United States

Money-saving hacks for your US road trip

Going on an epic road trip across the United States is an adventure like no other. Picture the open road stretching ahead, scenic landscapes unfolding, and unforgettable memories waiting to be made. We already told you how much it cost us to travel around the US for 5 weeks (spoiler alert: more than expected!). Now it’s time to discover the best money-saving hacks for your US road trip. That’s right, based on our personal experience we’ve collected the best tips and tricks for saving money along the way!

Flights

In our opinion, we managed to get a really good price for our flights to the US. Considering we arrived in San Francisco, departed from LA, bought 2 check-in bags AND paid extra for seat selection, we’re quite happy to have paid around € 1 000. We managed to do this by putting our own tips into practice. 🤩

The main tip we have regarding flights, is to book flights between 3 to 6 months in advance. Also, monitor the prices! That’s why we use a flight aggregator like WayAway to help us. They even have a price alert function to inform you once the price drops below a certain amount. So if you’re planning on doing a road trip next year for example, start monitoring the prices of flights 6 months in advance, and keep track of them every 2 weeks or every month. Also, don’t forget about seat selection, additional bags, possible class “upgrades” you might want, etc. We always set a price alert on WayAway once we get a good overview of what are “good” prices (usually after a month of “manual” monitoring). Once the price drops, we’re able to snag a good deal! Best way to save money in our opinion!

Accommodations

If you read our US Road Trip Budget Breakdown blog post, you will know that we were quite surprised by the total cost for accommodations. Our daily cost came to just under € 200 per day. 😳 Although we spent quite a lot in this department, we’re also convinced that we can still give you some good tips based on our own experiences. Especially if we look back at our own “mistakes”.

Our main tip in saving a lot of money on accommodation in the US is as follows: make an estimate of how much you want to spend per night, subtract at least 25% of that (you’ll pay them either via taxes, fees or other costs at arrival anyway), and put your booking.com or Agoda price filter on that amount.

Example if you want to spend € 100/night: € 100 – € 25 (=25% of € 100) = € 75. Then put a maximum of € 75 in your hotel aggregator website filter. Doing this will reduce the chance of a (negative) surprise when you receive the final check. Been there, done that. 😂 The cool part about Agoda is that it suits our way of finding nice hotels. We usually look for locations via a number of platforms, like booking.com, AirBnB, and even Instagram! Once we figure out where we want to stay, we use Agoda to give us a nice overview of the best sites to book our accommodation. They always show the cheapest site or place to book, which is awesome. Also, you can book anything from hotels, flights or even airport transfer via the platform. All in one place!

Transportation

Looking back at our transportation cost, we were really satisfied with the price we paid and the way we handled unforeseen circumstances. Long story short, we had to rent 2 cars. 😳 Since our tips only cover the rental price, we just want to remind you that we paid just over € 2 000 for a 33-day rental period (only € 60 per day!). We reserved our car 4 months in advance. Even then we already encountered numerous sites that jacked the prices up!

The first tip is probably the most important one. We recommend booking your car rental as early in advance as possible to get the best deal. This probably comes as no surprise, but you’d be amazed at how much money you can save by being an early-bird. You don’t want to have trouble finding an affordable car when you’re already in the US, so booking (well) in advance is a must.

What also helped us in finding the best rate, was the use of car rental platforms. Fortunately for us, Thysia’s employer offers additional discounts on top of the amazing rates some of these car rental platforms offer. But even without the additional discount, we really suggest looking at platforms like rentalcars.com and getrentacar.com.

Also, we really urge you to check the conditions of the car rental agreement. Ensure (1) you have the car available to you for the duration of your trip and check (2) if you have unlimited mileage included or not. If additional drivers are a must, check if additional drivers come at an additional cost or not. Also, if you plan to follow in our footsteps for your own US road trip, we absolutely urge you to rent at least a mid-sized SUV. Otherwise you won’t be able to visit all the national parks!

Last but not least: Uber is way more expensive than Lyft! Keep that in mind if you plan on using rideshare apps.

Food

Our reaction to our “food spend” is really similar to our reaction to our “accommodation spend”: we were quite shocked! After the initial shock went away, we dug deep to find the source of our confusion. After some time we were able to pinpoint the main culprit(s): “mandatory” tipping, and taxes being added on top of the price listed on the menu.

Our tips, based on our own experience, are threefold. Our first tip will help you estimate the final amount of the check. You can calculate the total amount by adding (at least) 25% to any item on the menu. This depends on the amount you usually tip, of course, but for example if a pasta dish is listed at $20 on the menu, it’ll be closer to $25 on after taxes and tipping. Don’t get blindsided by the price on the menu!

The second tip is to be bold and don’t tip if you feel like the service you got was substandard, or if they didn’t even offer a service in the first place! There were places that demanded a tip just for takeout of some donuts that were on display. Obviously, we didn’t tip.

Adding to that, you can always enter a custom tip that aligns more with the amount you want to tip. Instead of “taking the easy way” (eg. picking a predefined percentage), choose your own amount! Don’t let them force you into tipping anything other than the amount you want to tip.

Other

Regarding groceries and “other” expenses, we only have one tip. We recommend buying “in bulk” at a supermarket chain (like Walmart) instead of relying on the general stores of your hotel (or the minibar). Prices for these items are super high and add up fast! We estimate we could’ve saved at least € 200 if we solely relied on supermarket snacks or soda. Only use general stores or mini-bar items in case of emergency!

We hope these money-saving hacks will enable you to maximize your US road trip experience while staying within your budget. By planning your trip in advance, you can make the most out of your adventure without breaking the bank!

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