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6 Tips for Cheap Road Trips

Mother and daughter driving down the road in a car

Summer's here! You may be yearning to experience new terrain, fresh sights and the thrill of the open road. Whether it's a weekend escape or an epic drive across the country, how can the budget-minded traveler embark on the ultimate road trip? Here are six savvy tips for cheap road trips so you can explore off the beaten path.

Strategize Pit Stops

When mapping out cheap road trips, figure out where the least expensive gas is and fill up your tank accordingly. While gas prices are the lowest they've been since 2005, saving money at the pump will help free up dough to spend elsewhere. Free apps like GasBuddy help you discover where gas is the cheapest. And use a trip planning tool, such as RoadTrippers or Waze, to figure out the shortest route between two stops, which could also save you money.

Experience Regional Fare

Skip pricey, hyped-up eating establishments and try out regional cuisine. Hand-cut fries with garlic aioli are about the same anywhere. You'll experience a more authentic culinary experience if you opt for restaurants that feature foods specific to the area. Plus, it's a chance to meet local residents and experience the culture.

If you're passing through New Orleans, for instance, try a cup of gumbo or jambalaya. Or if you're traveling along the Eastern Seaboard, order some cannolis or quahogs, a type of native clam. Chances are you'll be able to order regional fare at a number of places, so you can opt to eat both inexpensively and authentically.

Pack Snacks

Stop by supermarkets along the way to stock up on snacks. That way you won't be prone to buying marked-up snacks and beverages at pit stops. You can even bring along a cooler and fill it with drinks and munchies best served chilled.

Check Out Low-Cost Fun

While traveling, look for opportunities for free fun, such as museums, parks and botanical gardens near your planned stops. As you'll be road tripping in the summer, scour local listings for free concerts, outdoor movies and plays. During warm months, larger cities often host free cultural events throughout the week. Plan accordingly and you may be able to catch a free concert at Millennium Park in Chicago or an outdoor movie screening in Los Angeles.

Go On an Atlas Obscura Trip

Discover hidden locales through popular websites such as Atlas Obscura, which features over 11,000 global sights plotted on an interactive map. From ghost towns to architectural oddities and natural wonders, there's no shortage of what you can see. While not all of these sights may be free, you can search ahead of time or download the Field Trip app to see which sights are no- or low-cost. On top of saving you money, lesser-known attractions won't be as crowded as touristy ones.

Stay in Less Frequented Destinations

Although your road trip may be a mix of popular destinations and more obscure, less-popular locales, consider staying the night in places that are off the beaten track. For instance, if one of your stops is Los Angeles, where the average cost of a one-night stay in a standard hotel is $225, it's a wise move to stay in a more affordable area nearby. If Magic Mountain is on your list, try staying in Santa Clarita. Want to hit the beach? El Segundo may be just the ticket.

You can also stay in an Airbnb or scour discount travel websites to net a good deal. If you're outdoorsy, consider camping out at national parks or other campgrounds.

Hopping in your car for excitement and adventure doesn't have to be costly. With a bit of planning and clever strategizing, you can enjoy road trips that are cheap and fun.

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