If you’re reading this, then you want to learn how to successfully plan a road trip. How do you start? Where should you go? What do you need to know? How should you pack? How much will it all cost? Is it even possible or are road trips just a dream?
Look no further!
After successfully planning and going on a 16-day road trip along the east coast with my best friend in just TWO DAYS (yes, we came up with the idea at the beach one day then planned it all within 48 hours!), I wanted to create this post on how to plan a road trip in the cheapest way possible without compromising on the quality of hotels, gas, food, and your overall experience.
Want to discover the best websites to book cheap hotels, suitcase and car packing tips, how to find coupons and discounts, helpful apps to use while on the road, and ways to spend less money on food, gas, and fun things to do?
Here’s my ultimate guide on how to plan a road trip on a budget:
First things first, where are you going?
Depending on the amount of time you have to travel, you can plan your destinations accordingly.
Do your research! Pick a few spots along a reasonable path that are close in distance yet far enough apart so you can make pit stops, enjoy lengthy highway cruises, and cover a lot of ground in your set amount of time. Use Google Maps to figure out the best travel times, the fastest routes, and how much tolls will cost along the way.
Once you figure out where you’re going, then you can determine where you’re staying.
Let’s cover how to book the cheapest places to stay. Here are the websites and apps I used to scout out the least expensive hotels and room rentals that were also safe, legit, and clean.
- Airbnb: There are some super cool Airbnb spots with all of the necessary amenities in convenient locations. Our favorite rental was a cute little cottage house in Savannah, Georgia — all thanks to Airbnb (use my link for $40 off your first stay)! Beware though, certain rentals can actually turn out to be pretty expensive with all of the host, cleaning, and service fees added in, so browse around to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
- Hotels.com: When we craved peace of mind and better security in unknown locations, we chose to stay in an actual hotel. We booked through this website and scored amazing room deals in Myrtle Beach and Washington DC for a much more affordable price than an Airbnb.
- RetailMeNot: RetailMeNot was an amazing resource for hotel coupon and discount codes. Thanks to this website, I scored us an ocean view double queen bed suite with a balcony in Myrtle Beach for the exact same price as a single queen bed without a balcony.
GENERAL BOOKING TIP: Tourist locations are more expensive than others for obvious reasons. Book a room in a town over or a 10-minute drive away from your main city of choice to knock up to ~$100 bucks off your rate.
For 15 nights in 6 states for 2 people, our lodging costs summed up to a grand total of $2,359, which amounted to $1,179 per person… which came out to roughly $78 per night per person. Granted, we stayed in some boujee locations that were totally unnecessary but we tried to be as cheap as possible whenever possible elsewhere to make up for it.
NOTE: If you’re only going to one or two spots and not spending more than two weeks on the road like us, then your price will obviously be a LOT cheaper.
Helpful Apps & Things To Use While On The Road
- GasBuddy: If you’re a thrifty bitch like me, you’d rather drive 10 minutes out of the way to save $0.10 on each gallon of gas. When you’re not in your home territory, and you’re traveling on highly trafficked highways, it helps to know where the good gas stations are. Rely on an app like GasBuddy to locate the cheapest nearby local gas stations.
- Apple Maps: Apple Maps is the MVP GPS (sorry, Google Maps). If you have an iPhone, use the Maps app and you won’t be disappointed… but ALWAYS double check all of the directions on your route. I learned the hard way that it’s not 100% accurate 100% of the time and cost us an hour’s time by driving in the opposite direction and ultimately ending up at a dead-end ferry stop in Maryland. Oops.
- E-ZPass: If you don’t have an E-ZPass, GET ONE! Even if it doesn’t come in time, your license plate will be readable and tolls will still go through to your account. Breezing through the E-ZPass lane saves so much driving time and money on tolls.
- Toll Calculator: There are many sites available to see how much tolls will cost along your trip according to specific routes. I used TollGuru because it’s linked with Google Maps so you get both travel times and toll costs. We drove over 2,000 miles throughout six states and only spent $75 in tolls!
- Yelp: When we were trying to figure out where to go and what to do, we depended heavily on Yelp reviews. ESPECIALLY when it came to where to eat, we wanted to choose restaurants that would be worth the money. Yelp came in handy for this, and we visited some really unique eateries as a result.
