How We Took a Road Trip on a College Budget

Road Trip on a College Budget

If ever there was a country made for road trips, it’s the States. Road trips are really keen on the idea “It’s not about the destination, but your journey.” And regarding our grand continent that stretches from sea-to-shining-sea, this is totally true.

Before this summer ended, I chased that great affair and set out for the horizon. My best friend Jasmine and I teared up some open road and traveled along the New England coast. For anyone yet to depart on a roadside adventure, here’s a quick guide to budgeting for a road trip.

Mount Washington Auto Road – Gorham, New Hampshire

Vroom Vroom.
Gas. While you can’t eliminate the cost of fuel, there are a lot of little things you can do to help alleviate the cost. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep your tires inflated, oil fresh and engine tuned for better mileage.
  • Fill up away from cities. With some exceptions, the closer you are to a metropolitan area, the more you’ll pay for gas.
  • Use a smartphone app like GasBuddy to find the best prices in your area.
  • Use a GPS device to avoid getting lost and wasting fuel.
  • Invite others on the road in order to divide expenses between a greater number of people.
  • Take a more fuel efficient vehicle.
  • Maintain a steady speed. According to the Office of Transportation and Air Quality, cars reach the best fuel usage at 60 miles per hour. They estimate that every 5 miles per hour over 60 mph costs an additional 26 cents per gallon. Use cruise control on the highway to help maintain a consistent speed.
  • Park your car and walk whenever possible if you want to explore an area.
  • Avoid rapid acceleration and braking, which uses more gas.

Providence, Rhode Island


We drove Jasmine’s full-hybrid Prius, and filled never let our tank tread below half empty. In total, we only spent $93 on gas, and split between the two of us, we each paid around $45. Pocket change.

It helped that we drove a fuel-efficient car, but also that our destinations were close together. Our longest drive through the New England states was around 3-4 hours to Acadia National Park in Maine, and our longest drive in total was of course, from Ohio and back.


Benefit Juice Bar & Cafe – Providence, Rhode Island


Catch some ZZZZ’s
The next big expense of road tripping is lodging. It’s always a score when you can crash at a friend or relative’s house, but if you’re staying in hotels or motels, there are a few things you can do to find cheap rooms:

  • Use aggregator sites likes Kayak to quickly narrow your search.
  • Use smartphone apps like Hotel Tonight for last minute deals.
  • Call the hotel directly and ask for rates. Sometime the over-the-phone price is different from the Internet price.
  • Avoid staying in metropolitan and tourist areas where high demand drives up prices.
  • Inquire about membership discounts through organizations like AAA and AARP.

Cape Cod Falmouth, Massachusetts


If you’re open to alternatives, hostels, Airbnb, and campsites tend to be far cheaper. Another indispensable resource is, a website that helps travelers find free lodging with hosts all over the world. If all else fails, you can always find a quiet place to park and sleep in the car if you feel safe.

We used the app Hotel Tonight to find last minute deals, and shared one bed to lower the cost. Lodging was our most expensive cost, but finding rooms between $100-$180 and splitting the cost did help.


Atlantic Ocean – Ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts


Having a safe place to rest our heads at night was a priority, so we felt most comfortable staying at reputable places such as Holiday Inn Express. During our long drives, we took turns sleeping in the car while the other drove.

Tip: Book hotels and motels with a flexible cancellation policy. With weather, car troubles, and unplanned events, road trips can be unpredictable.

Tip: Find lodging coupons at rest stops, gas stations, or on the websites of official state guides.


Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts

Nom nom nom.
There is a lot of room for creativity when putting together the food portion of your budget. It’s not hard to survive on less than $10-20 a day. You can save significant moolah by grocery shopping in advance rather than eating at restaurants three times a day.

How much you spend is determined entirely by preference. For some people, food and travel go hand-in-hand. Others couldn’t care less about culinary indulgences. It’s smart to decide in advance how much you want to spend, so immediate hunger cravings don’t lead to money splurges.


