Tips from our community for road-tripping on a budget
You may think that a road trip is costly. I will show you how to hit the road on a budget without breaking the bank.
If you’re a travel enthusiast, you’ve probably already dreamed of going on a road trip. Traveling on the road offers freedom and independence that a more traditional trip can’t match. Unfortunately, many think road trips are expensive and don’t dare take the plunge. Today, I will show you that it’s possible to go on a road trip on a small budget, and I’ll give you the best tips for saving money on the road.
1. Enjoy the flexibility of a road trip
That’s the charm of a road trip: flexibility and freedom. On the contrary, there’s no need to stress about leaving from Saturday to Saturday! Take advantage of early-morning weekday travel, for example. By moving out of the way of the masses of other visitors and tourists, you’ll find the best prices, especially for transport. And you have to learn to use this flexibility to your advantage, like Émilie and Cédric:
*You’ll also be much easier to visit on the spot. When we traveled around France, we didn’t hesitate to work on Sundays to enjoy a “weekend” during the week when the French were working!
And we can’t stress this enough:
2. it’s imperative to plan your road trip well
This theme comes up a lot when we talk about road trips, and we talked about it in our article How to prepare for a road trip: planning your trip.
The first obvious step is choosing your destination. If we take Europe as an example, a road trip to southern European regions like Italy or Spain or eastern European countries like Croatia or Greece is much cheaper than a road trip to Switzerland or Scandinavia, where the cost of living is high.
Far-flung regions such as Thailand, Laos, or Vietnam are also interesting for taking advantage of the lower cost of living in terms of accommodation and food. You need to be able to stay there long enough to recoup the cost of the trip, but that’s not a problem: you’re on a road trip, not a race!
Once you’ve chosen your destination, planning your road trip well is also the key to saving money during your trip. You can list and keep track of the places you want to discover during your road trip, clearly indicating how long you’ll be on the road. It’s also an excellent opportunity to make early reservations or adjust your schedule to find the best deals.
Sometimes, the cheapest thing to do is to find the best fare and then set a date. And even better, if you plan to go to an island, save 1 or 2 nights’ travel by sleeping on the ferry and taking the low-cost berths, for example,*.
3. You can adapt your itinerary to avoid touristy areas
As you can imagine, when you’re on the road, you’ll need to consider factors such as fuel costs, accommodation expenses, and the cost of potential repairs to your vehicle, for example. By planning the stages of your road trip, you can optimize your routes and decide on the stops you will make: by choosing these places outside the tourist areas, the prices will be much lower than in the middle of regions crowded with tourists.
👉 To save money on gas, there are apps to find the cheapest gas stations on your route, like the free Fuel Map app. Otherwise, we can only advise you to drive at a moderate and steady speed during your trip.
For Émilie and Cédric, this was an excellent solution for reducing their expenses and emissions:
*Driving at 110 instead of 130 on the French freeway, for example, saves up to 20% on fuel (and reduces greenhouse gas emissions to boot)!
Most travelers in the Fleeps community recommend setting a fixed budget for each day of your trip. This will help you avoid unnecessary expenses and focus on the activities and experiences you want to enjoy. It’s much easier to keep track of your budget from day to day!
Émilie and Cédric have tested and also recommend using the Tricount application:
*To keep track of your expenses as the road trip progresses (and check whether you’re still keeping to your daily budget), we recommend the Tricount app. Moreover, if there’s more than one of you, you can balance each person’s expenses.
👉 Of course, your encounters on the road can change your schedule. And that’s just as well! Don’t imagine that by planning your road trip, you won’t be able to stray from the path you’ve mapped out. Think of it as a roadmap to be followed and adapted as your adventures and encounters unfold.
4. Choose the right vehicle for your destination and your needs
Choosing the right vehicle is also essential for saving money on a road trip. For example, you can save money on rentals if you own a car. It was with this kind of experience that Audrey and Steve started road tripping:
We were away with our three-door Golf for our vacations in 2015 and 2016. We toured Italy and Spain (in broad strokes). It’s a great way to take your everyday car without investing. Tips: go on a road trip without a converted vehicle and save on accommodation and food by taking a small stove and an electric cooler with you.
