Easy Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip

Use the 10 cost-cutting tips on our road-trip checklist to help stretch your travel budget.

Mother and Daughters Laughing and Sitting in the Trunk of a Hatchback Car

by NEA Member Benefits

Apr 11, 2024

Road trips are a blast: There’s nothing like opening your car windows, singing along to your favorite songs, and taking the scenic route. And seasoned travelers know road trips can save you a lot of money, especially if you’re strategic. 

Although gas prices have risen—according to Forbes the average cost of a gallon of regular gas in the United States is about $3.63 as of April 2024—people still want to get out and travel. Prices tend to be cheaper in the South and parts of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, while the West Coast’s per-gallon costs can exceed $5.

However, gas isn’t the only expense that can guzzle your budget. You can plan a cost-effective getaway using these 9 easy tips for a thrifty trip.

1. Let your phone locate cheap gas stations

It’s not cost-effective to drive miles out of your way to find the cheapest possible gasoline. Instead, use your phone to find a nearby station that offers reasonably low prices. Apps such as Gas Guru and GasBuddy can help shave a few bucks off of each tankful. 

2. Rent a car

If your everyday car is a gas-guzzler, think about renting a hybrid or other fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Renting a car is a great way to reduce wear and tear on your vehicle. If you do rent, check out NEA Travel’s car rental discounts for NEA members. 

3. Scope out your route

Getting lost is frustrating and a waste of fuel (and money). Simply reviewing your route before you head out can reduce the odds of missing a turn or taking a wrong exit. 

You can plan ahead with a road trip gas calculator, like the one provided by GasBuddy, to find cost-effective routes and make sure you know how much you can expect to spend on fuel. It even factors in the make and model of your car for a fairly accurate estimate. 

4. Be aware of tolls

Sometimes the shortest route to your destination involves driving on pricey toll roads. Research whether there’s an alternate route that allows you to skip the tolls without taking you too far out of your way. Google Maps and other navigation apps such as Waze alert you if their recommended routes include toll roads.

You can also use a road trip toll calculator app such as Toll Calculator GPS Navigation to calculate the tolls you can expect to pay along your road-trip route so you’ll be prepared.

5. Book lodging in advance

Booking websites often feature money-saving offers, but checking hotel sites directly can unearth special deals. Reserving ahead of time locks in savings and provides some peace of mind. 

In some places, lower-than-normal occupancy at hotels has reduced nightly rates, so you may find pockets of good deals. If you like to book ahead of time, shop around and check pricing with hotels directly as well as via your union membership discount at NEA Travel. If you prefer making last-minute reservations, try HotelTonight app to see what’s available.

6. Fill up your cooler

Consider packing road-trip snacks that will withstand a long drive—think cut-up veggies, premade sandwiches and string cheese. That’ll be better for your wallet—and your blood sugar. If traveling a long distance, stock up on more nonperishable foods and water.

7. Check your tires

Before every long car ride—and at regular intervals during a marathon trip—take a few minutes to check your tire pressure. Underinflated tires can lower your car’s gas mileage significantly. Cold temperatures compound the problem: Tire pressure can dip by around 2 pounds with each 10-degree drop. Be sure to follow the tire or car manufacturer’s guidelines on how much air your tires require.

8. Pack light

One advantage of driving vs. flying is you don’t have to make as many tough packing decisions, or else pay for excess baggage. However, don’t be tempted to drag along tons of extra stuff in your trunk, backseat or rooftop carrier. The heavier your car, the worse gas mileage you’ll get.

9. Don’t speed

Most cars are at their most fuel-efficient at a steady 55 miles per hour. If you speed up to, say, 80 miles per hour, you’re operating at 28% below optimal fuel efficiency—not to mention risking the cost of a ticket if you get caught. Take it slow, and enjoy the ride!

Bonus tip: Save on local attractions

Are you traveling for a concert, planning a theme park getaway, or just want to explore local attractions along your road trip route? Take advantage of your NEA member benefits and find discount tickets through the NEA Discount Ticket Program. Save on everything from theme park and water park tickets to concerts, movies and shows. You can even search by city and see what adventures await you at your destination.

Save on your next car rental