Cambridge, Massachusetts


We took full advantage of free hotel breakfast, eating two bowls of oatmeal to fill us up for the day, and grabbing fruit, granola bars, bagels, and yogurt to-go. Lunch and snacks were stored in a cooler in our car and were accessible to eat along the way.

We treated ourselves to dinner each night, making sure to plan restaurant destinations ahead of time. We used Yelp to find affordable eats in cities along our route, Happy Cow to find vegan-friendly places, and Find Me Gluten Free to locate dining with GF options.

If a low-budget vegan chic and her celiac buddy can find grub in states they’ve never been to, so can you!


Boston, Massachusetts

If you’re not having fun, you’re missing the point! Do and see all you can along the way. Natural sites, city exploring, and roadside attractions generally won’t cripple your finances. The best advice we can offer is create a plan, but make sure that plan leaves room for improvisation. You should have a list of things to do along the way, and you should know exactly how much each will cost. But you should also set aside a little time and money for unpredictable opportunities!


Boston, Massachusetts

We calculated the cost of all the major attractions we wanted to visit prior to our trip. Our more costly expenses were National Parks, but we spent hours at each place, so our money was well spent!

  • Visit the official tourism websites of the states and cities you plan to visit. Most sites will provide links to free things to do.
  • See if any museums in the areas you plan to visit offer free days.
  • Travel during the summer months. Warm weather means free fairs, festivals, art shows, concerts, and more. 
  • Check out an area’s parks, art districts, or libraries, which often offer free concerts, lectures, or plays.
  • If you’re a student, bring your ID card to receive student discounts!


Overall cost???
Our total with gas, lodging, parking fees and attractions, we spent around $500. Split between the two of us, we each paid around $250. Not bad!


Cadillac Mountain – Acadia National Park, Maine

Travel Tips:

Most people aren’t born savvy road trippers. I’m here to help you reach your full travel ninja potential!

  • Pack light. It’s OK to wear the same t-shirt a few days in a row. Take half the clothes you think you will need…you won’t need the rest of it.
  • Don’t be afraid to use a map. Looking like a tourist isn’t as bad as getting really lost and ending up in the wrong neighborhood.
  • But don’t be afraid to get purposefully lost. Wandering aimlessly through a new city is a good way to get to know it. You might be surprised by the hidden gems you find.
  • Always visit the local tourism website or office. It can point you to free activities, special events happening during your stay, and everything in between. Use this resource.
  • Lunchtime is the best time to visit historical sites. The sites empty out and you’ll have fewer crowds to fight.

Cadillac Mountain – Acadia National Park, Maine


  • Carry a basic first-aid kit. Accidents happen (pictured above…), so be prepared. I take with me bandaids, antibacterial cream, and ointments for cuts and scrapes.
  • Never eat in a touristy area or near a tourist attraction. As a general rule, I walk five blocks in either direction before I find a place to eat.
  • Be open to strangers. Not everyone bites. You just might make some lifelong friends.
  • But keep your guard up. Some people do bite, so keep a healthy level of suspicion.
  • Take an empty water bottle and fill it up in a water fountain, hotel, or sink. It’ll save money and the environment.
  • Get good shoes. You walk a lot when you travel. Don’t beat up your feet. Love them as much as they love you, and they’ll take you to amazing places.
  • Take a jacket. Nights get chilly.

Sand Beach – Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Be patient. Things will work out in the end. No need to rush. You’ll get to where you are going in due time. Travel is about the journey, not the destination.
  • Be frugal — but not cheap. Look for deals and don’t waste money, but don’t miss out on great experiences or walk 10 miles to save a couple of dollars. Time is money. Spend them both wisely.
  • Finally, wear sunscreen.

