How to Road Trip on Less Than $100 Per Day

If you’ve already mapped out your budget for that epic upcoming road trip—nice work! You’re one step closer to turning your behind-the-wheel fantasies into reality and activating that out-of-office automatic email reply.

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But if you did all the calculations and discovered you’re a lot more strapped for cash than you realized, you might be on the brink of reconsidering that late summer getaway. Fear not, financially-challenged adventurer: you can still put together a fun, fruitful escape that’s actually affordable. Here are some strategies.

How to Road Trip on Less Than $100 Per Day

  1. Choose wisely. Sure, landing in a major metropolis might sound like the most epic way to bookend your trip, but big cities like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco are notoriously expensive (which you might already know if the purpose of your trip is to try and get away from one of those places). Picking less popular points along the journey will inevitably save you money on everything from gas to food to lodging. For example: Napa Valley might call to your wine-loving heart and soul, but if you set your sights about 400 miles south, you’ll find plenty of amazing vino-themed attractions at a far lower rate. Go super simple and plan ahead, and you may be able to score a basic motel room for under $75 a night (leaving the rest for gas and food).
  2. Gas up on the go. Rather than fueling up in a big city (are you seeing a theme here?), stop for gas in small towns, where you’re more likely to save cents on the gallon. And do a quick search of the app store—there are several money-saving tools you can download directly on your phone that will help you locate the cheapest gas in your area. According to GasBuddy, the cheapest gas right now in California is $2.99 per gallon in Turlock. Rates per gallon in bigger cities like San Francisco and San Jose are close to $4. The most common cars in America have gas tanks that hold about 15 gallons, so just stopping at an off-the-beaten-path station could save you about $15 (a full tank at $2.99 is about $44.85 versus $60 at the higher rate).
  3. Find free fun. It’s easy to blow a ton of cash on tourist traps, but if you do some advanced planning, you’ll find there are tons of totally free attractions, landmarks, and activities all throughout the country. Need some inspiration? Here’s a list of must-see landmarks to get you started! And if you don’t see your destination on the list, do some digging to see if local museums offer free days or if you can join a no-cost walking tour.
  4. Shop smart. The simplest way to kiss your dollar bills goodbye is by dining at a chain restaurant, diner, or mini-mart at every stop along the way. It’s totally possible to spend way less than $50 a day on food if you plan ahead and set yourself up for success. Packing snacks before you hit the road is your best option for curbing cravings and staying within your budget. Bring along items like pretzels, rice cakes, nuts, and dried fruit that will quell hunger pangs and keep you satiated between stops. And consider loading up a small cooler with heartier perishable items like hard-boiled eggs and yogurts. Not only can these items keep you going between meals, but they make for great ingredients for an on-the-go breakfast. Prices will of course vary depending on where you stock up on snack staples, but if you hit a major supermarket, you can definitely find a six-pack of yogurt, a jar of peanut butter, and a pack of bagels for well under $20—and that could be breakfast for days! Look for local eateries and avoid chain restaurants, and you can definitely get away with keeping costs low.
  5. Make sure you’re using Metromile. Even if you’re traveling long distances, pay-per-mile insurance makes perfect sense. That’s because Metromile charges a low monthly base rate as well as a pay-per-mile rate, capping customers’ daily mileage costs at 250 miles/day (150 miles/day in New Jersey). So if you hit that magic number, you’re still likely to save big bucks. Your personal rate will vary depending on a number of factors like your age, gender, location, driving history, etc., but if you’re driving less than 10,000 miles a year, there’s a good chance Metromile is the provider for you. And since you’ll be paying that low rate on a monthly basis, the impact on your daily budget will be pretty minimal (though that may not be the case for other traditional insurers).

Aren’t a Metromile customer? Any chance you read that and decided it’s time to seriously reconsider your current car insurance provider? Awesome. It’s time to visit www.metromile.com and get your free quote today.

Michelle Konstantinovsky is a San Francisco-based journalist/writer/editor and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumna. She’s written extensively on health, body image, entertainment, lifestyle, design, and tech for outlets like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, Seventeen, and a whole lot more. She’s also a contributing editor at Fitbit and the social media director at California Home + Design Magazine. She is an avid admirer of shiny objects, manatees, and preteen entertainment.