One of my favorite ways to travel is via the road trip. Depending on your situation, a road trip can be cheaper than flying. And if you really plan it right, you can have fun and save money in the bargain.
1. Your Car
If your car has been well-maintained, it will get better gas mileage. This can save you the longer your trip is. On top of that, you are less susceptible to breakdowns in the middle of nowhere. I once had a $435 tow bill because my car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Keep your car properly maintained, and you'll always be ready for a road trip.
Also, consider taking the most fuel-efficient car possible. When we go on a trip as an entire family, we take the Prius. It costs us a lot less in gas. However, sometimes (like when my son and I are camping), it makes more sense to take the Subaru, even though the gas mileage isn't as good. Consider your needs, and the size of your family, and decide what would work best for you when it comes to saving on a vacation.
Next, you have to figure out where you will stay — and how you will pay for it. I'm on the mailing lists at some of my favorite destinations. One of the realities is that my son and I are likely to spend a night or two in Las Vegas during spring break because it's conveniently located on the way to our destinations. I receive deals all the time for rates as low as $21 a night in Strip hotels (like Excalibur, which my son loves). Even if I get “fancy”, I can usually find something for $60 or $70 a night.
Another option is to camp. I live in the west, so there are usually plenty of low-cost campsites along the way. As long as we're not particular about bathing, it's possible to camp and save money on accommodations.
Finally, there are always rewards programs. We belong to a couple different rewards programs, and we have managed to earn a few free nights, just by doing what we normally do. Add in savvy credit card use, and you can earn points much faster. My parents used this strategy very well to get free night stays on trips.
How are you going to save on food while on a road trip? Personally, I don't get too fussed about this; I love eating out, and trying local “cuisine” is one of my favorite things to do. But if you want to avoid spending money on restaurants, you can head further into town and hit the grocery store. Better yet, fill a cooler with condiments and sandwich fixins and you are set no matter where you are. This was how my parents fed us on road trips. They often changed the ice out at the hotel, or with the help of an inexpensive bag of ice at the gas station.
Another strategy is to go during lunch, and make your own meals for dinner. Lunch is usually cheaper, especially for a larger family. Eat lunch at the restaurant, and then cook dinner in your hotel room microwave, or bring a small grill or hibachi with you (make sure you'll be able to prepare food outside).
What are your favorite tips for saving money on a road trip?