Here’s a guest post by Shing from Hostelbookers in the UK, a leading budget accommodation specialist on how to travel on the cheap when you’re doing a road trip in the USA or Canada. I have always wanted to do a big road trip across North America. So many places to see and explore, so little time :).

Make your USA road trip cheaper

If you’re thinking of road tripping across the USA there are a few basics to think about before you put the key in the ignition. And, if you want to make like Jack Kerouac or Thelma and Louise but without the scandal and on the cheap, you should get planning now.

The route


Ah where to go? It’s your road trip, so go where you want! For example you could travel up the east coast from Miami to New York City – 1283 miles through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

Make the most of the city and book a hostel in New York beforehand, and if you want to bookend your trip with another pre-booked hostel Miami has plenty at good rates. When you’re on the road you might want to spend a few nights camping to save money but it will be comforting to know you have a bed waiting for you at the end.

Or, you could go on one of the tried and tested popular routes:

  • Pacific Coast – Washington, Oregon and California
  • Border to Border – Canadian Rockies, Montana, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona
  • The Road to Nowhere – North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas
  • Route 66 – California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois

The car

Get the best car you can afford, whether you’re renting or taking your own. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it! If you’re renting don’t skimp on the insurance, it won’t be worth it in the long run.

As with any long journey, ask a mechanic to check your car before you leave. And check your spare tyre, jack, flares, start cables, first aid kit and other roadside emergency items are all in excellent condition. America’s highways are long and can be sparse – it could be a long push to the service station.

Top tips for the Budget Conscious

1. Don’t speed – a ticket will ruin your day and your budget. The general speed limit on freeways is 65mph/105kph and in residential and commercial zones 25mph/40kph. If you’re not familiar with the American Highway Code, read up!

2. Fill the car with friends to quadruple the fun and quarter the bills.

3. Have a rough idea of a route – it will save on wasting money by driving around aimlessly.

4. Have a look beforehand at good budget hostels you could use on the way.

5. In your planning mark on the map where you can fill up on cheaper petrol – prices can vary greatly. Make the most of frequent buyer points and any apps you could have on your phone to find the nearest, cheapest petrol.

6. Open the windows and feel the fresh air rather than using the petrol-guzzling air con.

7. Get off the main road for the cheapest eats. Buy from supermarkets and don’t go for drive thru fast food.

8. Take a cool box and load it up with bulk-buy soda and water rather than buying at petrol stations.

9. Depending on who you’re traveling with bring some games and ideas of things to do en route to entertain. With your mates you might like a few good cds or playlists on your iPod – you don’t want to have to go buying CDs in service station. Make sure you bring a charger and remember the unwritten rule – whoever drives chooses the tunes.

10. Drive Smarter. Use your cruise control and break and accelerate more softly. Keeping to the speed limit also helps save petrol and if you’re stuck in a jam turn off the engine.


  • Sat nav <— Y&T’s note- GPS
  • Map – your sat nav could break at any time!
  • A rough plan of a route
  • Car insurance
  • Personal insurance
  • Extra money – for repairs or any other unexpected expenditure
  • Cool box <– Y&T’s note- I think this means cooler 😉
  • Mates  <—Y&T’s note- friends
  • Music

Youngandthrifty’s take: I definitely agree with the no speeding rule!  One time boyfriend and I went down to the Oregon Coast (gorgeous highway 101) and were slapped with a huge ticket for speeding (we were keeping up with traffic, not tailgating) that cost us $200 on an otherwise budget camping trip down the coast.  Also, I would have to disagree with the air-conditioning and window opening– depending on how fast one drives, as ‘myth busted’ in the post on AC vs windows down and which one is better for fuel economy.  Lastly, definitely agree on the GPS.  When we went to Hawaii (okay not a road trip, but we rented a car), we had a GPS and she was fantastic (we named her Mariah).

We did a road trip out East a few years back (started in Halifax, made our way to New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and then into Ontario, then flew out of Toronto).  It was a fantastic trip, reminiscent of the Canadiana movie One Week starring Joshua Jackson.  I had a McLobster and loved how people honked and waved at you in PEI (just to be friendly, vs giving you the bird here in Vancouver 😉 ).

We also have driven down the Oregon Coast twice (love it, and love the tax free shopping in Portland especially) with one of the trips going to San Francisco.

The Canadian Rockies was a good trip too- the mountains are majestic and the air is so clear.  Hopefully we’ll be able to squeeze camping in Jasper sometime this summer.

Readers:  Where have you been on a road trip in the US and Canada?  Any favourite road trip destinations and “tried and true” tips on how to road-trip it on the cheap in US and Canada you would like to add?