How To Save Money On Your Solo Road Trip
It’s always been a dream of mine to go on a road trip across the USA. And this past April, that’s exactly what I did! I took 15 days to drive from Cincinnati, Ohio to Los Angeles, California. And I did it completely on my own!
Going into this dream trip, I knew I couldn’t spend a lot of money. A road trip in the USA can get very expensive very quickly. In this post I’ll detail exactly how much I spent, on what, and ways that you can save money on your solo road trip.
What I Spent
Okay, I’m going to get into the gritty details of what I spent over my 15 days on the road. When I’m planning my travels, it always helps me to look at honest accounts of what others have spent on a similar trip.
Total Spent: $1,206.18
This averages out to roughly $80/day.
As you can see, accommodation was the most expensive category, closely followed by food (at no surprise to me or, I’m sure, anyone who knows me). However, I spent a lot less on accommodations than I could have by using a few simple money-saving tricks.
How To Save On Accommodations
Friends & Family
First of all, I saved a LOT of money by staying with very generous family and friends. In Austin and San Diego, I stayed with my lovely friends Lisa and Gabi, respectively, who I met on my retreat in Costa Rica. In Las Vegas, I stayed with my cousin and his family. Part of the fun of this road trip was being able to catch up with friends and family I don’t see very often. Also, getting to see a destination through a local’s eyes is my favorite way to travel.
The second way I saved a bunch of money, and got a local perspective, was through Airbnb. I had little experience with this house-sharing community before starting my road trip.
The nice thing about Airbnb is that you can choose between an array of accommodation styles, with the cheaper options usually being a private room in a house/apartment where someone else lives. The most expensive room I stayed in was only $67, in a two bedroom house in Memphis, Tennessee. The host, who usually lives there, was out of the house when I was there, so I got the entire place to myself!
Despite the fact that I usually stayed in a shared accommodation, I had tons of privacy to myself with all the amenities of being at home. If you’re a solo female traveler, like me, it may help you have more peace of mind if you book a room hosted by another female.
Also, Airbnb has tons of unique accommodations, like staying in a tiny house or camper, both of which I did on my trip.
If you’re wondering whether you need to have an Airbnb booked out well ahead of your trip, the answer is no. Being that I was on a pretty loosely planned road trip, the flexibility of being able to instantly book an accommodation was key. Simply turn on the ‘Instant Book’ option when you search, and click away!
If you still haven’t hopped on the Airbnb bandwagon, click on this link or the one above, and you can get a $25 credit towards your first stay somewhere.
The cheapest place I stayed was in a hostel in Austin. I’ve stayed at many hostels around the world, but never one in my home country of the USA! It was pretty fascinating to get a glimpse at the hostel vibe in the States.
I know I’ll always meet someone new and interesting when I stay at a hostel, and this one was no exception! While the hostel itself, Drifter Jack’s, didn’t exactly thrill me (or maybe it’s just my aversion to paying $36 for a dorm bed after traveling in Central America), I still enjoyed my night there.
The final way I got reduced accommodations on my road trip was by using a magical website called Priceline. My mother has been extolling the virtues of Priceline Express for ages, but like a typical daughter I didn’t actually listen to her until I was in a pickle. I called her in Little Rock, Arkansas, not seeing any Airbnbs that looked appealing. Night was drawing near, and I wanted to get an accommodation booked soon. She told me to check Priceline Express, and 10 minutes later I was on my way to my hotel for the night.
The premise of the Express option is that you don’t know the name of the hotel before you book, only the number of stars and the average guest rating. You can choose a general area for the hotel you want to stay in. Once you book, you find out the name of your hotel.
That night in Little Rock, I stayed at Best Western Sherwood Inn & Suites for only $49.51. Of the 4 hotels I stayed at, I never spent more than $100. Each place I stayed at was more than comfortable, clean, and accommodating.
Sometimes, after driving all day, all I wanted was a private place to crash, and the hotels I found on Priceline fit the bill perfectly.
How To Save On Food
Okay, so it’s no secret that I don’t exactly have much restraint when it comes to eating out. But hey, food is one of the major ways I experience a new destination, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.
However, I can share a few tips to save money on food even when you enjoy eating…A LOT.
It may not be the healthiest option, but due to the nature of my driving schedule I was eating a big breakfast and then not eating again until dinner.
Also, for much of the trip I was traveling in the South, which is generally less expensive (in every way, not just food-wise) than the rest of the country. I enjoyed amazing food (no, seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried real southern comfort food) for as little as $3 (breakfast tacos in Austin) to $9 (fried chicken in Memphis).
Before I left, and along the way as I ran out, I bought snacks at Target to keep in the car. If I got hungry between breakfast and dinner, I ate a mini bag of popcorn or chocolate covered pomegranate seeds.
I also saved money (and made my trip more earth-friendly) by not buying single use plastic water bottles. Instead, I brought a reusable water bottle with me. I bought gallon water jugs and decanted water as needed into my water bottle. Other times, I used the free water at gas station and fast food soda machines.
I could have saved a lot more money by buying staple grocery items and making my own meals, but as I said above, half of the fun of travel for me is sampling new foods. Let me know if you have any extra money-saving ideas when it comes to foodie road trips in the comments!
How To Save On Gas
I’m lucky in that my car, a Honda Civic, is very gas-friendly. It gets roughly 32 miles/gallon and is a low emission vehicle.
I only had to stop for gas, on average, once per day (if that!)
As I said before, things are generally cheaper in the South, and gas is no exception. For most of my trip (until hitting Nevada out west), it was rare to see gas cost more than $2/gallon.
That said, if you aren’t lucky enough to drive a car that get such good mileage, I highly recommend the website and app GasBuddy. It shows you where the cheapest gas is located near you.
Granted, depending on where you’re driving, you’ll be lucky to find one gas station every couple hours or so! That’s why I always recommend getting gas when you see it in rural areas.
And there you have it, what I spent on my 15 day solo road trip, and how you can save money on your own cross country trip!
Let me know if you have any more questions about what it’s like to do a solo road trip in the comments!
Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!
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