If you must rent a car on the spot, choose a fuel-efficient, petrol-type vehicle to keep costs down. If you’ve followed our first tips and started planning your road trip, you’ll also be able to find the best rental deals if you get in early enough.
If you want to save money, you may have considered renting a motorhome or caravan to save on accommodation. Bear in mind that this can be costly: although these options allow you to sleep comfortably and prepare your food, rental rates tend to be high, which can quickly push up your travel budget. That said, renting a motorhome may be worthwhile if you’re traveling as a family with 2 or 3 children, as it will provide you with practical and economical accommodation. In any case, it’s worth planning!
There are many possibilities, so it’s up to you to decide what kind of road trip you’d like to take and find the formula that suits your dreams of discovery and your budget.
Typically, you can take a road trip to any European destination, starting from France or your home base. And you can reach the islands by ferry.
5. Take advantage of being immersed in local life to discover authentic activities that are less expensive than tourist traps.
The advantage of a road trip is this freedom, which allows you to contact local people quickly. And you can also get around very quickly, with few constraints. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover authentic activities and events locals typically participate in.
Visit the local tourist offices, where you can take advantage of special rates on your visits. This was the case on our roadtrip, for example, to visit the Loire castles.
This way, you’ll be able to enjoy a truly authentic, local experience. What’s more, by avoiding areas that are too touristy, you’ll save money on the price of activities and events that aren’t necessarily aimed at tourists: it’s the perfect combo!
You can also take advantage of many free activities depending on the destinations you visit, including hiking, nature walks, or certain natural parks.
6. Don’t be afraid of camping - it’s a road trip’s best friend!
Camping is also a great way to meet other travelers and exchange tips and tricks for the rest of your road trip. And it’s also a great way to save money on your adventure.
And you don’t need a 4-star campsite! There are plenty of low-cost municipal grounds. A pitch with shade and clean, sanitary facilities is the most important when choosing a camp. You can also look for youth hostels, an excellent option for solo travelers*.
You can find free or low-cost campsites in many places. For comfort and peace of mind during your road trip, list the places where camping is allowed in advance. This will save you hours of driving and detours to find your spot for the night.
If traveling by camper van or caravan, you might also consider sleeping inaccessible rest areas. You can also opt for wild camping in authorized regions if you prefer to sleep under the stars.
In any case, make sure that camping or parking your caravan is authorized. Particularly near towns and tourist areas, more and more places prohibit it, unfortunately!
👉 As with petrol, some apps can list the best places to park or camp, such as Wikicamps. Most apps are accessible or affordable, but they depend on your destination. Don’t hesitate to do a little research to find out which system the locals use themselves.
7. Food can account for a massive part of your expenses
Going to restaurants morning, noon, and night can become quite expensive, depending on the destination. To save money, you can prepare meals rather than eat out.
Absolutely! The restaurant budget can make your wallet explode. During my road trip to Corsica, I had nothing to cook with. So lunch was a picnic. And in the evening, we went to a restaurant but only had one dish, not necessarily desserts or drinks. So we ate out every night without breaking the budget or getting frustrated!
Before you leave, make a list of simple meals that you can quickly cook. In particular, you can opt for non-perishable foods to avoid waste.
If you’re well organized, you’ll know where the stores and grocery stores are along your route. Shopping at a gas station… can cost you more than in a restaurant, with rarely good-quality products!
You can also take advantage of local markets to buy fresh, seasonal produce at affordable prices or pick up some unsold produce at the end of the market. In any case, don’t hesitate to ask locals for recommendations to find the best places to shop or the restaurants and cafés they’re used to frequent.
👉 Audrey and Steve are regulars on road trips, whether by car or converted van. And they’ve put together a video recapping their tips and tricks for traveling without breaking the bank, just like they do! So check out their secrets for multi-year travel.
The Fleeps community is accustomed to using different tools on their road trips. If you’re looking for the best apps to take with you on your road trip, our article Which apps to download for a road trip? is waiting to help you get organized.
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A road trip is a unique and exciting experience everyone should try at least once. And as I explained above, taking a road trip on a small budget is perfectly possible. You can save money by planning your itinerary, choosing a suitable vehicle, opting for a few evenings camping by the fire, and paying attention to your food. Enough to make the most of your trip and extend it by a few days.