8 Budget-Friendly Ways to Travel Across the Country

Traveling across the country on a budget is a huge challenge. Whether you’re driving with kids in tow or are venturing out with your significant other, hitting the open road will leave you with memories that will last a lifetime. So, just how can you make this happen on a budget? According to Elizabeth Avery, Founder of Solo Trekker 4 U, who’s seen all 50 states, it can definitely be done. Here are her eight tips on how to travel across the country without spending a lot of money.

1. Consider your transportation options

Getting ready to travel

Getting ready to travel | iStock.com

In some cases, it might be cheaper to travel by train or bus than it is to actually drive. Avery recommends checking out AAA, seniors, military, corporate, or other discounts for car rental and lodging options, as well.

2. Do your lodging research


Jenny Lake Lodge | Grand Teton National Park

Whether you’re a planner or not, be sure to research your lodging options prior to hitting the road. A great place to get detailed information is a destination’s chamber of commerce site. Even if you’re hesitant to book the reservations, you’ll be glad you did some research ahead of time so you’re at least familiar with the choices (and their price points) in any given area, Avery says. 

3. Think outside the city limits

Taxi and a Limousine driving along the Brooklyn bridge

Taxi and a Limousine driving along the Brooklyn bridge | iStock.com/LSP1982

If you’re choosing between a major city center and an outlying town, go for the town. As Avery tells us, staying in smaller towns or suburbs is sometimes more economical.

4. Take advantage of local public transportation

a traveler

A traveler | Thinkstock

Utilize the local transportation that’s available, and maybe swing by the Visitor’s Center for maps and more info. “For local stays, look for inexpensive public transportation,” Avery said. “Even if you are driving, parking is almost always expensive.”

5. Beware of eating out too much

dollar bills under empty tea cup

Dinner tab | iStock.com

Of course, one of the very best things about a road trip is getting to experience the local food unique to certain parts of the country. But eating out every single meal is costly, so don’t get ahead of yourself. Plan out a certain amount of meals at restaurants you’ve been dying to eat at, and then be frugal with the rest of your meals. Ditch eating out every morning at a sit down breakfast joint and pack easy breakfast bars for the road. If you’re staying at a campground, make your food there on your camp stove or grill. If you’re staying at a condo, hit up the local grocery store and cook at home.

6. Swap homestays

Exterior of small American house

Exterior of small American house | iStock.com/ irina88w

Take advantage of any friends or family you might have in different parts of the country, and see if they’d be interested in either hosting you for a night or two, or exchanging abodes for a bit. Of course, there’s always Airbnb, but if your schedules line up, it could be the perfect opportunity to swap homes with a friend for a few days, with no fuss or added cost to you, Avery suggests.

7. Lock up your belongings

compact safe on a shelf

A safe | iStock.com

Don’t make it easy for thieves to snag your valuables. “Safeguard your electronic devices to avoid having to replace them or worry about identity theft,” Avery said. Additionally, “Remember to pack all the right chargers and if you need cards for cameras. In tourist areas they will likely be expensive.” Imagine showing up to the Grand Canyon and expecting to find any of these items in their gift shops at reasonable prices. Not going to happen.

8. Find places with off-hours


Yosemite | MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re passing through National Parks or BLM areas, there are often entrance fees for which you’ll need to budget. If there’s a chance you’re able to find off-hours or special times with no fees, factor that into your route planning, and try to hit those places at the right times.

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