Road Tripping on the Cheap

“Not all those who wander are lost.” — J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien writes, “Not all those who wander are lost” in The Riddle of Strider. These words don’t only ring true for the incredibly handsome Aragorn, but they hold steady for most of us real life humans as well. Adventure is out there, and it’s up to us to go find it.

The problem often lies in the color green. You know, that green stuff enabling you to buy that ice-cold cold Coca-Cola sitting in the gas station fridge just beckoning your name.

Yes, we’ve all come up a little short on cash once or twice…or a hundred times. What most of us have in abundance, though, is a sense of adventure. Combine that with some ingenuity and you’ve got yourself one heck of a road trip!

Take it from a former touring musician; you can do A LOT with a little. Following are 10 tips I’ve picked up while traveling and singing for my next meal.

1.) Buy in Bulk and DIY Prepackage — Buy a big bag of some high-protein goodies on your next shopping trip. Almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, raisins, and edamame are all great go-to snacks for road trips. Remember to pick up some sandwich bags as well. When you get home, start dishing out daily rations for yourself. The high- protein snacks will not only nourish you better and keep you more full than conventional sweet snacks, they will prevent you from getting the munchies and spending WAY more than you should on snacks at a gas station or rest area.

2.) Tank Up at the Right Time — Assuming you’ve already chosen the most fuel efficient car for your travels, now it’s time to fill up that tank. Fill up on fuel either before dawn or late at night. Stations usually raise their prices during the day, so if you time it correctly you won’t be overspending on fuel. There is also a theory that suggests gas is the densest during the cool hours of the day. Since you’re paying for volume, not density, you will get the most bang for your buck when it’s cool.

Wednesday morning is the best time to tank up!

3.) Fill Up at the Right Place — Avoid getting your fuel at exit ramps for the interstate or too close to major cities. It may be convenient to do so, but you’ll be paying more for the convenience.

4.) Travel with a Friend or Two — The more the merrier rings true in regards to the joy of wanted companionship in addition to the relief of sharing travel expenses. Find a buddy who wants to join in on your road tripping adventure. A fellow wanderluster can really bump up the adventure a notch or too. Plus, you can share driving responsibilities.

5.) Ditch the Fancy Hotel — Rather than handing over your hard earned cash to some hotel clerk for a night of starched towels and genuine attempts at ignoring the clunk-clunk of a possessed in-room A/C, why not use your money a little more wisely and go camping. Reserving a camping plot (for a tent) will only set you back about $12-$25 per night. If you think you may need more luxury than what camping can provide, think again. Nowadays campgrounds have great amenities to fit your needs. Thanks to a quick-thinking touring partner, KOA quickly became one of my favorite campgrounds.

KOA has over 480 locations in North America — find one at

6.) Stick to your Meal Plan — Allot yourself a daily food budget and waiver not. If you’ve conformed to tip #1 then you’ve already got your snacks and possibly even breakfast covered. You absolutely DO NOT need to starve. Starving is fun for no one, and you will NOT get the most out of your journey if you deny yourself nourishment. Eat smart and fill up on healthy, energy boosting foods. Drink water to stay hydrated and energetic. If you have some extra money, designate it for one amazing meal on which to splurge. It will be worth it.

7.) Travel Light — The lighter the load the easier it will be to move it on down the highway. Think of traveling light as less packing, less luggage, and less of a hassle. Even an extra 100 pounds could reduce your mpg by about 1%, so keep it light.

8.) Haul Luggage in the Vehicle — Haul all cargo inside your vehicle. Hauling outside on the roof increases aerodynamic drag, and you might as well be throwing dollar bills out your window. If you’ve heeded tip #7 then you’re already packing lightly and won’t have a huge load to haul anyway. For those musicians, such as myself, you may have to go Pac-Man-style fitting instruments and gear anywhere you can possibly find. Who cares if there’s a tambourine in your glove department, right?

“Look at life through the windshield, not the rearview mirror.” — Byrd Baggett

9.) Drive Sensibly — It may be time to practice what you preach (aka DO what you shout at other drivers through the windshield) when it comes to your driving skills. Go the speed limit on your road trip. It may even benefit you to take the smaller highway rather than the interstate. You’ll see a more authentic landscape and you won’t feel pressured to rush. Another thing to think about is that for every 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is like paying an addition $0.16 per gallon for gas. Plus, going the speed limit is much safer.

10.) Keep Your Vehicle at a Steady Pace — Keep moving at a steady speed and you will use far less gas for acceleration thus saving you money on fuel. Avoid the slow down-speed up game by either consciously maintaining your speed or by simply setting the cruise control. Be aware of your surroundings. Driving on a mountain is much different than driving through the desert or the prairie.

Never have I learned more than what I learned through my travels. The people, the places…SO amazing!

Safe travels and ENJOY!