Last updated on June 9th, 2018 at 08:59 pm
On the Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic American novel about 2 friends searching for meaning and true experiences by going on cross-country road trips. The story is a quintessential American vision of freedom and hope. Many people have emulated Jack and his friend Neal by do their own ultimate American road trip.
Road trips can produce great memories, and are a way for friends and family to have a great vacation at a lower cost than flying to some over-priced resort. Some of my best early childhood memories are of going on road trips with my family and then later in life heading out with my buddies to explore and to experience new things as we were just spreading our wings and leaving our parents nest. Something akin to Jack's adventures but on a smaller scale.
Now is the time to start planning your perfect road trip. Whether you plan to drive cross country or just explore your own State you can have a great experience for a lot less money than you think by using these incredibly useful road trip hacks to keep you on budget.
Accommodation on the Ultimate American Road Trip
The best way to save money is to camp. A little known fact is that you can camp for free in US National Forests. Not State Forests, or National Parks but the US National Forests.
The Forest Service calls this dispersed camping, that is - primitive camping on certain public lands and you can do this at no cost. There are some rules and regulations that you must follow, nothing to arduous, but rules none the less. Things such as how to dispose of your waste, how close you can camp to water source, how to have a camp fire safely, etc. One of the tenets of dispersed camping is "to leave no trace", so that other people can also enjoy the unspoiled outdoors.
If dispersed camping sounds like something you want to try check out this free guide, Essential Dispersed Camping Info in the National Forests .
One other option to use an app called US Public Lands (both Android and iPhone) combined with Google Earth and Google Maps and discover on your own where to camp for free.
Primitive camping is not everyone's bailiwick, if you like a little more structure in your camping you can find free camping by using a couple of awesome websites.
FreecampSites.net is a site that uses your phone's GPS to find camping near you or you can even use the trip planner to plan your route from coast to coast. The free camp sites that are found are largely found by crowd sourcing so you will have some of the most up to date info available. If you find a great free camping site please add it to the info on their website.
Campedium is another awesome resource. It can help you find free camping as well as providing information RV Parks, National Parks, National Forests and State Parks. Users provide reviews of the different parks so that you know what to expect before you get there.
Lets face it sometimes you just don't feel like camping, and you want to find an inexpensive place to stay. If you are feeling social and love to meet locals why not try out couch surfing? Couchsurfing.com is a website that allows you to find and stay in a local's home for free for a couple of nights. You can join for free and find a like minded person who will host you for a night or two. Since you are staying for free offering to cook dinner for them or bringing a small gift would be an excellent way to say thanks.
At times you may need to have your own space and need to find a place to stay that is a bit more private. Our go to booking app is Booking.com. Use Booking to find the perfect place it will search for hotels, motels, hostels, B and B's, and more. One other option is using Priceline's Name Your Own Price® feature to find great deals to match your budget. If you download the Priceline app you also get exclusive "Tonight Only" deals that are not available on the website.
Money Saving Driving Tips
Before you leave on your ultimate road trip, get your vehicle tuned up! This will save you money by having your vehicle operating at peak efficiency. Pay attention to the proper inflation pressure of the tires. Maximum inflation pressure is not the best, you'll need to find the manufacturer’s optimum or recommended tire pressure for your vehicle. This can be found either on the door jam or the owner's manual. Having properly inflated tires will improve your gas mileage as well as extend the life of your tires.
Save on gas. Use the Gasbuddy app to find the most inexpensive gas on your route. Saving just 10 cents a gallon can really add up to a significant chunk of change on a long road trip. Use a credit card that offers you cash back on gas purchases or gives you travel points.
Turn off your air conditioning, A/C burns through gas surprisingly quickly, just use the fan, open the windows let some air in. Also avoid using 4 wheel drive, it uses a lot more gas than 2 wheel drive. While your at it avoid using the cruise control, it also uses far more gas than manually controlling your speed.
