Your family has been planning a cross-country road trip for awhile. The problem is your budget has already been stretched pretty far and you haven’t been able to save as much as you had wanted. You’ve cut back where you could: gotten rid of cable and now stream television shows and movies instead; you’ve ditched your overpriced insurance company and, instead, are securely covered by cheap car insurance. You’ve even stopped eating out and, instead, cook most of your meals at home.
You are determined to have the trip of a lifetime. But now that it’s getting closer, you’re beginning to wonder how you’ll ever do all you want to do with the limited resources that you have. Here are some creative ways to save a bundle and still see America the way you’ve always dreamed you would:
1. Buy an RV.
This may sound frivolous, but if you can finance the purchase of a used RV at an auction, it’s a smart way to save the cost of hotel rooms, the cost of eating all of your meals at McDonalds or other fast food chains, and depending on the type of RV you purchase, you can also save wear and tear on your vehicle. Even better, you can sell the RV after your trip and maybe even make enough money after the sale to cover some of your trip expenses.
2. Find FREE places to sleep.
Another perk to traveling by RV is that fact that you can actually spend some nights sleeping for free and still be comfortable. Eighty percent of Walmart stores allow overnight parking for cars and RVs and access to their bathrooms; many truck stops allow free overnight sleeping, as do many casinos. Be aware, though, rest areas generally don’t allow overnight parking—just a few a hours for resting—so don’t plan on those as places to stay. Even if you don’t have an RV, you can still camp in tents along the way or find cheap hotels through hotels.com or Expedia. Your sleeping arrangements don’t need to drain your funds.
3. Save on food expenses.
The best ways to save money on food while traveling is to plan ahead by stocking up on easy-to-prepare foods, especially if you’re RVing or camping. In addition, bring healthy snacks to eat while driving, and search for coupons online to save on your food expenses.
If you are staying in cheap hotels along the way, and have a choice, choose a hotel that serves a continental breakfast and that has a small fridge and at least a microwave oven for cooking. Whenever you can avoid eating out, the more money you can save.
4. Look for cheap or free attractions.
This will take some planning on your part to make sure you can see the things and places you most want to see.
Museums: If you love museums, check out free museum days across the United States. If you’re willing to invest a little money in an initial museum pass, there are several museums across the country that have reciprocal agreements so you can enjoy other museums at no cost or at discounted admission rates. For example, the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC, are 100% free, and the ASTC Travel Passport Program gives free general admission at any of their 350 participating science centers around the world. The ACM Reciprocal network offers reciprocal benefits to participating children’s museums at 50% off each other’s admission fees. Check online while planning your trip to see what other museums are free in the cities you’re visiting.
National Park Service attractions: Free and low-cost attractions include some of America’s national treasures: national monuments, national parks, national forests, and national historical sites, and the national zoo. Some attractions are free, and others are very inexpensive if you purchase a season pass that can get you into any of the parks or attractions located across the country.
Plan out what you want to see. It wouldn’t be worth taking a cross-country trip if you didn’t try to absorb what makes each place along the way important and unique. With limited funds, you need to plan out what you want to see in advance, know how much things will cost, and budget accordingly so you don’t run out of money. There are some great free travel apps that can help you find the best local attractions and let you know how pricey the activities may be in advance. The Roadtrippers App and the Atlas Obscura App both suggest local attractions to help you plan out your trip.
Your road trip of a lifetime doesn’t need to break the bank. If you can, consider getting an RV or even camping, look for free or cheap places to stay, plan ahead to cut down on the number of meals you eat out, and plan ahead to take advantage of free and cheap attractions. You truly don’t need to spend a fortune to make lasting memories.