If you’re planning a road trip in the USA, there’s no doubt you would love to see as much of this beautiful country as possible while getting value for your money and not breaking the bank. The cost of road tripping in the USA can quickly add up if you are not conscious of your spending, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have an incredible experience while spending as little as possible. Read on to learn about all our expert budget travel tips for a road trip in the USA.
If you are thinking of hiring a camper van or motorhome for your road trip in the United States, you have already made a great choice. Not only is it the best way to discover the USA when you plan a self-drive adventure, but it’s also the most budget-friendly way to travel.
The cost of hotel rooms in the USA is not cheap, so this could quickly blow out your budget when you add car rentals or other transport methods on top of that. Plus, think of all the savings you will make having a kitchen onboard your camper van, allowing you to cook all your meals.
If you are trying to decide between a motorhome or camper van rental, the latter will provide enormous savings for your adventure, and you’ll have the same experience. You can expect the daily rate of camper van rental to be up to half that of a motorhome, and the compact size will mean the same for your gas bill.
Travellers Autobarn is one of the most affordable and high-quality camper van rentals in North America. Get a quote on camper van or minivan to begin your adventure!
Do your research on costs
Before you jump in your car or campervan and hit the open road, make sure you have a solid plan and a budget you don’t want to overspend on. Research is key for a budget-friendly trip, so make sure you have a good idea of how much everything will cost – and stick to it!
Check the currency conversion rate if you are traveling internationally and exchange your money somewhere you will get a good deal (i.e., not at the airport). Find out how much you will need to pay for national park fees, toll roads, campsites, parking, etc. Check the distances you plan to drive to and consider how much gas costs for that number of miles. Gas prices change per location, so this will be an estimate. GasBuddy is an excellent app to help find the cheapest gas prices nearby. Remember the good old saying, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”!
Note that all Travellers Autobarn campervan & minivan rentals come with FREE unlimited miles – which means you don’t need to pay extra per mile like you would with other companies.
Avoid peak season
The time of year you choose to road trip will make a huge difference to how much everything will cost. From June to September, it is peak travel season in the USA, and although it is an excellent time to travel climate-wise in most regions, the costs will make it less than ideal if you are a budget-conscious traveler. The cost of a rental car or campervan will increase significantly during these months, as will the price of campgrounds and certain activities.
Travel in the shoulder season in Spring or Fall when the climate is still pleasant, and the costs will be much lower. If you don’t mind cooler weather, you will love traveling in winter even more. In winter, the cost to travel is more affordable, and the lack of crowds mixed with the beauty of the snowy landscapes is a real delight.
Cook your meals
Most likely food will be one of the most substantial expenses on your road trip budget, but there are plenty of ways you can reduce it. Traveling in a campervan means you have a kitchen on board everywhere you go, so try to utilize it as much as possible! Eating out at restaurants every day will quickly blow out your budget, so hit the grocery stores, cook your meals, and save dining out for every second or third day at most!
Just because you’re living life on the road doesn’t mean you have to eat canned food, two-minute noodles, or unhealthy fast food either. Traveling in a campervan is a great time to get creative with trying new recipes, and it’s a great way to ensure you are staying nourished throughout your adventures. Plus, imagine being able to wake up, roll out of bed, and have your morning coffee with a view of mountains or the ocean!
Eating on a budget when dining out
Of course, there will be times when you decide to dine out and experience the local foods – which is one of the best parts of traveling! There are plenty of cheap eats in every state. A simple Google or Yelp search will help you find these and avoid you walking into overpriced/tourist-trap restaurants!
Another thing to keep in mind when you eat out is that the meal sizes served in restaurants in the USA are very generous. So if you can’t finish it, don’t be shy to ask to take away the remaining food – it’s a common request! That way, you can keep the rest of it in your campervan’s refrigerator and heat it later for your next meal. Did somebody say gourmet dining at a campsite?!
Saving on Fuel
As we mentioned, hiring a campervan over a motorhome, as well as not trying to drive too far, will save you significantly on fuel. But on top of that, there are other ways you can reduce your fuel bill without sacrificing any of your trip plans.
