saving money on your next road trip

road tripA road trip is a great way to explore a bit of the country and see a few things you wouldn’t normally see if you fly while on vacaction. Hitting that country road, seeing the wide open spaces is a great way to unwind.

We are currently planning our road trip interstate to visit family and friends– two days driving there and three days driving back.

We’ve done a lot of road trips over the past few years – we’ve been from the tip of Tasmania to about halfway up the Queensland coast; we have made many trips inland and interstate to visit family and friends and we even spent our honeymoon driving around New Zealand. I guess you could say road trips are our preferred holiday experience.

This time however, is the first time we’ll be travelling with a child old enough to know what’s going on, so five days in the car is going to be interesting indeed!

Whether you’re going on a holiday, visiting family or friends, or the drive is your holiday, the petrol, the food and the accommodation can add up. Here are some tips on saving money on your next road trip.

Smooth sailing

Before you begin any lengthy road trip, it’s a good idea to get your car serviced; you don’t want to be broken down in the middle of nowhere (trust me on this one – as a side note, it’s well worth being in a motor vehicle / road side assist membership).

Keeping your car regularly maintained will also ensure that it’s running at it’s most efficient, which in turn will reduce fuel consumption. A well tuned car can improve mileage by up to 4% [source]. Maintenance includes keeping the engine tuned, ensuring the tyres are correctly inflated, cleaning the filters and regularly changing the oil [source].

Planning your trip

Planning your trip ahead of time can save you money. Generally, planning the most direct route will shorten your trip and save you money on petrol, unless that route takes you through major (congested) cities and road works. But sometimes the most direct route can be pretty boring too. If the aim is to simply get from A to B, then take the shortest route, otherwise add it a few detours, relax into the drive, and make the most of your time away.

You can check state and local council websites for planned road works so you know where they are and if you can avoid them. It’s also a good idea to check if there is any flooding in areas where you will be driving.

When planning your trip, look for places that you can stop for a rest. Jot down more rest stops than you need, especially if you are travelling with children – you may need to stop more frequently and a run in the park and a bit of fresh air can make a trip more bearable for everyone (we found this to be the case even when the little fella was a baby). If you can, note down the rest-stops that have toilet facilities.

A good map or road book should include some of the major rest stops en route – your road site assistance provider (NRMA, RACQ, RACV etc.) will have maps and books available – some are free, some can be purchased. Google maps is also an invaluable (free!) planning tool also.

If you need overnight accommodation, it’s a good idea to work out in advance just how far you think you will drive each day and get an idea of the accommodation in your planned stop over town. Also, check the accommodation in other towns along the way, just in case you don’t reach your planned stop-off point, or if you manage to drive a little further.

Food and beverages

In the past 10 years we’ve seen the inside of many, many MacDonald’s restaurants. But what stands out most in my mind is a little rest stop at the top of a mountain near Toowoomba. Here  and supped on coffee and fresh, homemade slice, both of which I had packed before we left, while enjoying the valley views. It sure beat MacDonald’s any day. By packing a picnic and taking the time to enjoy it, not only are you saving money, you’re making the trip itself part of the holiday experience.

To save money on food, pack some snacks, a flask of hot water, tea, coffee or whatever your preferred beverage is, a sandwich and plenty of cold water. Keep it in cooler bag with a few ice blocks. When we were kids, mum would pack each of us a lunchbox with plenty of snacks and treats and that we had total control over, to reduce the pestering.

Saving money on petrol

As well as getting your car serviced prior to your road trip and ensuring the tyres are correctly inflated, you can save money on petrol by sticking to the speed limit and avoiding excessive acceleration and braking.

Try to fill up in larger towns or cities rather than smaller ones, as petrol tends to be cheaper in the major centres. Avoid letting the petrol run so low that you have no choice but to fill up at the most convenient petrol station. Tiny one-pump stations out the back of woop woop often charge an arm and a leg.

Saving money on accommodation

Some people will suggest that the best way to save on overnight accommodation is to sleep in the car or take shifts driving. This is fine if you’re happy risking the life of yourself, your family and anyone else on the road. Better that you didn’t. Instead, pay the money, get a good night’s sleep and drive safe in the morning. Fatigue related accidents tend to occur during normal sleep hours or when you have been sleep deprived [source, source]. Skipping out on accommodation to save a buck is a good example of the difference between being cheap and being frugal.

You don’t have to pay a fortune for accommodation though. Accommodation guides are available from motor vehicle memberships (again NRMA, RACQ etc.) and these can be invaluable for finding inexpensive accommodation in towns that you don’t know. Don’t forget to check whether hotels offer a discount to members – many do!

Alternatively, plan ahead and use the internet to scope cheap accommodation or even book accommodation ahead of time on discount sites like I tend not to book ahead however, because it can mean you are forced to drive to a specific destination even if you are tired. Booking accommodation on the fly gives you the flexibility to stop where ever you like (it’s always a good idea to check first that there are no major festivals on, (like the Tamworth Country Music Festival) in the town you plan to stay in though).

Caravan parks can be an inexpensive accommodation option. Many have cabins that you can use for a fraction of the price of a hotel room (especially in the off season), but are just as comfortable. The other up-side is that you will have cooking facilities available, which can save you money on dinner. You will need to check though, whether they provide linen and towels if you’re not travelling with these.

A road trip is a great way to travel at your own pace and see a bit of the country while you do it. It’s more convenient than trying to lug stuff through an airport, although not as quick. Plan your trip and you can see the country without overspending.

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  1. Cara says

    Don’t forget to pack your sense of humour too! When you realise your partner’s “Road Map Book of Australia” is 20 years old, you will need it. Speaking from experience. LOL

  2. says

    I think the thing that used to kill us when we were travelling together with the kids when they were younger was piling into a single hotel room. My wife and I used to basically hide in the bathroom until the kids went to sleep. In fact, we had it down to a fine art, we’d watch a movie on a laptop with headphones.

    An option I wish we’d explore is short stay rental of a furnished house/farmstay ( is quite good for such places). Some of these places can be a little off the beaten track but end up costing the same or less and there is so much space.

    • says

      LOL I read in the bathroom for a while! But after driving for 10 hours we ended up just going to sleep at the same time as the kids. is fantastic – we stayed in some great places through them – that was before kids though.