3 Budget-Saving Secrets of a Road Trip Artist

Mountains have consumed my life for the last six months. Growing up in a state with two mountain ranges (bless you, Washington) can definitely give you a respect for the gigantism that the Earth is capable of, and it is alluring. I can’t seem to stay away from them, and thus my life is full of tiny (and not so tiny) road trips.

Being broke meshes very well with road trips, but it can also be very easy to overspend. On top of the basic costs of maintaining a car (and, um, having one at all) you have to think about food, beverages, gas, and depending on how far you’re going, lodging, souvenirs, and bar tabs from that town you had to stop in where you forgot that you bought drinks for 4 random strangers. This is road trip life, man! Expenses are hiding around every turnpike.

The learning curve has been strong and sharp, but I’ve definitely learned some incredible tricks and tactics that have reduced my roadtrip expenses to totally manageable amounts. In fact, it’s kind of the only type of vacationing I want to do! These three tips aren’t the most effective ways to get your road trip off to a great start without emptying your wallet.

B.Y.O.Food!

The #1 way I lose money on road trips is through my stomach. Road-side burger places look extra good after 4 hours in the car, and that’s just a fact. On the flip side, there’s no worse feeling than eating diner food for several consecutive days, both physically and financially.

Pea Salad Ingredients from Grocery Outlet

Anyone who has tried meal prepping already has the skills to create an amazing road trip menu. The growing trend of meal prepping involves making several meals ahead of time so grab’n’go is easy and convenient, every time. This reduces the temptation to purchase ready-made meals because, well, that’s exactly what you have! Taking meal prep strategies and applying them to a road trip is a match made in adventure heaven.

Grab yourself a good cooler and a bag or box for dry goods and hit Pinterest. You’re going to need three kinds of meals:

  • Quick snacks: Mixed nuts/trail mix, dried fruit, and jerky don’t need to be in the cooler, and will keep you full & satisfied between meals.
  • Portable meals: Pre-packaged pasta salads, grain-based dishes, and sandwiches are all excellent cold and work well at any time of the day.
  • Sweet tooth killers: protein bars, breakfast cookies, or just some straight up brownies are smart to bring along. It’s better if they also provide some nutrition, but sometimes after passing the 150th Dairy Queen, it just doesn’t matter.

Be Ready for Anything

This cliché safety tip is obviously applicable to road trips in the sense that you should always have a spare tire, a cellphone charger, battery charger, etc. Making a checklist before you go is very helpful, and allow yourself to think about everything terrible that can happen to you – but only for like five minutes. You just need to consider everything long enough to make sure you’ll have a solution for it, then drop it and watching a cat video or something. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!

Aside from safety & responsibility, you have to consider what kind of fun trouble you might encounter on the way, too. You don’t want to find the perfect mountain lake on a 90 degree day and not have a towel, shorts, or sunblock! You also don’t want to be caught on a forest hike with only flip-flops, either. Take a good look at the areas you’ll be driving through and imagine what sort of magical, spontaneous things might happen to you. Throw an extra pair of shoes, some towels, a toothbrush, a swimsuit, and some playing cards… Seriously, you ever know, and the last thing you want to do is buy something on the road.

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Diablo Lake, Washington

Make Your Car as Efficient as Possible

It seems like I’m taking a departure from fun stuff to boring adult stuff, but hear me out. Your car is your spaceship in the exploration of new frontiers, and no captain in their right mind would take off before making sure their ship is in good shape.

Before I leave on a trip, I usually at least get my oil changed. If I have someone else do it, you can guarantee that I am using a coupon. Mechanic shops almost always have coupons for basic oil changes, c Recently, we started changing the oil and filters on our car by ourselves (thanks, YouTube!) and it has saved us even more money than coupons did!

Two years ago, my boyfriend and I bought a super fuel-efficient, little, tiny 2001 Toyota Echo, but for four years prior, I didn’t drive. I lived in downtown Seattle in a dense part of town, having a car was about as logical as looking for an apartment with a backyard. Car-owning-city-dwellers: Do you ever think about how often you drive and wonder why the hell you have to pay high insurance premiums when you use public transportation 90% of the time? That was me, and man do I wish Metromile had been around back then to revamp my insurance lifestyle.

Metromile is a pay-as-you-go auto insurance model that has you pay a low monthly base rate (think $30) and then you pay on average 5-7¢ per mile after that. Yeah, bizarre and awesome, right?! The less you drive, the less you spend on car insurance. Doesn’t that just make sense? Obviously, it’s not applicable to everyone, but for the first time, there’s something that benefits infrequent drivers!

Metromile Pulse Tag for Auto Monitoring

They offer collision coverage for the vehicle and motorist, rental car reimbursement, emergency roadside assistance – they even have a pet coverage option! There’s even a little gadget that plugs into your car with an accompanying app so you can monitor not only your car’s health, but the amount of gas you’re using and it will suggest the most fuel-efficient routes to your destinations, all from your smartphone!

Or how about when your engine light pops on after mile number 350 – would you like to know what the heck is wrong instead of just panicking? Metromile. Seriously. The app will show you the engine code and the basic description of the problem so you can troubleshoot without having a nervous breakdown.

Ever notice how people don’t win road trips as prizes like they win other vacations? It’s because road trips are way more hands-on and immersive than any other form of vacation or travel. Sure, it has its challenges, but the payoffs are so big that each and every challenge is worth it. Especially when you can save money while you do it!

Do you have a favorite road trip story or tip? Leave it in a comment below!

This post was written in partnership with Metromile, who seriously blew me away with their cool service for people who live outside of traditional car ownership. I was not paid to say that, or anything else above, but I was compensated for publishing this post. 

Lindsay Ginn

Livin' in your basement, eatin' your canned foods.