How to make your money go further when you’re on a road trip

Plan fuel stops with Gas Buddy

Gas Buddy is one of our favorite travel apps.  We search our route for inexpensive fuel so we know where to stop for a fill-up.  We’ve all been in those small towns with 1 station and the fuel is $.50 more than everywhere else.  With Gas Buddy, we know exactly how much fuel is per gallon and we plan our stops accordingly.  Since we’re filling up a dually with a 48 gallon tank, the price per gallon really matters!

Enjoy tasty picnics

Holly’s family has always been a fan of pop chests (everyone else in the world calls them coolers or ice chests) and picnics.  We pack a pop chest every time we take a road trip.  It’s so much fun to stop at a picnic area and bust out a meal.  We’ve had great picnics on the beach, along a stream, in the mountains, and even in a town square.  We make sandwiches, enjoy ice-cold drinks, and always have plenty of snacks.

Look for free entertainment

There are so many things to see and do when you’re on a road trip. Before we set out on a trip, we research the must-do activities, sights, and things to explore. We decide on what we BOTH want to do and we chart it on our map. We also enjoy plenty of free entertainment:

  • Sit in our zero-gravity chairs.  I don’t know who invented zero-gravity chairs, but they’re a genius!  There’s nothing better than chilling out and reading a good book.  We inevitably fall asleep, but what’s wrong with that?  We’re on vacation, right?!?!
  • Take hikes and geocache.  There are so many good apps where you can find hikes of all lengths and levels of difficulty.  We love to go hiking and find geocaches along the way.  Our favorite apps are AllTrails and Geocaching by Groundspeak. 
  • Ride our bikes.  We use google maps to find bike trails.  We’ve had so much fun riding our bikes along the south rim of the Grand Canyon, around Coeur d’Alene, over Vail Pass, and all around Yellowstone.
  • Play games.  We always bring cards, dominoes, Sequence, Yahtzee, and Boggle with us when we travel.  When there are just 2 of us, we tend to play Sequence and Yahtzee a lot.  Carter pretty much hates Boggle, but we still play it every once in a while!  It’s so much fun to sit at a picnic table and play games until the sun sets.

Purchase travel memberships and annual passes

We use our memberships almost every time we go on a road trip.  There are all kinds of memberships, but we’ve chosen to purchase 4 primary ones:

  • Thousand Trails.  We’re new to Thousand Trails, so we don’t have a lot of experience. So far, Thousand Trails has been a money saver.  As we book more and more campgrounds, the average cost per night night will keep going down. If you travel a lot in an RV, Thousand Trails just makes sense.  There are all kinds of reviews, YouTube videos, and detailed information on the internet, so go check it out.
  • National Park Annual Pass.  Buying a national park pass is a no-brainer.  For $80 per year ($80 for a lifetime pass if you’re a senior citizen) you get access to national parks and other Federal land.  We stay in a lot of national campgrounds, and we avoid the extra fees with the annual pass.
  • State Park Annual Passes.  We also do the math and purchase state park passes when it makes financial sense for our travel budget.  For example, we’ll be in Colorado and Vermont for over 2 weeks each this summer. We’re staying in state parks almost every night, so it just made sense to purchase an annual pass for both states.
  • AARP.  AARP is cheap (~$10 per year) to join. Carter didn’t want to admit he qualified for AARP, but he finally joined a few months ago…and, we’ve already saved on hotel reservations, car rentals, and other travel expenses.  We’ve more than paid for the membership fee with our discounts.

Eat at local hot spots vs. chain restaurants

If we’re going to spend money going out to eat, we prefer to eat at local restaurants.  Carter loves McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches, but we only allow ourselves that indulgence a few times.  Holly researches good BBQ, seafood shacks, donut shops, farmers’ markets, and other joints to find out where locals eat.  We find that local restaurants are generally better quality and lower priced than chain restaurants.  This summer you’ll find us at Strouds in Kansas City, the Clam Shack in Kennebunkport, Standard Baking Co. in Portland, and Santarpio’s in Boston…among others!

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