Camping can be a great way to make a long road trip more affordable and fun. Not only will you get to spend more time in the great outdoors, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars by forgoing hotels for at least part of the journey. Boost your savings even further by preparing some of your own meals and bringing along items to keep everyone active and entertained. (See also: 10 Ways to Save Money on a Great American Road Trip)
One of the best ways to save money on a road trip is to cut down on dining out. Though you might find some reasonably priced eateries along the way, none of them are likely to beat the price of preparing cheap meals for yourself. In order to do this effectively, you’ll need a way to keep your perishable groceries cold.
Obviously you’re not going to be able to pack things like vegetables and meat and expect them to last for the entire journey. But a cooler does allow you to pick things up along the way and keep them fresh for a short time as you go. You can even get coolers that plug into your car’s cigarette lighter and act as mini refrigerators. (See also: These 15 Road Trip Snacks Make It All About the Journey)
2. Water filter
You’re going to need to stay hydrated on your journey, and buying drinks at gas stations or stores will quickly add up. Despite the initial cost, purchasing a water filter system will save you plenty of dollars in the long-term, as it will allow you to drink water from virtually any source, whether it’s a public bathroom tap or even a puddle.
There are various products that filter contaminants out of the water so it’s safe to drink. These devices range from portable, lightweight straws, to water bottles that incorporate the filter into the design. The best ones filter out over 99 percent of contaminants, including bacteria and parasites, and also strip the water of any bad taste or smell.
3. Basic camping gear
Essentials for sleeping include a tent, a sleeping mat, sleeping bag, and pillow. If you’re planning on making camping road trips a regular occurrence then it’s worth investing in this equipment, but you could also borrow these items from a friend and not spend a dime.
Campsites are usually very reasonably priced and many come with plenty of modern amenities such as showers, electricity, and even Wi-Fi. (See also: Camping for a Week Is Only $160 at These National Parks)
4. A portable stove
In order to make your own meals, you’ll need something to cook them on, and a portable stove is just the thing. They come in all shapes and sizes, but you don’t need anything more than a single burner to make a simple, nutritious, and delicious meal in next to no time.
You can set up a portable stove absolutely anywhere outdoors, and unlike a campfire, it isn’t difficult to set up, and it leaves absolutely no trace once you’ve finished. Not only will a portable stove save you money on food, but there’s no need to visit an expensive coffee chain for your daily caffeine fix. Instead, boil some water and make your own.
I personally use the MSR Pocket Rocket because it’s efficient, powerful, and very compact. (See also: The 5 Best Camping Stoves)
5. A good rewards credit card
This one can be a real money saver (and moneymaker). Before heading out on a road trip, make sure you have a good rewards credit card that will acquire points for all of your spending during the trip, mainly the money you spend at the pumps and at grocery stores.
The best gas rewards credit cards can earn you cash just for spending on gas. Get one that offers additional bonuses for grocery store stops or dining.
Road trips are inherently expensive, so any little bit of money you can save can really help. If you’re planning your epic road trip for the spring of next year, apply for a card now and start earning rewards on your purchases as soon as possible. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Road Trips)
If you’ve got a family with young kids, keeping them entertained on the road can be difficult. While you’ll certainly want to see some attractions on your trip, you can avoid excess entertainment expenses by taking some engaging games with you.
It’s good to take a selection of games that will suit everyone’s tastes when you’ve stopped driving for the day, and don’t rule out the humble deck of cards. Get a friendly competition going and the kids will soon forget about hitting up the local overpriced arcade.