RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip


The Art of theCheap Road Trip

by Bob Schaller and Geneviève Lauzière


How to save money on:


Bob Schaller & Genevieve Lauziere
Veteran road trippers Bob Schaller and Gen Lauzière share their secrets for cheap road trip that are still safe and fun.

Bob: Some people save money by eating from their ice chest while road-tripping. I get bored and like to eat out, too. I buy snacks and sandwich makings for some meals, but I eat in restaurants also. I eat light, as it keeps me alert and feeling better. I might have breakfast in a café, or a bagel and fruit, then a sandwich from my cooler for lunch, and soup & salad for supper (café). If I try to eat only from the ice chest, it isn't long before I abandon that and eat out for ALL meals -- which is expensive. So by mixing it up from the start (and controlling where and what I eat), I save money.

Gen: I also like to combine eating in restaurants and out of a cooler. When eating from a cooler, I won't eat only cold stuff. I bring my camp stove. You can make almost anything with one: pancakes, coffee, pastas, veggies, etc. Of course, it is inconvenient to have to wash dishes, and it takes more time than grabbing a burger. But it's an inexpensive way to eat and it's healthier, because you can stop at a store to get fresh things. However, sometimes a steamed truck stop hot dog with mayonnaise, chili sauce, and cheese is appealing to me. They're fast and cheap, but watch out for calories! I don't have one every day, just as an occasional treat!



Woods Canyon Lake, Arizona
Camping can be cold -- be ready for it or choose an inexpensive motel

Bob: I mix camping and inexpensive motels. If I camp for two nights, I'm ready for a hot shower on the third. Camping on a road trip should be utilitarian. I take a cot, sleeping bag, a mat for my feet, flashlight, and a tent for rainy nights. I find a place in the woods or on public lands, and I unfold the cot in the back of my truck or on the ground. I use a plastic basin and water to wash, shave, etc. Simplicity gets me back on the road quickly. On motel nights, I look for Mom & Pop places, and can often find decent lodging for less than $30.

Gen: Girls know that a daily shower is important! Even on the road, it's comforting to know one is never far away. Camping can be expensive, so I sometimes sleep in my car at truck stops. I designed "curtains" for my windows that attach with Velcro (for privacy and light-blocking). I use earplugs to block truck stop noise. It's important to be safe, so trust your instincts. Ask the cashier if it's okay to stay overnight in a car, and buy something: gas, shower ticket, or food. Usually, before I go to bed, I eat something at the restaurant and ask a friendly waitress to keep an eye on me. Most of the time they're very kind, and they will even tell the other girls. The next morning have a cheap, hot shower, and your night didn't really cost anything! I also enjoy sleeping in Mom-and-Pop motels and some chains. At motels, try to bargain and ask for rebates: AAA, AARP, government employee, coupons. (Don't be too pushy!)



Yellowstone buffalo
Priceless road trip entertainment in Yellowstone National Park

Gen: For national parks, buy an annual pass for $50; entrance fees can be over $20 per day, so it's not an insignificant expense. There are many free museums (even if only on certain days); ask for information at visitor's centers, or check the city guide in a local phone book. Carry your student or senior card for discounts. Locals are a great source for information; where to go for the best fishing, where to find free parking, where exactly they shot that movie, what is the best restaurant or club in town, etc. But the best entertainment on a road trip is chatting with people! It doesn't cost a thing -- and it is so rewarding!

Bob: Always make a point to take the ten minutes to stop at the visitor centers when entering a new state. They are often found at the first or second off-ramp past a state's border on the Interstates. All are staffed by helpful volunteers and most provide a remarkably good selection of discount coupons for local motels and attractions. RoadTrip America reviews and keeps abreast of the best in road trip guidebooks and literature and every Web link found on this site has been hand chosen for quality and usefulness for roadtrippers as they plan stops at attractions along the way.



Budget for your fuel expenses with RoadTrip America's free ROADTRIP FUEL CALCULATOR

Gen: Usually, gas is cheaper at truck stops. For big chains, ask for a "frequent fueler" card, which will get you a rebate. Don't forget oil changes, so you don't get stranded somewhere with unexpected troubles. Find a shop by calling AAA (CAA in Canada). Even if you're not a member, they can refer you to approved repair shops. Still, AAA/CAA membership is a must.

Bob: Drive with fuel economy in mind, and you'll save on gasoline. Hold a steady speed, use cruise control, and keep speeds lower. Generally, your vehicle will get its best mileage at engine speeds just a bit over minimum in the highest gear -- you may be able to save 10% to 20% on fuel costs this way.

Happy Road-Tripping!

Robert Schaller
Geneviève Lauzière
December 19, 2004