- Pinterest: Pinterest was a huge resource for finding fun things to do in random places, like delicious restaurants, unconventional food trucks, little-known pit stop locations, and necessary tourist attractions.
- Uber: When we planned on drinking and didn’t want to drive in Ocean City, MD, we Ubered to and from the bars. When we walked way too far and our feet were killing us in DC, we Ubered back to our room. When we didn’t want to add any more mileage onto the car or waste any gas or worry about parking, we Ubered. Uber rules. (Use my code morganm3963ue!)
What To Pack (Suitcase)
Wondering what you need to pack in your suitcase for your road trip?
Here are just a few of the basics and necessary things to pack for a road trip:
- Makeup & remover
- Shower essentials
- Food & drink
- Bathing suits
If you want a lengthier post outlining literally everything I packed, I’ll create it and link to it here once I do. Let me know!
Little things you didn’t know you needed to pack for your road trip:
- Paper towels
- Toilet paper
- Garbage bags
- Ziploc bags
- Small pocketbook/backpack
- Gallon water jugs
- Teas and coffee
- Cooking sprays, spices, and seasonings: We brought/bought groceries and cooked a lot of our meals to save money.
- PBA cards: I got pulled over for speeding and thankfully had a relative’s card on me so we were let go free of any tickets. You never know when or if you might need it.
What we wish we had or packed more of but didn’t bring along:
- Extra razor/blades: Mine broke on the second day of our trip when I knocked it off the bathtub onto the floor.
- Extra camera battery
- More snacks
- More pajamas and sweats
- More socks
- More underwear
- More casual clothes: Once we hit the halfway point of our trip in Washington DC, we had absolutely nothing casual left to wear. Having clean, comfy clothes to walk around in is so important. We were so focused on having cute outfits to go out in that we didn’t plan for the majority of our time NOT partying.
How To Pack (The Car)
We packed out Mel’s car according to a very specific system. We literally had it down to a science. Bellhops tried to load and unload the car for us on several occasions, and we always passed on the opportunity so we could just do it ourselves. Yeah, we’re stubborn and crazy.
Suitcases, boxes, and carry on bags all went in the trunk (heavy suitcases were on the bottom, then carry on bags, then smaller boxes at the very top). Snack bags, pillows, blankets, and bags were in the back seat in case they needed them. Beach chairs fit perfectly between the back and front seats. We kept cameras, phones, pocketbooks, sweatshirts, and drinks (water bottles) in the front with us for easy accessibility.
Depending on the amount of room you have in the car or truck you’re taking, you’ll have to play around to see which packing strategy works best for you.
General Road Trip Survival Tips
- Take photos and videos: I brought along my Canon G7X to document the entire trip. Oh, and make sure your camera and phone are charged.
- Live in the moment: Document your trip, but don’t forget to stop, put the phone away, be present, and live it up while it lasts.
- Be open-minded: Try new things. Explore new places. Talk to strangers.
- Don’t be so overly concerned with money: Money can be replaced. Time can’t. You’re on vacation. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money if it means making amazing memories.
- Use a cash back rewards credit card for all purchases: Save — or make — a little bit of money by using a cash back rewards card for your entire trip. Even if you get 5% back from $1,000 worth of spending, you’ll gain $50 back at the end of your statement.
- Share your location(s) with loved ones: Before you leave, send a quick text to someone you trust back home with the addresses and whereabouts of where you’ll be staying. Also, share your license plate number and the phone number(s) of who you’re traveling with just in case of an emergency.
- Pay attention to the GPS: Kind of a no-brainer, but just a friendly reminder.
- Drive during the morning/day: Get a good night’s sleep, eat a nice breakfast, then head out. Don’t drive on an empty stomach or for way too long. Stay alert, awake, and aware when driving. If you feel yourself losing concentration, switch and play passenger.
- Make playlists: Driving for miles on end usually results in deep conversations and intense jam out sessions. Here’s how you can find new music and create awesome playlists on Spotify.
I hope this guide helps you successfully prepare for, plan out, and execute your dream road trip! Remember to be grateful for the opportunity to travel, explore the world around you, and enjoy every moment while you’re on the road.
Also don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch my travel videos, like this vlog from Washington DC below:
Have you ever been on a road trip? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Did I forget or miss anything? Let me know in the comments below!