There are two absolute expenses during any road trip: fuel and food. Most other factors can be fudged, but there’s no denying the need to continually fill your belly and your gas tank. While these expenditures are inevitable, there are a few ways to finagle savings and discounts.
Saving Money on Food
Minimizing food costs while traveling boils down to one essential rule: make your own meals. The expenses of eating at restaurants too frequently will create a huge dent in a tight budget, so limit your amount of culinary splurging. Focus on experiencing local food by stocking up on produce and meat from outdoor markets and vendors. Cook veggies and meat with cheap staple foods like rice and ramen noodles (which make a great alternative to pasta if you don’t use that icky flavor packet).
Not sure where to find a farmers market in the area you’re visiting? LocalHarvest.org has a great database where you can locate the nearest farmers market using the area zip code, and find out what days its open, what they usually offer, etc.
While grocery shopping, you can often take advantage of great food offered at a discounted price due to things like dents in cans, approaching expiration dates, and damaged packaging. Our favorite experience thus far has been the “Manager’s Special,” where we got a two-day old rosemary olive oil loaf from the bakery for $1.49, and a bag of fancy sea salt and pepper chips for 89¢ because the packaging had gotten messed up. We’ve also snagged organic yogurt with honey for a few cents, milk that wasn’t expiring for another week, and even totally fresh meat through the whole Manager’s Special shtick. I totally dig it.
At smaller establishments that serve made-daily hot foods and baked goods, visiting towards the end of the day could deliver discounts on foods that would otherwise end up in the trash. Best example: The Food Ranch at Joe’s Valley. Like clockwork, every day sees a new wave of ½ off price changes on things like breakfast burritos and warm pizza sticks. The best discount to be had at the Food Ranch is on their world famous donuts: around 5:30-6:00, you can snag an entire dozen for about $2.50. I’m talkin’ butterfinger, oreo, maple with coconut, and the doughiest sugar-raised donuts this side of the Colorado River – if they haven’t sold out already.
Saving Money on Gas
When it comes to keeping the van chuggin’, I’ve found there to be far fewer methods of creatively obtaining cheaper gas – but it’s still possible. The first tip is to avoid gas stations located directly off the highway. If you drive a mile or two away from a major thoroughfare, you’re likely to see a significant drop in prices. Another option is to download a gas locator app like Gas Buddy, which uses crowd-sourcing to present updated prices for all the gas stations around your current location.
We also have a City Market card from our visits to stock up on groceries in Moab, which also works at Kroger, King Soopers, Fry’s, and a few other supermarket chains. This loyalty card accumulates points for every dollar spent at any of the franchises, and certain point levels qualify for 10¢ per/gallon discounts on a fill-up at the on-site gas stations. Filling up the van easily costs $100 each time, so every penny we can save on gas makes a difference.
Living on the road may seem like an expensive affair, but being mindful of your spending and seeking savings can make extended travel an entirely manageable lifestyle.