Traveling in the United States can be very expensive and you might end up changing your plan when you run out of your budget. Well, I can tell you it’s not gonna be cheap for sure but if you’re smart enough and you don’t mind to put yourself out of your comfort zone, you can do it for a very reasonable cost.
We’ve done our US road trip recently. Before / during the trip we wanted to find out the best saving tips and share all the ideas with other fellow travelers out there! You can find out more information about our trip at the end of this article.
**OUR ROAD TRIP TIPs were updated 28.1.2017 with the current deals, tricks and hacks. If you find something missing or not available. Please let us know in the comment.
Coupons & deals
- get instant $40 OFF (per person) on your first AIRBNB stay!
- save 50% with city pass on best attractions in the biggest US cities
- rent a car for 1 month / 600 USD
- very affordable camping sites
- annual pass for all national parks / only $80 per vehicle
You might be also interested in our NEW list of best budget travel websites for 2017
1. Travel in group / rideshare
This is pretty straight forward! Best way is to split most of the expenses when you travel in a group of (2-4). If you can’t find anybody, don’t worry there are websites where you can find other fellow solo travelers who you can share ride with. Check out couchsurfing.com, ridester.com or carpoolworld.com.
Since USA road trip can take quite a lot of time, transportation is definitely an expense you should consider the most! I’m gonna list different ways to get a cheap vehicle to cross the country for a reasonable price.
- renting a car
- buying a car
- parking tips
- AAA membership
- BONUS: build a caravan by yourself!
Renting a car
IMPORTANT NOTE: Before we start, I have to point this out!!! Make sure you bring your credit / debit card with sufficient amount of funds! You might be able to pay cash for your rental but for security (deposit) reasons they always require valid credit / debit card!
Some of rental companies don’t accept debit cards, so I strongly suggest to check it out before you road trip!
Getting a car trough rental company is usually very expensive, especially when you’re buying full insurance, returning back in different location or under age of 25. That’s why you should definitely look for some websites with discount offers.
a. Register on USAA.com
HOT Tip – Register on USAA, website for military members and their families where you can get discounts without ever being somehow involved, not even being US citizen.
Example: you can rent an intermediate car / month / approx. 600 USD
While registering you’ll need basic info, social security number and for question about military members be honest you answer “none”. This will allow you to avoid paying fees for additional driver, under 25 years and it gives you also discount of total rental price. After you’re done with registration go for “car rental discounts” and from there you can choose from 4 different rental companies (for example Hertz). When you get there have this document https://images.hertz.com/pdfs/USAA_FAQ.pdf ready, in case they will try to charge some extra fees.
NOTE: Obtaining social security number might be a problem for noncitizens! You need to have work permit (work visa) in USA. Find more information here.
b. Rental Discount Websites
NOTE: This is not 100% option according online ratings / but worth to risk!
You can easily find rental websites which compare the prices for you and when you book your car trough them, you can get pretty cool discounts and save up to 200 – 500 USD. Usually you’ll get booking only with basic insurance and total cost can be much higher (but you can insure the car with cheaper insurance companies).
Rental companies charge very high prices for full insurance which you can avoid by insuring your car by external company, for example, insuremyrentalcar.com.
For example: You pay only 30USD for period of maximum 1 month!
Make sure you check out policies of your rental car provider! You might not be able to rent by external company.
Rental Summary / Other Rental Fees
So let’s see what fees you should keep in mind if you would like to estimate your price for rental:
- Car Rental Price – final price of vehicle.
- Damage Waiver – Insurance of rented vehicle / this is obligatory!
- Liability Protection – Insurance of other vehicles and people injured in accident caused by you. Make sure that bodily injury liability is also included. Check out your travel insurance, it might be included (cheaper).
- Personal Accident Insurance – Insurance of you and people in the car. Should be part of your travel insurance.
- Side Road Assistance – You can choose to add this to your insurance. It covers all expenses of assistance, such as, flat tire, lookout, towing, fuel delivery, winching service, etc.
- Young Drive Fee (21-24) – If you have a chance, rent car on somebody who is at least 25 years old. Fee can vary from 10 – 25 USD per day.
- Additional Driver Fee – additional driver can cost you 10 – 25 USD per day. Insurance doesn’t cover for driver who’s not added on the contract.
- Airport Rental Fee – some companies charge if you rent straight from the airport. Try to avoid that!
- Different Location Return Fee – almost every company charges you returning fee. They are some exceptions between some locations, such as, LA – Las Vegas.
