How to Plan a Road Trip on a Budget (Part 1)

“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.” 

JRR Tolkein

A few years ago, I went on the trip of a lifetime with two of my best friends. We did a camping road trip throughout the New England area and hiked Mt. Washington. Read more about it by clicking here.

When planning the trip, we knew we needed to be smart about our money, considering we had very little to spend. This mentality was applied to our food, where we were staying, and more (the rest will be in part 2).

The Food:

Some people travel for their stomach, consuming the unique foods in the areas they stay. Because this was not our goal, we were able to keep a tight food budget. In Girl Scouts, before going on a camping trip, we would plan a menu for grocery shopping to make sure we didn’t miss anything and didn’t over spend. For our New England road trip our menu looked a little like this:

Day 1Peanut butter bagels and coffee or teaPB+JQuinoa, beans, and veggiesGranola and apples
Day 2Yams and bagels and coffee or teaDinner leftovers or PB+JRice, beans, potato, and tortillaGranola and apples
Day 3Peanut butter bagels and coffee or teaDinner leftovers or PB+JQuinoa, beans, and veggiesGranola and apples

Above is not exactly what we ate everyday but it is a general picture of what we bought at the grocery store and primarily ate (homemade goodies filled in the cracks). When shopping, we bought the cheapest ingredients possible.

One key way to make sure you are getting your money’s worth, especially with grains, legumes, and produce–compare the price and weight of two products. Typically when buying the store brand food we received more food for our money, but we were occasionally surprised and found that name brands were cheaper.

Post Mt. Washington Feast

Moreover, keep in mind that when you are camping and hiking everyday for over a week, you need to fuel your body with nutrient rich food. People sometimes automatically think food items like meat and eggs are the key; however, when camping and shopping on a budget, it’s typically better to keep meat and dairy products off your menu. Why?

  • Meat can drain you budget quickly and for a small amount of food
    • Plant based diets tend to be cheaper if you shop smart (if there’s a “damaged” produce section at your grocer, hit that section first)
  • Meat and dairy products have a quicker rate of spoiling and higher maintenance
    • You don’t have to worry about keeping rice, dry beans, potatoes, and quinoa at a cold temperature
  • Meat, when not cleaned up properly at a campsite can attract unwanted and sometimes dangerous wildlife to your tent doorstep
    • Cooking primarily plant based meals decreases your chances of bears scavenging at your site (decrease not eradicate. Always properly dispose of food)

Where to sleep:

When choosing the most financially friendly sleeping option for your road trip, consider your comfort levels and availability of outdoor gear first. For our trip, we chose camping because we enjoy that type of experience and we already owned all the necessary gear, so there were no extra costs when making that decision.

If you are someone who enjoys camping, but does not own the gear, you can rent gear from places like REI but the cost adds up fast. It would be cheaper in the long run to either fully buy or borrow all gear needs or check out some local Airbnbs. For those who do not want to camp but are looking for a cheap road trip, think about Airbnb, car camping, staying with family, or if you’re up to it, couch surfing.

Choosing a financially friendly campsite:

Research, research, research. Although National Parks are BEAUTIFUL and have amazing camping spots, try to limit staying at their campsites because it can get expensive. We chose to camp at a smaller campground to make our trip as cheap as possible.

We didn’t spend more than $28 per night at a site. If you are planning a road trip specifically to National Parks…BUY a PARK PASS, it will make your trip way cheaper in the long run.

When camping, something to consider financially is your firewood. Please please please do not travel with firewood, for it can cause disease and unwanted insect spread to the forests you are trying to admire and protect. Most campsites sell their own wood which is convenient, but it often is wet or new wood making it challenging to burn and cook with; moreover, it can get fairly expensive.

On our trips, we found that many homes in rural New England sell wood on the side of the road and it tends to be much cheaper than campsite wood. When buying from homes, we would choose ones that were right outside of the campsite to avoid bug spread. However, always consider buying at least one bundle from the campsite because many are small family businesses and we love supporting small business!

That’s all for now, more advice will be in part two! If you have any questions or advice of your own, please comment below!

COVID-19 has made traveling challenging, but there is nothing wrong with doing research and preparing for a future trip! Keep the hope.


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