Skip to main content
How to Plan the Ultimate Low-Budget Road Trip

How to Plan the Ultimate Low-Budget Road Trip

By Alex Porter • July 01, 2019

Summer is in full swing, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to plan an amazing vacation. One of the best ways to take an unforgettable trip, without having to empty your savings account, is to take a classic American road trip!

With a bit of preparation, traveling on a budget really isn’t all too difficult. Here, in part one of our #OMFRoadTrip series, we’re mapping out everything you need to know to plan the perfect summer road trip.

Riding shotgun and offering up some awesome tips is travel pro, @TravyWild. Travis is a talented photographer, writer, videographer and full-time explorer who’s been living out of his 2006 Dodge Sprinter van for the past three years.

Buckle up and enjoy the read – this is your ultimate road trip guide.

Step 1: Plan the Route

Punch in your starting point and destination (plus any planned stops along the way) in Google Maps or Waze to see the exact miles and estimated time of your trip.

If you’re looking at a drive of over 12 hours, you’ll probably want to find a place to break for the night. Sites like Booking.com, Kayak and Priceline are all great resources to find the lowest rates for hotel rooms.

Rentals like HomeAway and Airbnb are also options to consider, or you could try to find a couch to crash on for free if your Aunt Nicky or an old buddy happens to live somewhere along your way.

Want to spend some quality time in the great outdoors? Find a spot to camp out for a night on sites like Recreation.gov and freecampsite.net.

Travis’ Pro Tip: “When planning a road trip, I recommend keeping your timeline open… Don’t create a marathon of seeing 50 things. Ask everyone what their #1 thing they want to see/do is, then leave the rest of the time open to explore.”

Step 2: Choose Your Vehicle

Whether you’re traveling with family or friends, figure out whose car gets the lowest miles per gallon – and take it if at all possible. Before you head out, you’ll also want to give the car a good checkup.

If you’re stuck choosing between an old pickup truck and a gas-guzzling SUV, renting a more fuel-efficient car for the trip could be a wise decision.

Step 3: Estimate Gas Costs

Depending on the distance and what kind of stops you make, gas will most likely be your biggest expense.

This nifty gas calculator provides an estimated fuel cost for your road trip. Then, to make sure you are finding the lowest gas prices as you go, you’ll want to go ahead and download the free GasBuddy app.

Travis’ Pro Tip: “Gas Buddy is a rad way to save some money, especially when you’re crossing state lines, where gas will go up or down by 50 cents to a dollar.”

And, if you have a gas rewards credit card, you may be able to get some cash back along the way.

Step 4: Make a Meal Plan

If you aren’t paying attention, you can easily drop a ton of cash on snacks, drinks and fast-food/roadside meals. One way to keep spending in check is to take out a set amount of cash, and ONLY use that for snacks or meals on the road.

Another option is to load up a cooler with drinks, sandwiches and snacks. By planning ahead, you can take advantage of grocery store prices that are typically much cheaper than what you’d pay for the same thing at a gas station.

Step 5: Pick Some Entertaining Pit Stops

You’re going to need to take some breaks to stretch out your legs. Roadtrippers.com is a great resource to find low-cost attractions like parks, museums, campgrounds and a whole lot more along your route.

Travis’ Pro Tip: “Exploring in our modern world is really easy… turn your Google Maps into a satellite view. Don’t look for marked destinations, look for geography — lakes, mountains, interesting topography.”

Even something as simple as packing a Frisbee in the trunk could equal an hour of free entertainment.

Hit the Road

Once you’ve got your master plan in place, you’ll be all set to roll out. Look out for part two of our #OMFRoadTrip series, where we’ll go over the best ways to make the most of your time on the road.


The information in this article is provided for general education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose. It is not intended to be and does not constitute financial, legal or any other advice specific to you the user or anyone else. The companies and individuals (other than OneMain Financial’s sponsored partners) referred to in this message are not sponsors of, do not endorse, and are not otherwise affiliated with OneMain Financial.