Idaho at spring break, a refurbished engine later and a whole lot of planning, we set off from Bozeman on a snowy day at the start of May. I thought it might be fun to share some tips and tricks we picked up from living out of a car by giving an insight into how we managed without electricity, showers, a bathroom, a kitchen or any real storage space.

Car Camping beside the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

We had some of the most amazing experiences: sleeping under a lighthouse in Oregon, waking up beside the golden gate bridge in San Francisco, cooking our dinner on the edge of the grand canyon and hiking through the desert in Moab at sunrise.

The lighthouse we parked beside in Oregon

Although these tips might not work for everyone, maybe you’ll be able to incorporate some of them be it for a short road trip or a longer one or even living out of your car for a while like we did! I’m forever wishing I could head over to the US to experience a bit more of the nature out there!

1.Lots of things are free – There are so many activities and things you can do while roadtripping that are free and exciting to see. Trails, beaches, swimming holes and random roadside attractions are all good ways to spend your time while not breaking the bank! Just sitting in front of a view and soaking it in is good for the soul, too. Do some research into the places where you are going and find some insider tips! And take a look at http://www.roadsideamerica.com/ for quirky road side attractions.

2. Gas Buddy – This is a great app to use to find cheap gas! Download the App or check the website when looking for where to fill up on Gas. It really made a difference to check this as sometimes there was a whole dollar of difference and if our tank wasn’t getting too low, we’d just wait until we got to that town! http://www.gasbuddy.com/ – take a look at their website if you want to find out more.

3. Invest in a camp stove – on this trip, we cooked almost all our meals on the camp stove we got from Walmart. It had two burners, so we were able to make a lot of the same stuff we made at home such as pasta and veggies, stews, eggs, pancakes, cous cous, porridge (oatmeal) and lots of other things (Think I’m gonna write a post on what it was like to cook on the road, and not have a fridge or cooler while still staying healthy.) We found local parks or picnic areas in the places we were in where we could set up our stove and cook, it wasn’t difficult to find and a lot of them had sheltered areas which was great if it was raining or windy.

Cooking a meal on our camp stove in California

4. Car Camp or Camp! – On our whole trip, we car camped the entire way pretty much and never paid to stay anywhere. We did however spend 3 nights at a friends house in Seattle, as well as our final night in Salt Lake at a friends. And in Moab, we parked at our friend’s campsite pitch and tagged onto their pitch which worked out well. We had 5 single foam pads in the back of the car (2 for him, 3 for me) and our comforter/duvet from home as well as a couple of pillows each, due to the size of our car we were able to have the bed out the whole time and not have to make it every night which was convenient as it meant after a long day of adventuring, we didn’t have to do much. However, if you are in a smaller car (or rental car), you could either just stow away the bedding and get it out in the evening or use a tent of course. Lots of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Campsites are free, you just have to know where to find them! Try this website to start: https://freecampsites.net/usa/ – we used it a few times and found some cool spots!

Our Set up in the back of our Chevrolet Suburban

5. Choose what you spend your money on wisely – While we were travelling and also in our daily lives; we both try to save money, by avoiding spending money on things or experiences that we don’t need. This was especially important on the road as we needed to save the money for gas and food. Do you really need another pair of shoes? Or would you rather get to see an extra few miles of beautiful views? I know what I’d pick! 

6. Use coin showers if you are camping – A lot of the free campsites you find and of course the walmart car parks have no showers or any real facilities except a toilet which can make getting clean kinda difficult sometimes! However, lots of national parks have coin showers which accept 4 quarters (25cents) for around 6 minutes of shower time. Make sure you have a little bag of them stashed away for these times. Once in Antelope Island, UT, we were both in need of showers after a day paddle-boarding and hiking, we only had 3 quarters but after rootling around, we finally found one at the bottom of my coat pocket! Be prepared!

7. Bunk in with friends along the way – Obviously, this isn’t possible for everyone as it requires you know some people along the way but if you do, utilise them! We stayed with friends in Seattle, Moab (at a campsite) and Salt Lake City which broke up the time in between showers and was nice to catch up with people as well! They will also be able to show you their favourite parts of where they live, giving you a unique experience of the city. When we stayed with lovely friends in Seattle, they took us kayaking on Lake Washington; something we otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to do – it was awesome (thanks Ash + Jenn!)

