How to Save Money While Traveling the U.S.

Whether you arrive by plane or you would rather road trip across the states, travel expenses can add up exponentially even before you arrive at your destination. Here are five tips to help you stay frugal with your money while making the most out of a vacation.

1. Food is Fuel: Get Better Mileage

Eating out at restaurants is half the fun of traveling, but try to space out your meals by preparing your own breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For road tripping, you can always pack your own snacks to avoid the drive-thru impulse orders. Lanie Van Der Horst with the blog Make More Adventures packs her own goodies before any departure. 

“My family of 4 can buy a package of muffins cheaper at the store rather than at a cafe. It’s often cheaper to buy pre-made meals at a grocery store than at a restaurant,” Van Der Horst said. 

Two women and one man speaking in a grocery store aisle.
Marie Michele Bouchard @ Unsplash

Plenty of places in the United States have beautiful picnic areas, so going to the grocery store and getting food for a picnic at a park can be a nice change of pace. If you do eat out, lunch specials are often cheaper, and you may even have leftovers to take for dinner.

2. Reward Yourself and your Gas Tank

You can save on gas and food with discount rewards programs across the country like Circle K Easy Rewards or Exxon Mobil Rewards+. Some chain locations have an associated grocery store that offers a discount-per-gallon reward at its related gas stations. Additionally, you can map out gas prices along your route with Google Maps or an app like Gas Buddy. Caleb Chen, who runs the lifestyle blog The Vanlife Coach, says keeping track of discount and bonus programs can help save money long-term. 

“Loyalty rewards programs and mapping out gas prices have saved me hundreds of dollars over the years while road tripping across the lower 48,” Chen said.

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3. Don’t Waste on Water

Buying beverages at grocery stores or gas stations is sometimes a necessity, but with a little planning, travelers can pack their own drinks and reduce plastic waste while also saving money. Rax Suen, host of the travel podcast and website NomadsUnveiled, recommends bringing thermal water bottles that can hold either hot or cold liquid. 

Women in passenger seat of car with legs on the dashboard, holding a map and a blue water bottle.
Quokkabottles @Unsplash

“You can fill up water along the way at parks or attractions with water dispensers,” Suen said. 

Use a thermal travel mug to store hot water from the hotel lobby or heated up on the campfire. Bring your own powdered coffee or tea so that you can avoid spending as much money on caffeine stops.

4. Spend a Night in Nature

Accommodations can be one of the most expensive parts of travel. There are numerous campsites and budget hotels throughout the nation where you can stay. Philip Westfall of RVezy encourages travelers to try RV travel as an alternative.  

“Consider renting an RV or even a tent and finding campsites along the way that offer fair parking rates, and enjoy amenities such as pools and bonfires,” Westfall said. 

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Victor Larracurente @ Unsplash
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The United States National Park Service has resources for campsites in national parks, and by Googling campsites near your location, you can often find inexpensive options with amenities like bathrooms, convenience stores, and even WiFi. If you don’t want to pitch a tent or rent an RV, there is always car-camping. Westfall warns that if you are bringing your own vehicle, get it inspected before the trip to avoid breakdowns or towing fees.

“They’ll hijack your trip and your wallet!”

5. The Best Things in Life are Free

Of course, you can attend all of the popular events and eat at pricey restaurants, but there are usually a number of free or inexpensive things to do in cities and towns across the country. A simple Google search might surprise you and lead you to a new favorite park, hike, or community event. For discounted prices, check sites like Groupon. If you do want to splurge on events or restaurants, create a budget ahead of time. 

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Luke Porter @ Unsplash
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By packing your own food, water bottles, utilizing gas and grocery rewards, and camping, or planning free activities into your itinerary, you can save money on travel while still enjoying your destination. 

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