Bubble Rock – Acadia National Park, Maine

Our Driving Itinerary*

DAY 1 (Thursday, August 11)
Columbus → (11H 20M) → Benefit Street (24 Meeting St, Providence, RI 02903) → (1H 15M) Old Silver Beach- Cape Cod (351 Quaker Rd, Falmouth, MA 02540) → (18M) Ferry ride to Martha’s Vineyard (75 Falmouth Heights Rd. Falmouth, MA 02540) → (35M ferry ride) Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard → (1H 7M) Boston, MA → HOTEL

DAY 2 (Friday, August 12)
Boston, MA → (40M) Harvard (Cambridge, MA) & explore Boston!→ (1H 12M) Market Square, Portsmouth, NH → (1H) Cape Elizabeth, ME (Portland Head Light @ 1000 Shore Road Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107) → (22M) Portland, ME → HOTEL

Day 3 (Saturday, August 13)
Portland, ME → (3H 6M) Acadia National Park → (2H 9M) Augusta, ME (Dinner) → (2H 50M) HOTEL- Express Inn & Suites (21 Railroad Street, Lincoln, NH 03251)

Day 4 (Sunday, August 14)
Express Inn & Suites → (4M) White Mountains Visitor Center (200 Kancamagus Highway, North Woodstock, NH 03262) & Flume Gorge (852 Daniel Webster Hwy, Lincoln, NH 03251)→ (1H 24M) West Lebanon, NH (Dinner)

Day 5 (Monday, August 15)
Berkshire Valley Inn → (14M) Mount Greylock Visitor Center (30 Rockwell Road, Lanesborough, MA 01237) → (9H 40M) Columbus, OH

*subject to change, and it sure did!


The Flume Gorge – Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Mount Washington Auto Road – Gorham, New Hampshire

Pack Snacks!

  • Cooler
  • Fruits + veggies
  • Apples, celery, carrots, clementines, green beans
  • Popcorn
  • Pre-measured/flavored oatmeal
  • Water bottle + coconut water for headaches
  • Nut butters (Justin’s mini packets?)
  • Trail mix
  • Pretzels
  • Sandwiches
  • Yogurt
  • KIND Gluten Free Bars, Lara Bars, Clif Bars, etc
  • Dates
  • Ziploc bags, grocery bags, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, paper towels
  • Spoons

Mount Washington Auto Road – Gorham, New Hampshire

Mount Washington Summit, New Hampshire

Pack it up, Pack it up

Documents & Money

  • PHYSICAL map/copy of directions (in case of lost service/no wifi)
  • Credit cards and money
  • Small bills for Toll Roads 
  • Driver’s Licence
  • Car documents

Hygiene & Toiletries

  • Dry Shampoo
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Shampoo, conditioner, body wash
  • Hair Brush
  • Contacts (case, solution, extra pair)
  • Glasses
  • Tissues
  • Deodorant
  • Tampons
  • Razor + Shaving Cream
  • Fash Wash

Clothes & Stuff

  • Rain Jacket
  • T-Shirts
  • Pants/Shorts
  • Underwear
  • Swimwear
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • Sports wear
  • Sundress
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Shoes: Sandals, gym shoes
  • Beach towels
  • Backpack/Suitcase
  • Pillow
  • Blanket


  • GPS
  • Phone + Charger
  • Camera + Charger + extra SD Cards
  • Pharmacy
  • Prescriptions
  • Advil/Ibuprofen
  • Dramamine for motion sickness

Mount Washington Summit, New Hampshire

Want to share your tips and advice? Leave me a comment below!

Laurie Hamame

Ball of sunshine. Chronic giggler. A lover of all things sweet potato. An overly friendly, world traveling, body positive warrior. Avid bookworm. Self-proclaimed chef and spiritually Italian. Promotor of daily walks, coffee dates and 30-second dance parties.

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Laurie Hamame

Ball of sunshine. Chronic giggler. A lover of all things sweet potato. An overly friendly, world traveling, body positive warrior. Avid bookworm. Self-proclaimed chef and spiritually Italian. Promotor of daily walks, coffee dates and 30-second dance parties.

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