Kayaking on Lake Washington

8. Free parking at Walmart – A lot of Walmart parking lots allow free parking for overnight car campers and RV-ers – it was really helpful to us to know that we had a place that was open with bathrooms and other people car camping to go to where we’d feel safe and have somewhere to pick up groceries if we needed to. It was nice to get to a Walmart and see other travellers parked up, it felt like a bit of a community and was nice to chat in the morning if we happened to cross paths! Walmart Atlas was the best website to figure out where we could park: http://www.walmartlocator.com/rv-parking-at-walmart/ – in California, there are hardly any, but we crashed at a few 24 hour supermarkets and never had any trouble (for all they know, you could just be a serious 8 hour grocery shopper?) but if you are concerned, ask the manager and they are usually fine with it (our friends did this with their RV at a Safeway in Santa Rosa and were met warmly by the staff!)

9. Get an Annual National Parks Pass – We visited 4 national Parks on our trip (and then went to a few around our local area once we were back in Montana/Washington) and it worked out cheaper to buy an annual parks pass which gave us entry to all of them across america for an entire year for only $80 – between two of us $40 wasn’t too much for the amazing access to beautiful natural sites. We then handed it over to our friends in Seattle when we were leaving the US so it didn’t go to waste for the remaining 9 months that were paid for. Definitely something worth looking into if National Parks factor in a lot of your trip!

Eating lunch in Arches National Park

10. Pack less than you think you need – You won’t need as much as you pack, I guarantee! Also, there are launderettes along the way if you can spare time to do laundry – we never found the time and during our last stop in Moab, I had to pick up a T-shirt and Jumper cause I was completely out of t shirts (and really liked the jumper) but that’s because I under packed t-shirts. We definitely brought along a few things we didn’t need (like both our laptops, too much tinned food, three tripods) and could have used a few extra things (more t-shirts, a few extra flashlights and more socks) but it’s all a learning curve and depends on what kind of weather you might run into! We brought ski jackets and summer clothes cause we were heading up and down though mountains and it was really helpful to have that gear! Some useful things that we had were: travel towels, Cliff Bars, a bag for our toothbrushes and toiletries that was always within easy access, a couple of guidebooks, a paper map (when google failed us in Arizona, we relied completely on it) and of course, a journal to note down all the memories and cool things that were happening every day! And don’t forget important things like passport and visa documents if relevant! 

Our packing for the road

Also, remember almost every town in America has a Macdonalds which means FREE WIFI incase you need to check on some details. Sometimes, we’d cheekily park up by the entrance and steal their wifi cause we aren’t great fans of the food, but every so often, a mcflurry was just what we wanted! 

And one more thing: we took our bikes with us on a rack attached to the back of the car. This allowed us to park on the outskirts of cities such as Portland, LA, San Francisco and Seattle in neighbourhoods (free places) and then cycle into the city centre. We had a good pair of locks so we could explore without worrying about the bikes getting stolen or we used them to get around which gave us a unique perspective of the city! I would highly recommend taking your bike if you have the ability to! I got mine from Walmart and S got his at a second hand bike sale.

Sean cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge back to our car in San Francisco

It’s okay to be spontaneous and not know where you’ll be staying the next night, and it’s also okay to stay in a hotel if you get tired of it all! It’s your trip! So, do what is gonna make you happy and have the best time rather than worrying about the money too much! Just have fun, as it will be one of the best memories to look back on and reminisce about so enjoy every minute while you are living it! Looking back, there are definitely some things we have learnt from that we could do better for next time (EUROPE!) but it was exciting to get a taste of life on the road and live out my dreams of the great American Road trip; seeing amazing places and exploring!

Driving through Arizona

Have you got any tips to add to this? Post them in the comments, I would love to hear! I’m already dreaming about the next time I can hit the road!

Also you can follow me on bloglovin’ right here if you fancy!

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