10 Best Tips for a Road Trip on the Cheap

Updated: Nov. 17, 2023

It can be expensive to hit the road. Here are 10 road trip tips from an experienced traveler for smooth (and cheap!) sailing.

1 / 10
Beautiful young woman sitting in car boot with her boyfriend eating sandwiches, lunch break on road trip
Shutterstock / antoniodiaz

Pack non-perishable snacks

Your biggest priority for a road trip on the cheap (besides spending quality time and seeing the sites): keeping a food stash. Especially if your hotel isn’t serving brunch or you know you won’t have time to stop, having easy breakfast options and filling road trip snacks with you will make a big difference. Like this homemade Chex Mix.

2 / 10
Young woman shopping in the supermarket

Go grocery shopping

Even when you can’t cook full meals along the way, stock up perishable snacks every so often. It will cut back on the number of stops you need to make at the drive-thru and you’ll save money, too. Look for quick, healthy-ish bites, like string cheese, pre-made wraps and fruit (don’t forget to wash in at the supermarket).

3 / 10
Ice cubes maker
Shutterstock / UzFoto

Don’t buy bags of ice

Use the hotel ice maker to refill your car cooler and keep snacks cold. You might want to pick up a cooler like this that you can roll into the hotel room with your other things. (It will make checking in and out much easier.)

4 / 10
Man holding a bottle on the carpathian mountains background

Reuse water bottles

Forget buying a plastic water bottle at every gas station. Pack at least two reusable water bottles per person to refill during stops. Make sure your bottles are insulated to keep drinks cold without having to take up room in the cooler.

5 / 10
transparent plastic cutlery on black background
Shutterstock / villorejo

Bring extra utensils

What happens when the drive-thru forgets to give you silverware—and you don’t notice until you’re on the road again? Bring a few sets of reusable forks and spoons to eat a pasta salad from home or chow down on takeout.

6 / 10
Interior of a local diner housing American memorabilia.
Shutterstock / Philip Pilosian

Stop for cheap local eats

Don’t forget to indulge in regional foods, though. It’s a more interesting option than a chain like Taco Bell or McDonald’s, because you get to taste some local flavors. Why not stop for a dish from the best diner in each state?

7 / 10
Documents on car in box
Shutterstock / socrates471

Keep bags and napkins with you

You’ll never know when there will be an unexpected spill or accident in the car, so make sure to have your glove box stocked with napkins or paper towels. Same goes for plastic bags that can be used for trash or recycling during the drive.

8 / 10
Girl is reading a map

Map out food stops

Uh, oh—you’re hungry but the next restaurant isn’t for another 60 miles. What do you do? Aside from making a meal of your assorted snacks, it’s easier to plan ahead. Make sure your driving plans for the day line up with an eating schedule so you don’t get too hungry on the road.

(You’ll want to stop at one of these food factory tours on the way, too.)

9 / 10
Shutterstock / PH888

Drink caffeine (but not too much)

If you’re a coffee or tea person, don’t overdo it. Your priority should be drinking water, because it’s SO easy to get dehydrated during long stretches of driving. If you’re feeling sleepy on the road, get out and stretch your legs before you decide to stop for a fresh cup.

10 / 10
Happy family riding in a car
Shutterstock / Soloviova Liudmyla

Listen to podcasts or audiobooks

Hit up your local library app to snag free audiobooks, like these foodie books we love. Or stay entertained with podcasts—including these delicious picks for food lovers.

Is your road trip a family affair? These family travel tips will keep everybody happy.