It's just the two of you, the open road, and a limited amount of cash. Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't have a blast.
Step 1: Research your stops The web is a great���and free—way to research potential stops before you leave.
Step 2: Bring an atlas Bring an up-to-date road atlas and check out guidebooks from the library. Try to plot a route that avoids toll roads and big cities, where parking is expensive.
TIP: Borrow a friend’s GPS navigation device, or go to a site like buy.com and purchase a refurbished one that’s much cheaper than new and still comes with a warranty.
Step 3: Get inspected Since a repair on the road can eat up your vacation time—and funds—have your car fully inspected before you leave. Ask your mechanic for a refresher course on some basic maintenance, like checking the fluids and changing a flat.
Step 4: Pack an emergency kit Just in case, pack an emergency kit that includes a flashlight and extra batteries, road flares, a first-aid kit, towels, a whistle, jumper cables, waterproof matches, rope and bungee cords, rain gear, a box-cutter, a tool kit, duct tape, a small shovel, some water, and cash.
Step 5: Sign up for roadside assistance Sign up for a roadside assistance plan, which can help with emergency repairs and offer discounts and maps for your trip. Depending on where you live, AAA ranges from about $30 to $80 for a primary account, plus a sign-up fee. BWC is similar with membership fees that start at around $50.
Step 6: Hit the supermarket Stock up on groceries, and use your supply for all snacks and one or two meals a day. Pack perishables and meals you’ll want to cook over a campfire in a cooler. Go for bottled drinks, and don’t forget about paper towels, utensils, storage bags, garbage bags, and toilet paper.
TIP: Bring a refillable water bottle, and fill up wherever you can for free.
Step 7: Minimize gas costs Minimize your fuel costs. Find a car with good gas mileage, drive during the cooler parts of the day so you don’t need the AC, and maintain a steady speed or use cruise control.
TIP: Get a rough estimate of what your fuel costs will be with the fuel cost calculator at roadtripamerica.com. Sites like gasprices.mapquest.com can help you find the cheapest gas on your route.
Step 8: Stay with pals If you’ve got friends or relatives along the way, ask in advance if you can stay overnight. For the adventurous, couchsurfing.com can hook you up with a friendly stranger willing to host you for the night.
TIP: Don’t wear out your welcome. Keep your visit short.
Step 9: Camp out Cheap motels are great, but if the weather’s good, why not hunker down for the night at a campsite? They generally run for less than $30 a night, and some may even offer amenities like firewood and showers.
TIP: Some campsites may require reservations in advance, especially if it’s the busy season, so plan ahead.
Step 10: Visit a national park National parks are beautiful, offer a variety of activities like hiking and swimming, and are generally inexpensive. An annual pass, which gives you access to all federal recreation sites, only costs $80. See nps.gov for details.
Step 11: Provide your own entertainment Provide your own entertainment. Lots of cars now have built-in auxiliary jacks for MP3 players, but you can also find relatively inexpensive car adapters at your local electronics store. Bring reading material and a portable DVD player plus a few of your favorite movies.
Step 12: Enjoy the adventure It doesn’t cost you anything to be psyched! Take pictures, make friends, see great stuff, and enjoy the adventure!
FACT: Highway routes with odd numbers run north and south, while routes with even numbers run east and west.