How to Save Money While Road Tripping

How can you possibly save money while traveling? It oftentimes seems impossible that traveling could be synonymous with frugality, but we have the answer! Do you want to take road trips to really awesome places without spending significantly more than you would spend staying at your rented apartment? Well here is the answer!

Below are some tips we used during our 3 week road trip. We drove through most of New Mexico, Colorado, and part of Utah and Arizona while camping at some of the most beautiful and natural places I have ever seen.

3 weeks of road trip traveling including year national park pass and everything = $750

3 weeks just for food, utilities and rent = $1100



1. Take your trip at the end of your lease agreement

2. Minimize! Sell the things you don’t use regularly and put the rest in storage

3. See our packing list below for necessary & helpful items

4. Consider your vehicle when planning. We took my car, a little Kia Forte which gets 30 miles hwy, and didn’t have any issues with clearance or anything. Make sure your tire pressure is set for efficiency (usually more air in your tires) and a fresh oil change and air filter makes a big difference as well as how much weight you have in your car, so try to travel light.


“On the Road.. Again!”

5. Camping!: Look on your map for national forest or BLM land because you can camp for free on it. Good luck finding it in the midwest or the east, but if you drive out west it is plentiful. When you enter nat’l forest or BLM land, look for road pull offs and go explore a little bit. Some of the places already have cleared areas and fire pits so it can be very convenient.

               Remember that hotel costs are crazy if you plan to be on the road for a while, so try to camp as much as possible

6. Showers… You can usually find hostels and pay a small fee to take a shower, or you can go to campgrounds and ask to take a shower. They’ll usually let you do it. On the trip, we showered the one time we spent the night at a hotel (in the middle of the trip as a treat for both of us), one time at an outdoor shower at the workplace of a friend, and other times at campgrounds or hostels. You could also get a Solar Shower if you plan on staying in one place (that has sunlight) for more than one night! Check them out.

               TIP: If your hair gets greasy quickly and you don’t want to look nasty, baseball caps are your best friend through and through! I practically lived in mine and it protected my pasty white skin from sunburn. It doesn’t get much better than that!

7. Cooking: We came prepared with both a JetBoil (great for rainy days when you need to heat something up in your tent) and a Coleman camping stove that runs on gas (so it is much cheaper to use than the JetBoil). We really tried to eat whole foods for most of the trip and make as many meals as possible, so I grabbed some of my ziploc, prepared crockpot meals, and we just heated them up on the Coleman in our percolator that also worked for coffee in the morning. While on the trip, we picked up utensils from a local thrift store and used plastic disposable plates during the trip (we washed them each time so we only brought about 4 with us). We also had a cast iron pan and small pot. If you have not enjoyed the wonders of cast iron yet, your road trip is the perfect opportunity! No washing required, just oil to wipe it off each time.

               Some of our favorite meals included cornbread on hot coals, lasagne soup crockpot meal, tacos/fajitas, oatmeal with brown sugar and dried fruit almost every morning, tea  or coffee (thank you percolator and jetboil), and potatoes any way you can think of. If you buy the processed meals like mac n cheese or instant rice or potatoes, meals are even easier.


PROS: See many new, awesome places stressfree, don’t worry about bills, live spontaneously!

CONS: You camp A LOT, cook a lot, and might not get showers every single night


Packing List:

  • Make sure you bring a quality cooler that will keep your food cold and buy the big block ice. The cubed ice doesn’t last half as long.
  • Easy tent for camping with bugs and mosquitoes but that has a goof rain fly
  • Sleeping pads and sleeping bags
  • A good atlas for the states you will be traveling through because they show the dirt roads you may be using to get to potential, free camping spots, and they work when you don’t have internet service on your smart phone
  • Head lamps or flashlights with extra batteries
  • First aid kit (you can make your own, just google what they typically have in them and make one that suits you)
  • Big 5-7 water gallon with an easy pour spout for drinking and washing dishes. The tall ones seem to be more convenient for space than the square ones. Can get them from walmart or many places. Bring water bottles too. I like the big ones so I don’t have to refill them constantly.
  • Dry food, trashbags, ziplocs
  • Obviously essentials like clothes and hygiene items, but try to keep it to a minimum for weight and room purposes

Obviously this list is geared towards car camping and road trips, but you could use some of this information for bigger trips as well.


Initial Reactions to Our Tiny House Plan

“I feel claustrophobic even thinking about it…” – My mother

“That sounds… nice…” – Dave’s mother

“Well, good thing not to burden yourself with debt. Especially with your salary being as it is.” – My father

“We hate you. We have been wanting to do that!” – Close friends

“Want to help us build a trailer and a tiny house?” (out of the blue text sent to friend)

“Heck yeah!” (immediate response)

You may get a little idea of how our family and friends responded to our great idea from these few posts. The idea of tiny houses occurred to us while we were discussing possibilities on our honeymoon on the tiny island of Montserrat. I was on Facebook scouring the newsfeed for something interesting to take my mind off of my mosquito bites when I saw a post about tiny houses from a close friend. After showing Dave, an idea grew over the course of our trip that we are now pursuing. Is it possible to buy a small piece of land and live in a travel trailer while Dave goes back to school, and I continue teaching? Would it furthermore be possible for Dave to build a Tiny House as his job when he isn’t doing schoolwork if our friends help out?

We are hoping so.

The plan:

  • Find a cheap plot of land
  • Find a travel trailer we can live in for the year and a half we plan to build this tiny house, or green casita in our case
  • Enlist help from an engineer friend 2 hours away for building a trailer and doing much of the work in the house
  • Also get help from another friend who has some framing and construction experience
  • Find as many cheap, reusable materials as possible

As you can see, we have accomplished some of these things already during the 3 week road trip we just took because we didn’t want to pay rent (that story in the next post). Luckily we had some money saved up to get started. So far we have spent: $4200 for a .2 acre lot near where I work and somewhat close to town. Why is it so cheap? It doesn’t have city utilities yet so we are looking into passive heating and cooling, a solar system for electricity, reusing gray water, and taking the trailer to dump the black water every other week. We also purchased a ’99 Cougar Travel Trailer, 21′, from a man posted on craigslist. We bought it for $3,800 but expect to put new tires on it, so it will probably cost us $4,000 after all is said and done. Besides the tires, it was completely checked out before we got it from electrical to plumbing and sealing, so we feel pretty good about it as of right now. Total spent as of right now: $8,200

We also expect to spend around-under $3,000 for solar panels, batteries, and a control. Details on how we put everything together is also to come. I hope to narrate our plans but also make the “How To” part very straightforward for those of you who don’t want to listen to my blathering.