1. If you’re driving an older car, get a USB car charger for your phone/ipad.
I have a charger with two USB slots that plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter slot. Being able to charge your devices in the car is a huge stress saver. It will also save both money and time because you won’t always be ducking into a coffee shop to try to find a place to charge your device during the day.
2. You don’t need to be driving a van to bring your kitchen with you.
If you’re going on a long road trip and aren’t bringing a ton of luggage, there is absolutely nothing stopping you bring along some small appliances, such as your coffee maker or a small, cheapie microwave.
Pair these with a small cooler and you’ll dramatically cut down your coffee and breakfast expenses. We don’t like to go anywhere without having had our oatmeal in the morning. Going out for breakfast everyday is fun for a few days and after that just feels like a huge time suck when you get on the road.
Don’t bring everything, but bring what’s going to save the most cash for you or add the most convenience. If you drink a huge amount of coffee, this is likely to be a coffee maker and a thermos. Make your coffee in the morning and keep it hot for later.
Call me crazy but I often pack the microwave for roadtrips. I have an old, small one that I’ve kept just for this purpose. It’s from when we combined households and ended up with two microwaves.
3. Make sure you’re getting free parking.
Make sure you check that the hotel/motel you’re looking at offers free parking. Hotel parking, especially in cities, can be absolutely astronomical. For example, $40 a day.
When you first start your trip you’ll probably remember to check free parking is available and then over time start forgetting to check.
Street parking will sometimes be ok, especially if you’re two people together. One person can take your luggage into your accommodation and handle check-in. The other person can find the parking spot.
Hostels sometimes provide the lowest cost parking option in cities. For example, the HI hostel in Hawaii has parking for $5 a day.
Hassle saving tip: Have a small bag you need for overnight and leave the rest of your (non-valuable) stuff in your vehicle, unless you’re parking on the street. This might not be the safest but it’s much easier.
4. Shop around for your rental.
One of the best money saving tips for travel I ever learnt was to book car rentals through UK sites. This is because they typically offer collision damage and liability protection as part of the insurance, whereas you’ll probably get charged $30 a day if you book through US sites and need to purchase that coverage separately. Of course, check what you’re covered for before you hit that “confirm booking” button.
I used to think booking things direct with the provider would always be cheaper. The more I’ve traveled, the more exceptions to this I’ve found.
Booking on UK sites typically only works if you’re not a US resident. If you are a US resident, you probably have insurance that covers rentals anyway, unlike the rest of us.
When you rent in the US, when you get to the car rental location, they typically allow you to select which vehicle you want to take from any they’ve got available in the category you’ve booked. Ask the guys on the lot which of the available vehicles gets the best gas mileage or is the nicest to drive.
Consider doing multiple rentals and using flights in between if that’s cheaper. Gas Buddy is useful for estimating trip cost based on fuel prices.
5. Consider Park and Ride when you’re in cities.
Even though you’ve got your rental car, if you want to spend some time in a city, it might be easier to park in the burbs and take public transport for exploring downtown. Run the numbers. Especially watch out for if you could get hit for toll charges. This principle mostly applies to places like New York, DC, and San Francisco where street parking is a nightmare and parking lots are extremely expensive but the public transport is awesome.