How to Keep Your Trip Costs Down
You can go a long vacation road trip and still keep costs low, or at least, not much higher than staying at home. Here's how:
- Camp rather than stay in motels and hotels. The costs difference is huge. Campgrounds in 2023 in the U.S. typically cost $20 to $35 per night for a tent. State and national parks are even less, around $10 to $25. National forests are free!
By contrast, even a cheap motel with 2 queen sized beds will cost over $125 in most areas. The cost of a 6 person tent (like a Coleman instant tent that takes 1 minute to put up or take down) is about 1 night's stay in a motel. See our tent guide here.
- Bring a cooler - With a cooler, you can keep luncheon meats, drinks and milk cold and easily have breakfast and lunch quickly. Have
cereal for breakfast and make sandwiches for lunch. Coolers have become
much better, and can stay cold for 5 days before more ice is needed.
- Prepare your own meals - Cook your own meals for dinner. There are many meals that are simply and fast to make, tasty, kids like them, too; and have very little cleanup. See this page for fast, easy camping meals and recipes.
- Make clean-up easy - Bringing plastic or metal plates and cutlery will cut costs... but adds time and mess, since there's no dishwasher, and you would need to bring 2 dishpans. In the case, you have to balance costs vs mess, time and ease. Sturdy paper plates and plastic cutlery can be worth that.
- Bring healthy snacks - Like nuts, fruit, canned fruit in juice. Much cheaper than buying snacks at a convenience store at a gas station, and much healthier!
- Get a NPS pass to national parks and monuments - There are annual, lifetime and even military options. Provides free entry, free parking and usually discounts on things like camping fees.
- Use you AAA, AARP and other memberships - be sure to ask if any discounts are available to you.
- Be efficient in planning - Gasoline is the largest cost of a road trip vacation these days. Mapping out your trip in advance for the most efficient route will not only save time, but also miles and gasoline. See our page on mapping and planning tools.