*NEW – Renting a car from people (not rental company)
This popular concept of airbnb is now available for cars as well! On websites like getaround.com and turo.com you can rent car for your road trip from people (owners). It’s definitely more affordable and more attractive when it comes to the choice. Imagine, road trippin’ in Mini Cooper, BMW, or Tesla car? Yes! Option are pretty creative and unique.
Buying a car
Buying a car is can be very economic option when you’re good in the industry and you can recognize what’s good deal or not. Buying used car involves risks, such as, repairs, scams but on the other side you might make money out of it. If you buy cheaper than you sell, you’re the winner! One of the best websites for this purpose is craigslist.com.
Getting a car involves some necessary paperwork a that can take quite some time! Read more details about this topic on tripadvisor.
When road tripping in the US, you will do thousands of kilometers and you might end up spending 600 USD just on the gas! We did 8000 kms, for example. We noticed quite big differences between the prices in states. There might be a 1$ / per gallon just within the state and $2 differences between different states.
We recommend to plan your trip according gas price map which is very detailed and helpful. You can also get an app for your smartphone!
TIP: some of the gas stations give better price for gas when you pay by CASH, it’s very individual and again, depends on the state! But I definitely saw it in California. Watch out for the signs on price stands in front.
Parking in national parks is usually included in the entrance fee or in some small cities is for FREE but in bigger cities it can be more complicated and much more expensive.
Here are few tips:
- Wallmart is in most cases free + WIFI. Note that not every single Wallmart parking lot allows you to park, so it might be illegal! Check out parking locator where you can find exact information about this topic.
- Residential areas are for FREE (sometimes depending on hours)
- Overnight RV / camping parking (affordable)
- WATCH OUT FOR NO PARKING SIGN!
Don’t pay for GPS! Get free apps into your smartphone or buy a map for 6 bucks (like we did).
You can also get GPS in shop with good returning policy! For example in Wallmart, where you can buy your navigation, use it for few weeks and then return it! See point 6. of this article for more information.
Have your “paper map backup” ready as well! Some of the remote places in USA won’t have any signal coverage and you might end up lost in the middle of nowhere!
Some of the tool roads can surprise in unexpected locations and prices might also very high. Make sure you always carry some cash in your car to avoid any fines! Check out this full list of tool roads in USA.
AAA is another interesting website which can be very useful in North America! It’s American Automobile Association which has over 50 million members. It’s non-profit organisation offering road services to their members in all over United States and Canada. If you visit their office they can provide you with FREE maps, guidebooks or routing maps. You can also take advantage of great discounts for accommodation, food and road assistance.
BONUS: Build caravan by yourself!
If you’re from US or you’re planning to stay longer, there is options of building your own caravan from the van! You can get cheap / good / spacious vans in USA quite easily.
Vandogtraveller sells amazing ebook (276 pages) on his website for only 10 bucks which guides you through the whole process of conversion. His story is really cool, check out his website vandogtraveller.com.
We definitely recommend camping just because is the most authentic experience while doing your road trip. Sometimes it might be out of your comfort zone but it’s definitely remarkable! You can also take advantage of relatively cheap motels or check online websites proving FREE (affordable) hosting.
Campsites in the United States are usually in great condition and come with BBQ grill, fire pits, showers, restrooms, wifi access etc. Price is depending on location, season and facilities.
Paid camping sites has usually more facilities and they are much more affordable than motels. (Costs is between 10 USD – 40 USD). Most of the camp sites are in google maps and you can find reviews or the official website.
Camp in my garden is another cool site where you can find camp spots in people’s backyard for only couple of bucks. Check out here. This options can be actually pretty fancy and friendly experience since some of the people have really nice gardens.
Motels are almost on every corner in the US. There are not very economic option but it’s definitely not expensive when you travel in group of 4 people. One of the most popular motel budget networks is “Motel 6” or “Super 8” hotels network. which offers rooms for 4 people between (40 – 70 USD). These rooms usually have desk, small TV, small fridge, AC, closet etc. nothing too special but more than for enough for travelers / backpackers.
Tip: If you travel in group of 2.. you can go and say that room is for one person only, then you end up paying less, and of course more people can stay.
Tip: if there is options to collect hotel points, definitely go for it. It can save you money as well, just apply for hotel credit card. You can get straight a way 70,000 points when you sign-up and those can cover couple of nights for you.
In bigger cities you can find hostels and take advantage of shared (dorm) rooms which can some costs $15 / night. I would also recommend to visit discount websites, for example, hoteltonight.com where you can find last minute deals on really great hotels!