Plan where you will fill up so that you can purchase fuel more cheaply. Rather than filling up at a costly interstate or highway gas station, fill up in towns or big cities – or at supermarket stations – where you will find a reasonable cost per gallon.
It’s worthwhile checking out Petrolprices.com or GasBuddy to find the lowest prices locally.
Additionally, you can modify your driving style to burn less fuel by driving slowly and carefully, especially in national parks where roads are often windy and hilly. Though, of course, you will be doing this anyway so you can admire the views on your road trip!
Saving on Campgrounds
Staying in campgrounds is not only the best way to sleep under the stars right within America’s most beautiful national parks, but it’s also the best way to save money on your accommodation budget. Generally, you can expect to pay between $20-$50 a night for two adults to stay in a campground in the USA (depending on the season, campsite amenities, and location).
You can easily reduce this by taking advantage of free, or ‘dispersed,’ camping where it is legal to do so. Dispersed camping is the term used for camping anywhere in a national forest that is outside of a designated campground. Generally, this will mean little or no services such as trash removal, or facilities such as showers, tables, or fire pits. But that’s a small sacrifice in exchange for a free place to stay for the odd night or few!
On your smartphone, download the Allstays Camp and RV app, which allows you to search to see where the closest campsites (including free ones) are to your location.
Did you know that most Walmarts across America allow you to camp overnight in their parking lots for free? It’s not exactly camping in the great outdoors, but an excellent place to stopover for a night during a long drive. There is a Walmart, or two, in almost all major cities, and you can stock up on essentials at the same time.
Did you know our Kuga Campervans come with a Rooftop Solar Panel – meaning you can spend less money on powered campsites and more time off-grid while powering your refrigerator, lights, and smartphones!
Get a national parks pass
What you will need to consider if you are visiting many national parks is the cost of national park entry, which can quickly add up. If you plan to visit more than two or three parks, don’t hit the road without purchasing an annual national park pass. A must-have for anyone who plans to fit in a lot of outdoor experiences on their road trip! Annual passes cost $80 and allow you and your travel partners to enter more than 2000 national parks across the USA.
You can purchase an America The Beautiful Annual Park Pass here.
Don’t plan too many destinations
The USA is a vast country, and we know you want to pack as much into your trip and see as many sites as possible. But keep in mind that to have the most budget-friendly – and stress-free – trip as possible, you might have to sacrifice some of the destinations you have on your list.
Trying to cram too much into the time you have will only mean a higher gas bill and more money spent on activities which you didn’t have an adequate amount of time to enjoy. So, travel slowly, spend more time sightseeing at each destination, and less time sitting behind the wheel!
Want road trip inspiration? Check out our road trip itineraries – we have dozens of ideas to help you start planning and exploring your during USA adventure today.
Visit a less well-known locations
Traveling off the beaten track and avoiding tourist traps means you will save significantly on activities, campsites, food, and more. Of course, you will want to stop at the main iconic cities and national parks, but if you can limit your time in these destinations, you will still have a fantastic trip and save significantly. The United States is full of stunning locations; many of them are not well-known to tourists.
Plan lots of free & inexpensive activities
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to hand over money for every single experience to have a great time. There is no shortage of free activities to partake in the USA, especially when traveling in a camper van.
When stopping in cities, check out where you can do a free walking tour of the city
You could rent a bicycle and spend a day exploring San Francisco for around $9 an hour
Rent a stand-up paddleboard in Lake Tahoe for just $30 for 2 hours
Chances are you will be spending a lot of time in national parks during your road trip, so luckily hiking and exploring the outdoors doesn’t cost a cent!
Get a discounted or free car/ campervan rental
Everyone loves a discount, so take advantage of savings before you even begin your trip! Join our Exclusive Campervan Deals Facebook group, where you will be the first to know about the latest specials and promotions. As well as awesome savings on campervan and car rentals, we also post our relocation offers, where you can sometimes snag a rental at just $1/day when we need a campervan moved to another location.
Ready to hit the road as soon as possible? Get started by getting a quote and booking your camper van rental today with Travellers Autobarn!
About the Author
Bastian is the Sales & Marketing Manager here at Travellers Autobarn. He holds a Master of Commerce in Marketing and International Business Management, and 20+ years experience in campervan hire, road trips and travel.