Avoiding the Top 5 Road Trip Expenses

Oh no!!! We’re trying to do the Great American Road Trip on $100/day or less and we’re completely screwing it up!

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We are only half way through our 3 month road trip and $100 a day for 2 people and 1 dog is starting to prove difficult. Each time we go over the budget we learn something though, and we try to pass the savings on to you.

Below are our Top 5 Road Trip Expenses, broken into 2 categories:

1.  The Expense.
2.  Tips to Cut Back on Spending. 

  • Cities  
    In our first month we traveled from Montana to the east coast. We passed through bustling metropolises like Missoula, MT and Cleveland, OH! … Haha, in other words we stayed primarily in small cities and towns.

In Weeks 5 & 6 though, we went to huge cities like Boston, New York and Washington DC and our wallets felt the difference! Everything just costs more in the city and budgeting becomes more important than ever.

Here are some simple tricks that will get you saving in the city:

New York Skyline
  • Get a City Pass  
    These passes can save a ton of money and allow you to clump all the major attractions of a city into one flat-rate pass. To read more and see which cities offer these passes Click Here
  • Use Public Transportation  
    Although the US is lacking far behind Europe and Asia when it comes to public transportation, every major US city has some version of it. Learn the bus routes, subways and train systems before you get there and they will save you time and money.
  • Do Walking Tours  
    Most major cities have Free Walking Tours! They are a great way to get some exercise, discover the city and save money. Free Tours By Foot offers tons of tours in the US. 
  • Parking  
    In rural America you can park almost everywhere and not really consider parking. $1-2/hr seems about right and you go about your day without giving it much thought….

In Chicago we spent $48 to park downtown! I saw a parking lot in NYC for $21.90/30 mins! Parking is insane in big cities, and you need to figure out a plan of attack before driving into them.

Cool Car
  • Spot Hero App 
    Most of us have so many apps on our phones that the thought of downloading another one can be daunting … but this one is worth it! I heard about this app from a blogger in Chicago and it’s awesome for finding the best places to park in big cities! Download Spot Hero here.

There are 3 expenditures in the pie charts above that stand out above the others: AccommodationFood and Entertainment. These were our 3 highest expenditures:

  • Accommodation  
    This has been our biggest and deadliest expenditure during the entire trip. Staying in cities with a dog brings up some unique challenges. We can camp outside of cities, but we can’t leave Barney in a hot tent while we go into the city. So that rules out camping.

Couch Surfing is an option too, but most couch surfers don’t want to host people with dogs because either they’re allergic to them, landlords don’t like them or they’re afraid they’ll fight with their own dogs or cats.

This leaves us with one good option … staying in hotels. Ah!!!! Hotels are the fastest way to blow your budget. It is almost impossible to stay on a $100/day budget and stay in hotels. If you can avoid them do it at all costs.

  • Couch Surfing 
    Send out your Couch Surfing requests well in advance. Big cities have lots of people willing to host you, but there’s tons of people asking too. Hosts in bigger cities will appreciate advanced notice and you’ll have a better shot at staying with someone you click with. Don’t know what Couch Surfing is? Click Here!
  • Camp (outside the city)  
    Believe it or not, some cities have campgrounds close to public transportation. You’ll save a lot of money by staying at a campground as opposed to a hotel. If you have a dog, this becomes tricky though because you don’t want to leave a dog in a tent all day. 
  • Budget Hotels & Motels
    If you find that a hotel room is your only option, then pick a cheaper one and try to get outside of the city. (For example, if you’re visiting NYC then try staying in New Jersey and take the bus in.)

Some budget hotels that worked well for us are: Red Roof Inn (dogs are free), La Quinta (a really nice hotel, allows pets sometimes & has some great deals in certain locations), Motel 6 and Holiday Inn (sometimes allows dogs).

  • Food  
    The Food Challenge  is my biggest frustration of the road trip. I can’t figure out how to beat the Dollar Menu! That’s an article for another day though …

There is just no avoiding spending extra money on food when you go to big cities. If you are trying to be so frugal that you miss out on a NYC hotdog, Chicago deep-dish pizza or Cape Cod seafood then you should re-consider. Trying iconic food is a small way to experience a city’s culture and I think it’s important to try it, even if it’s a little pricier.

Bush Pies
  • Eat Before You Get Hungry 
    If you can find a reasonably priced restaurant before you are starving, you’ll be less likely to walk into the first place you see. If you aren’t starving yet, you may also eat a smaller (cheaper) meal.
  • Avoid Eating in Touristy Areas 
    Many times, you can eat that iconic meal and discover great food for a fraction of the cost, by simply stepping out of the tourist trap. Touristy areas always charge more … If you can find where the locals eat and you’ll find your savings.
  • Find Hotels with Complimentary Breakfast
    Eating breakfast is a good way to start the day … Eating a FREE breakfast is an even better way!
  • Entertainment  
    This is another one that I would recommend to “take the hit on” and blow the budget a bit. There are certain things that aren’t worth sacrificing. For example: I’ve always wanted to see a Broadway Play so I spent $101 to see “The Phantom of the Opera” in New York. I don’t regret spending that money, even though I’m on a budget, because that was one of the reasons I wanted to go to NYC in the first place. Save money, but not at the expense of the vacation.

Big cities are just going to cost more … all you can do is try to make up for it in the smaller US cities. I do have a couple suggestions for you though, to save a couple dollars on entertainment:

Phantom of the Opera
  • City Pass  
    I mentioned it above, but these passes are great to cut back on entertainment costs by clumping major attractions into a flat-rate pass. To read more about these passes Click Here
  • Broadway Box (New York only) 
    If New York City is in the itinerary, check out BroadwayBox.com for some crazy awesome deals on Broadway tickets. There’s also TKTS Booths which sell half price tickets (go to the one in the Financial District, NOT the one in Times Square – it will save you hours).
  • Research Ahead of Time  
    Just Google what you want to do with the word “deals,” “specials,” or “discount” next to it (ie. Broadway show discounts). Almost everything you will want to see has a cheaper way to see it. You just have to search for it!

Learn More, Save More!

Check out more articles like this and how to save on your next American Road Trip!

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