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10 Simple Ways to Save Money on Your Next Road Trip

How to keep cash in your pocket on the road.

There’s nothing like an epic road trip. Whether discovering the Mother Road and Route 66, exploring US Highway 1 from Maine to Key West, or tailor-making your own road trip map, being on the open road is truly liberating. But, it can also become expensive if you’re not careful. Don’t worry though. Here are 10 sure-fire ways to save money along the way and to help keep cash in your pocket. After all, it is the unexpected detours that make a road trip that much more memorable.

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PHOTO: Sauko Andrei/Shutterstock
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Get the Upside Gas App

One of the few expenses you have little to no control over along the way is gas. You can do your best to try and fill up when gas is cheaper, but you’ll still need to fill up. With Upside Gas App, you’ll at least put money back in your pocket every time you fill up. With the app, you’ll receive money back for every gallon you purchase at participating gas stations. It might be a few cents, it might be over a quarter per gallon. But over the course of a long road trip, that’s some considerable money back in your pocket.

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Check the Next State’s Gas Prices

Whether you Google gas prices for the next state over or you have an app for that, always check the cost of gas prices before hitting the next state. You don’t want to put off filling up, only to discover the next state over has a 20 cent additional gas tax.

Additionally, fill up before hitting the major attractions on your epic road trip. Sure, driving the Pacific Coastal Highway and taking in Big Sur is amazing, but filling up at one of the few gas stations in Big Sur is like taking a sledgehammer to your budget. The closer you are to major attractions (especially difficult to reach ones) the more expensive gas becomes.

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PHOTO: Kate Scott/Shutterstock
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Stay on Bureau of Land Management Land

Want to stay in amazing locations potentially for free? If so, set up camp on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. This is government-owned land that’s open to the public. It doesn’t have the same kind of funding as National Parks and National Forests, but there’s also often little to no traffic in these locations.

You’ll find more BLM land out West where the federal government owns more land (85% of Nevada is owned by the government, for example). So whether you’re looking for a one-night trip or you want to set up camp for a week, it’s hard to beat a free place to stay.

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PHOTO: Harry Beugelink/Shutterstock
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Get the “America the Beautiful” Year Pass

Have plans of visiting National Parks? Maybe your epic road trip includes the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Mt. Zion. After all, these are some of the most beautiful destinations in the country. It’ll also cost you to get in. The America the Beautiful Park Pass costs $80 (as of spring 2021) and will grant you free admission into almost every National Park, National Forest, and National Monument. Entrance into these locations without the pass can cost anywhere from $5 to $35, so it will pay for itself quickly. Plus, it gives discounts for camping as well.

You never know when you might pass an unexpected National Monument, like the Wright Brother’s monument in North Carolina or Joshua Tree in California. If you plan on spending any kind of time in or around National Parks and Forests, this is an absolute must for saving money.

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Do You Need All Those Axles?

Looking at buying a trailer to make your road trip even more amazing? Maybe you just want some extra storage space and are shopping around for small cargo trailers. Before you pull the trigger on a purchase you’ll want to consider axles.

States with toll roads will charge extra for each axle. That might not be a big deal if you’re driving through one or two toll roads, but if you’re planning on traveling through a toll-happy state (looking at you, Florida), that extra axle can quickly shoot up your budget. And if you are driving through Florida, you won’t even realize how high of a fee you’ve accumulated until you return home, as Florida mails you the bill.

If all you need is extra storage, consider a luggage rack for the roof of your vehicle, or an attachment that fits on top of a trailer hitch, because once you add that extra set of wheels, your toll costs may instantly double.

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PHOTO: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock
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Keep an Eye Out for Discount Stores

Have plans of being on the road for a while? Maybe you’re spending most of the summer in a camper or RV. When your epic road trip takes up more than a few days, you’ll quickly burn through cleaning supplies, snacks, and other items. However, don’t purchase the items from regular grocery stores if you can. Instead, keep on the lookout for discount bargain stores.

These stores are excellent for picking up snack food, cleaning supplies, pet supplies, batteries, and random odds and ends.

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Join a Gym

Staying in hotels will quickly eat away at your road trip budget. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for spending the night elsewhere. However, those other options, such as the Bureau of Land Management land, do not come with showers. And, let’s face it, sitting around in a car all day can lead to some funky odors. Campgrounds in national parks may have showers, but you’ll pay a daily fee for these, and you can use the showers at truck stops, but you’ll probably have to throw down some cash as well.

Instead, consider joining a gym. There are a handful of national gym chains that can be found in most cities that don’t charge an arm and a leg. The beauty of these national chains is you can pop into any location, shower, use the Wi-Fi, and even get a bit of a workout in if you’d like. After just three or four showers you’ll end up paying for the entire membership.

One last benefit to joining a gym? If it’s 24-hours, you’re able to park overnight.

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Overnight Parking

Some nights you may find yourself a ways away from public land to camp out on. Instead of splurging on a hotel, there may be locations you can park overnight. Walmart has long been a location known by RVers as a viable option, although not all Walmarts allow overnight parking, so you’ll want to check with customer service ahead of time. Cracker Barrel often has parking spots for campers, and many home improvement stores allow overnight parking as well.

However, all of this might be for not if you’re in towns with a no-overnight parking local ordinance. You’ll find this frequently in Colorado and Florida.

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Freecampsite

Sometimes the best free camping isn’t in national parks. There are state parks around the country with excellent camping and boondocking options. With Freecampsite you can enter your location to find user reviews of camping spots all around the country, including if you need a permit, how to obtain the permit, and even the exact coordinates with driving directions for your GPS (think of it as the Google for unknown camping destinations, only not corporately owned). From little-known camping spots near Gettysburg to breathtaking views of western New Mexico, there’s a good chance you’ll find a new favorite overnight spot with this user-powered website.

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Highway Emergency Response Operator

Roadside assistance is helpful until it isn’t. Often you’re put on hold for hours at a time, and even then you’re stuck waiting for a tow service to come out and help you with your flat or dead battery. Well, there are other, free options available to you.

Most states have a Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) service. Stalled cars on the side of the road are dangerous, both to anyone inside the vehicle and those driving by. So the HERO service will come out, patch a flat, charge your battery, and help you with almost any other roadside problem you have, all for free.

Have you ever seen a highway sign that said, “Dial 711 for stalled vehicles”? This is the roadside HERO service. Each state has a different number, so look up the state you plan on traveling through ahead of time and write these down. It’s a free service that can save you time, money, and keep you safe while out on your epic road trip.

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