While we are talking about speed, don't. Don't speed, not only will you avoid getting a ticket, but by hovering around 65 mph, your vehicle will stay efficient on gas for the duration of your trip. When moving through towns, coast to a stop and don't gun it when leaving a stop light.
Before you leave check you route, see if you can avoid tolls roads and bridges, and if not, look into investing in a transponder. A transponder is connected to your back account and will allow you to zip through tolls. They can also offer discounts, for example if you are traveling through New York the EZPass will save you money by paying a few dollars less when crossing bridges.
The last point is be aware of parking when visiting cities. Some cities parking can cost you $10-30 dollars a day. Make sure your accommodation comes with free parking. When visiting attractions it might be cheaper to park farther away and take public transportation.
Best Road Trip Hacks - Food and Eating Out
Bringing food with you, is by far the cheapest way to eat. Make sandwiches, pack fruit, bring condiments and bread, and bottles of water and soda to keep it all cold use a good cooler. Rotomolded coolers are some of the best coolers on the market, they are tough and keep things cool longer.
You can restock by going to a grocery store such as Safeway, rather than buying over priced tasteless sandwiches and junk food at a gas station. For example buy a economy sized bag potato chips in the grocery store rather then the individual bags in the convenience stores. This tip alone will net you twice as many chips at half the price. Bring a refillable bottle so that you can refill it any where there is a faucet and clean drinking water. Or better yet buy a LifeStraw water bottle and never worry about finding clean drinking water again.
You can pack picnic style meals for each day you're on the road. Peanut butter and jam sandwiches or cans of tuna are great options for lunches and dinners. Cereal bars, fruit, bagels and cream cheese, banana bread, and muffins are all make great breakfast options.
Stopping at fast food joints like McDonald's, KFC, and Taco Bell is not the cheapest option and it is a waste of money while making yourself feel like crap. Instead use grocery stores for your main meals, very often they will have a deli section with hot meals like roasted chicken for far less than eating in a restaurant or fast food place.
If you do want to stop at a restaurant once in a while, try eating at a local mom and pop place. They will be cheaper than the national mega chains and the food will most likely taste better. Keep a eye out for early bird specials to increase the savings. When booking your accommodation look for places that offer free breakfasts and take advantage of them.
Finally if you do want to stop at a chain restaurant, buy cheap discounted gift cards online. Websites like Restaurant.com, CardCash.com and GiftCardGranny offer deeply discounted restaurant cards saving as much as 50%.
The Great American Road Trip with Kids
Keeping kids entertained while on a long road trip is sometimes a challenge. Besides the electronic standby's such as smart phones, tablets and hand held video games, there are many other thing you can do to keep you kids happy while driving for hours.
Load up on cheap games and toys from your Dollar Store. Surprise your kids by giving them one every 3-4 hours from the front seat.
Get some magnetic board games this set includes Checkers, Chess, Chinese checkers, Tic Tac Toe, Backgammon, Snakes & Ladders, Solitaire, NineMen’s Morris, Auto Racing, Ludo, Space Venure and Racing. For Lego lovers get this portable Lego case it not only can carry hundreds of bricks it's studded base plates on both sides of inner box provides a stable base to build.
Bring things to do at rest stops, frisbee's, sidewalk chalk, football, baseball and gloves, toss and catch ball game these will help your kids burn off some excess energy.
Road Trip Hack Bonus Tip
If your road trip take through any National Parks or any Federal Recreation Lands look into getting an annual pass. The America the Beautiful - National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass costs $80 and will get you and 3 other adults age 16 and over (kids under 16 are free) free entrance to sites where a per person entrance fee is charged. These passes are valid at more than 2,000 Federal recreation sites.
I have no doubt you will save money using these tips. If you have any other money saving tips for the perfect road trip please leave them in the comments below. Check out our other money saving travel tips!
It is time to tap your inner Jack Kerouac and start planning your ultimate American road trip now!
Don't forget to visit our road trip packing list post!
Like this post? Pin it!
The Expat Experiment is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.