In case you’re picky person and you wanna make sure your place meets your requirements / need, make sure you visit tripadvisor.com to read reviews! You can find every single hotel / hostel there with a lot of customer reviews.
Airbnb is an amazing website where you easily find cheaper accommodation in somebody’s house, flat or kind of private hotels or hostels. There are plenty of options and you can find accommodation as low as $20-40 per night for single room or bed in dorm room. It’s becoming very popular option these days, not just in USA. They have amazing interactive search / filtering system which helps a lot to find exactly what you’re looking for. USE THIS LINK TO GET $20 OFF ON YOUR FIRST STAY!
FREE Hosting – Couchsurfing
Yes you can also sleep for FREE! One of the most popular websites offering hosting is couchsurfing.com where you can create your profile and send requests to random people all around the world. It’s all based on references from other so called couchsurfers!
FREE WIFI MAP – Passwords!
This is great tip for people road tripping in caravan or camping. Especially digital nomads traveling around USA who would like to easily connect somewhere on parking lot and work from caravan for few hours. Wifi map is a great app which shows you available wifi spots around you on the map! It has huge database of passwords so it’s not just lousy FREE wifi spots. You should definitely check it out!
You know what they say, travel often & eat well! Food you can find on every corner and basically everything what you wish! But sometimes it might kick-off your budget if you don’t eat smart.
Get good food from restaurants and do not try to save up on food but we recommend some of the tips:
- FAST foods are everywhere (not the most economic option)
- get some snacks and breakfast stuff from cheap stores like dollar tree.
- do your serious shopping in Wallmart (unbeatable prices)
- get the member cards
- cook in your camping site! here are some cooking tips!
- get your cooking tools from dollar tree or Wallmart.
- be creative! 😉
When you camp during your whole trip and you eat in camp you can squeeze your budget to ($10 / day).
Make sure you stay hydrated during your trip! Some parts of USA can be really hot (up to 45°C). Keep few bottles of extra water always in your car. You might end up somewhere under direct sunlight waiting for road assistance for few hours. We recommend to refill your bottles in hotels or camping sites! It’ll save you couple of bucks too!
5. National Park Fees / City Tourism Fees
National Parks Fees
If you’re planning to visit more than 4 national parks you should definitely get annual pass which cost only $80 per vehicle and it allows you to visit 90% of the parks in US.
City Tourism Fees
City Pass cards can be really handy while road tripping in USA, especially if you’re planning a lot of sightseeing. They usually contains various city attractions and public transport and helps you to save up to $100 sometimes.
You can also get plenty of information at you hotel’s reception desk and they sometimes give away various discounts (specially in Las Vegas).
6. Shopping Before Road Trip
This TIP a very tricky but for some low cost (around world) travelers it might be very useful. Before your trip you will need to buy some car accessories, tent, sleeping bags, cooking tools etc. In the end of the trip you will maybe end up just trowing this things away because you can’t carry them all!
The tip for this is to check returning policy of places like Wallmart, Best Buy, etc. In USA is very common to buy things / use things / return! It’s part of the marketing strategy of those huge shopping networks anyway!
We recommend to get your car chargers, GPS and other accessories for your trip in Wallmart and then just simply return them after your trip! Wallmart has 1 month returning policy. In case it won’t work and they will refuse, just visit other wallmart in different city or city area! It helped us!
7. Time is Money
This old saying applies here too! For example, traveling in summer months can bring quite surprising changes when it comes to holiday weekends. Prices of the gas will go up and hotels / camping sites we’ll be booked out and much more expensive too. This actually applies to Thursday – Monday (+/- 5 days) because people tend to take more days off around the holiday weekend.
- July 4 – Independence Day (the “biggest day” in United States)
- Labor Day – First Monday in September (this one gets very busy because it’s also last weekend before kids go back to school).
- here is full list of public holidays in USA
Wake up early! This can actually save you money. You avoid traffic, you save time and gas. Traffic in USA can be real pain in the a**.
Check video from our USA road trip or our travel quotes for inspiration!
I hope you’ve found great tips in this article and you learnt how to save money on USA road trip! Make sure you double check tips you find here (before you make booking or payment) just because you never know when it can change. We simply can’t say everything will work 100%. We’re continuously trying to update this article to keep it fresh and information up to date but we don’t receive any updates from companies, orgs or websites mentioned above!
Feel FREE to contact us if you have any question or advice what to add to the article. Simply post a comment in the end of article.
We would be super happy if you share these amazing USA road trip tips with your friends on social medias. Thank you 🙂