How to Save Money on Your Summer Roadtrip

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According to AAA, nearly 53% of American families plan to hit the road this year, and what better time than summer? Many of us assume that a road trip will be a budget-friendly vacation idea, but the expense of gas, and food & beverages on the road can cost more than we anticipate. I consulted with top travel experts and found a slew of ways to save during your summer adventures on the open road.

Stock up on Snacks

Travel writer Christina Valhouli avoids buying potentially overpriced snacks at gas stations and roadside convenience stores. “I stock up on snacks from my local supermarket or Costco before a trip. I make individual sized portions in Ziploc bags and pass them around the car,” she said. She uses clothespins to securely close bags of snacks, as they are sturdier and less expensive than chip clips.

Lisa Scurlock, owner of Gratitude Yoga in Chicago, likes to avoid junk food when she’s on the road. “I always pack protein bars, like Oatmega grass-fed whey protein bars, to keep me energized when I’m traveling to yoga retreats throughout the summer — they taste great and have tons of protein without a lot of sugar,” she said. “Plus, I save money by packing a box of four bars instead of buying one at a time from pricey rest stops along the way.”

Keep snacks cool and fresh in a soft-sided cooler bag. Why soft instead of hard? It’s light enough to carry with you on an impromptu picnic and collapsible when not in use!


Save With Apps

Gabe Saglie, a travel expert from Travelzoo, recommends the free Travelzoo app, which geo-targets your location to showcase exclusive deals at nearby restaurants.  He said, “These deals — which can include everything from mimosa breakfasts to specially curated multi-course dinners — are vetted, tested, and represent significant savings.”

You can also save time and money with the Waze app. Not only does Waze provide crowdsourced navigation, but you can also use it to search for gas stations and choose based on the pricing that the app provides.

The GiftCardGranny app is a great place to look for discounted digital gift cards to use along the way. This is especially handy with restaurants and big box stores, if you’re stocking up on supplies. Simply show the barcode on your phone to the cashier to redeem.

If you want to save time on the road, Tammilee Tillison of the Tammilee Tips blog suggests ordering snacks and other road trip essentials from the CVS Pharmacy app during breakfast while at the hotel or campground.  “You can use the app to access great deals through their ExtraCare Rewards Program wherever you are, and easily make your shopping list accordingly,” she said. “If the local store has curbside pickup, you can quickly pick up your items on the way to your next destination.”


Look for Perks

Saglie suggested being strategic when you book your hotel. “If you’re on a multi-day road trip, look for hotels where breakfast comes standard with your stay,” he said. “The option to grab a meal before you hit the road again can be a big money-saver.” Many hotels will feed your kids for free, or at a discount, he said. “At Fairmont hotels, for example, kids age 5 and under eat free from the children’s menu, and kids ages 6 to 12 eat for half price when ordering off the regular menu. Four Seasons and Starwood/Marriott hotels have similar programs.” He also suggests taking advantage of the free morning coffee service at many hotels. Some hotels also offer wine in the evenings. “Kimpton hotels offer a complimentary wine hour every day at 5 p.m., and Embassy Suites hotels feature complimentary managers’ cocktail receptions, which are an effective way to save on your night out,” he said.


Fill up on Joe

Don Munsil co-owner of the vacation planning website, suggested filling a thermos with coffee before you leave the house on day one of your trip. “You can refill it at the hotel breakfast service the next morning,” he said. Need more later in the day? “Places like Denny’s or IHOP will usually fill your thermos for the cost of a single cup of coffee, or McDonald’s will typically eyeball your thermos and charge for one or two large coffees.”


Get Gift Cards

The Costco or Sam’s Club websites often offer discounted restaurant gift cards to their members from major chains like Landry’s and Darden’s, Munsil said. “Sometimes the gift cards will appear to be for a specific restaurant, but usually that card will work at any restaurant owned by that chain,” he said.

He also suggested planning your evening stops in decent-sized towns and checking a site like for gift certificates to local restaurants. Larger towns are more likely to have participating restaurants.



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This article appeared in its original form on It has since been updated.