Nine tips for planning a budget road trip

By Jess Shanahan | Guides

Dec 07

Planning a road trip on a budget isn’t as difficult as it sounds. While I don’t skimp on the good stuff when I travel, I do take any opportunity I can to save money. For example, I’m an expert it finding amazing and affordable places to stay, I know how to get a good deal on a hire car and I purpo­sefully choose the more affordable places to visit.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about this element of planning my travel. Here are my top budget road trip tips.

Go off the beaten track.

Berlin and Munich might be quite expensive cities thanks to their size and popularity with tourists so perhaps try a stay in Baden Baden or Cologne instead.

I can especially recommend Baden Baden for Its hiking, baths, cafes and southern German charm. I was there for five days earlier in the year and it worked out as a very affordable trip, despite being in such an affluent area.

Visit cheaper countries

When road tripping this year we worked some budget road trip plans into our schedule and spent some time in the Czech Republic and Poland, which was needed after spending most of my money in Austria! Poland is especially cheap and definitely suitable for a budget road trip.

But, go all the beaten path, as I mentioned before. I went to Krakow and around the main square, you’ll pay normal European prices. Go down one side street and you’ll pay the equivalent of 3 euros for a main meal. Touristy areas will always cost more – no matter where you are – so take your time to explore and find more affordable options.

Visit markets

While it can be tempting to eat out every night, it gets expensive. Save yourself some money by shopping at local food markets then cooking at your accommodation. This is a great way to save money on a road trip without missing out on the foodie culture of a place.

Don’t refuel on a highway

This is certainly true in the UK, filling up on a main road or motorway can be as much as 20p per litre more expensive.

When it’s time to refuel, get off the main road into a residential area or seek out a supermarket petrol station.

Embrace free activities

Did you know it’s easy to find free walking tours in pretty much any location? Guides use these as a way of promoting bigger paid-for tours. Sometimes they’ll ask for a small donation but even then it’s much ch­eaper than a tour with a large company.

Hiking is one of my favourite free activities and I did a lot of this in Heiligenblut after driving the incredible Grossglockner road.

There are a lot of free museums and art galleries out there too. Especially in the UK.

Search for free things to do in the place you’re staying in and you’ll be surprised just how many you can find.

Search for deals

Before you took any tour or buy tickets to an attraction, search for deals and coupons online. A quick Google search will often help you find what you need but look for local discount cards that get you money off in a certain area too.

For example, if you’re looking to visit some NYC attractions, the New York Pass is a must to save some money. Or if you’re road tripping around Australia, you can get a combo ticket for attractions in Sydney that allows you to skip the lines. Most major cities around the world have these passes including Paris, London, Athens and Montreal.

Shop around for accommodation

Don’t just search for hotels and pick the first because there are so many more options out there than those that appear on the first page of Google.

Once you find somewhere you like the look of, search across different sites and use at least one comparison site. It’s also worth looking at hotels directly too as they often offer the best price. I tend to use Hotels.com or Airbnb.

Get used to walking

Accommodation in a city centre is always going to cost more than something on the outskirts, plus you have to factor in parking, which is often extra.

I normally opt for something a mile or so out of the centre of any big city or in a suburb of it so I can guarantee I’ll get free onsite parking while being no more than a 20-30 min walk from where I want to go.

Pay a road trip planner

Paying for someone to do the leg work for you might seem counter­intuitive but a road trip planner can save you money across every aspect of your trip, It’ll probably be well worth the fee.

This is really worth considering if you’re busy and your time is valuable. You could be earning money while a road trip planner does the hard work.

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About the Author

Jess Shanahan is a road trip journalist and motorsport consultant who loves high heels, V8s and the open road. You can find her on Twitter @Jetlbomb.