Photo 2015-07-20, 5 27 12 PMThis month, my husband and I went on a 23 day road trip. And we only spent $1,535 for our entire journey.

We had been wanting to join my family for a vacation in Yellowstone, and we decided that driving would be the most cost-effective way to go. Then Fred decided that since we were already driving across the country, we might as well stop and see more family and some friends on the way. This week-long trip morphed into over three weeks over three provinces and eleven states.

I could chronicle our whole trip in this blog, but I won’t. Most of our close friends have already heard our whole saga. What I want to do instead is share some of our money-saving tips with you.

Here is what I learned from our trip:

1. If you can get somewhere by driving (and you have the time), then drive. It’s not always feasible, and for us we are in a sweet spot in life where we have no kids and Fred has the summers off. I know that sometimes time is a factor, and kids make it hard to travel in the car.

For us on this trip, it was an easy decision to choose to drive. In addition to it being less expensive than flying, we had family and friends along the way, which helped a lot with my second tip.

Photo 2015-07-15, 1 12 24 PM2. Stay with friends and family if possible. This saved us so much money on our trip! We only paid for one hotel our whole 3.5 week trip. It’s a great way to spend time with those you don’t see often, and so helpful for the budget.

However, don’t just be a free-loader. Help with the dishes. Buy some groceries to share. Bring a little gift and card to say thank you. Just because they are friends or people who have to like you because they are related to you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat them like gold!

3. Pack a cooler and buy groceries for the car. Eating out every meal on a road trip gets expensive quickly – even if you’re only eating fast food. We tried to eat at least one meal of homemade sandwiches/salads during our long driving days. Not only did this save us money, but it helped us eat a lot more healthy!

Photo 2015-07-09, 4 04 47 PM4. Do something fun. For us, visiting our family and friends was the main reason we went on the trip. However, we also made time to do fun things for just the two of us – our top outings were going to the beach and going to Disneyland for a day. It helped us to feel like it was a real vacation where we could relax and enjoy – without breaking the bank.

5. Make a budget. For us, we made a budget for our whole trip so that we planned ahead and stuck to the amount we wanted to spend. We used a combination of cash and debit cards, and this helped us to stay on track. If we had been charging things as we went, it would have been so easy to overspend. Having a debit card helped us to track our purchases each day, and know how much we had left.

Here are some things that we put into our budget:

  • Travel insurance (we were in the states, so this was a must for us, even though we didn’t end up using it)
  • Money for fun with friends (we planned for this, and were able to have a great night on the town with a close friend)
  • Gas (obviously)
  • Food (mostly for groceries, with some eating out)
  • Buffer (we carried some “emergency cash” just in case)

Overall, here’s how our budget played out (in CAD):

Travel insurance: $132

Our time in Canada (6 days): $400

Our time in the U.S. (17 days): $1003

Total : $1535*

*We also had a small fix that we needed to do on our car (replace our right axle as well as do an oil change), which we hadn’t budgeted for, so that came out of our budget once we got home as an emergency. This was a $373 surprise, but was quickly resolved by our savings.*

Stay posted for part 2 of this post – how to travel on a budget when you need to take a plane to get there.

Do you have any advice for traveling on a budget? Leave me a comment below to share your tips. I’d love to read them!