Know Before You Go: How to Road Trip This Thanksgiving on a Budget

Can you believe the holidays are here! While many people are planning on staying home this year, plenty are choosing to travel and spend the Thanksgiving weekend with their loved ones. For most Americans, Thanksgiving means sharing a meal and quality time with close family and friends. But for many, in order to get to that gathering, it also means taking a road trip for Thanksgiving whether solo or with the entire family.

Thanksgiving is always a busy time for travelers. Many Americans are planning to travel over the holidays to make up for the time they missed with their families last year. That means more congestion on the road, which translates to more anxiety for drivers during this already-stressful time.

With the right planning, deciding to road trip this Thanksgiving can be quite enjoyable. Here are a few budget-friendly road trip tips that will help make your journey go more smoothly.

Set a Road Trip Budget

I am a big fan of setting and sticking to a budget especially while traveling. I recommend coming up with a plan based on the type of trip you’re taking. Your budget may include items such as,

  • Accommodation – this could be hotels, Airbnbs or campgrounds, Food: this could include restaurants AND groceries. You’ll also want to think about the cost of snacks, coffee, alcohol, ice cream… ALL the good stuff,
  • Miscellaneous – these are little expenses that don’t really fit elsewhere — like ice for your cooler, paying for showers (if you’re staying mostly at campgrounds), parking fees, tolls, medicine, toiletries, souvenirs, gifts, etc.
  • Emergency – we all hope you won’t need to pay for unforeseen circumstances, but it’s a good idea to be prepared. This might mean getting your vehicle serviced on the road, parking or speeding tickets, tow truck, medical expenses, etc.

Plan in Advance

One way to make driving this Thanksgiving easier is to plan things in advance. If you pack snacks, meals, and coffee, then you won’t need to stop as many times on the road. Rest stops are much busier and are filled with travelers. If you plan on driving for multiple days, book your hotel ahead of time.

Planning things in advance makes the drive go quicker and can you will stick to your budget.

Stock up on Food

Visiting a restaurant for each meal a day can be pretty expensive, your food expenses can rack up quickly. In fact, this can easily be one of the most expensive aspects of road tripping. Keep a stock of food in your car that you can eat, along with non-perishable foods that are easy to make at your accommodations of choice. If you prefer to carry some perishables along the way, bring a heavy-duty cooler along for the ride. This will save you a significant chunk of change.

RELATED: 6 Easy and Affordable Foods to Prepare for Thanksgiving

Plan Your Route

When it comes to road-tripping for the holidays on a budget, knowing the best and most affordable route you will be driving is key. Know exactly what routes you can take to avoid tolls and entrance fees, while maximizing your gas mileage. Make sure that your drive will take you close to cheap accommodation and areas that will have ample free entertainment. Having a detailed plan of your route and what you will do at each stop can also help you spend less on gas by aimlessly wandering through towns in search of activities.

Leave Earlier

In order to avoid the worst of the traffic this Thanksgiving, consider leaving a day earlier, or as early in the morning as possible, even the middle of the night if you can manage it. You might be a bit tired later on in the day, but you’ll get to your destination more quickly and with much less stress. Apart from having to deal with congestion on the road, holiday travel days can be some of the most expensive times of year to go on a road trip. Toll prices can be higher, hotel prices can be greater, and gas prices can be inflated.

Prepare Your Vehicle

Make sure that your car is ready for your road trip. Aside from ensuring your personal safety, having a car that has been recently serviced will help you save money in a multitude of other ways. Ensuring that your tires are fully inflated will help you save money on gas. According to, you can improve your gas mileage by 0.6% on average and even up to 3% in some cases by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Also, change your oil before embarking to keep your engine running properly. Be sure to factor all car maintenance costs into the budget for your road trip.

Take your car to your mechanic for a check-up at least a week before you leave, and the likelihood of you getting stranded on the side of the road en route will be less.

RELATED: 7 Ways to Save Money on Car Repairs and Maintenance

Consider Alternative Accommodations

Hotels can take up a large slice of your road trip budget. Look at alternative accommodations such as Airbnb. Airbnb often provides cheaper alternatives to traditional hotels, especially outside of major cities. If you’re open to sleeping in a tent, scope out some campgrounds along your route. This can be a huge money-saver when it comes to both accommodations and food.

Check Your Auto Insurance

Nothing puts a bigger dent in your holiday plan and your wallet like having car trouble. Check with your insurance company to see if they have emergency roadside assistance coverage. A comprehensive plan can cover vandalism, theft, or damage and even pay for hotel rooms if your car needs overnight repairs.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Save on Your Automobile Expenses

Avoid Gas Stations Just Off the Interstate

Gas stations located right off exit ramps can be considerably more expensive than stations further in town. If you can hold off, it’s best to find one closer to your destination rather than pull into the first one you see. Another tip, gas prices tend to increase on weekends and holidays, so filling your tank on Monday rather than Sunday will help you pinch Planning apps

There are a couple of helpful apps out there that will make planning your road trip and finding amenities on the road a breeze. download the Road Trippers App before you head out. This app lets you save locations on the go, find destination points along your route, and locate lodging, gas, restaurants, and more. You can even get special discounts through the app in support of your budget road trip. Also, check out the iExit App to determine the best areas to take a pit stop on major highways while you’re traveling. And for help finding the cheapest gas, Gas Buddy is a must.

Bottom Line

Are you going on a road trip this Thanksgiving? Just remember these tips before you hit the road. Also bear in mind that Thanksgiving falls at the end of the year, you could be driving through poor weather, especially for those in the northeast! Pay attention to the conditions, slow down when appropriate, and give every vehicle a generous cushion.

Are you taking a road trip this Thanksgiving?