24 practical ways to manage your expenses whilst on a road trip!

Thanks to American Express for sponsoring this post

Motorhome driving dirt road in Queensland Australia in the rainforest

Is there anything better than popping your favourite track onto Spotify and heading off on a road trip to somewhere new? If you’re anything like us, the very thought of this will get you pumped to jump onto planning your next vacation! We all deserve some time for adventures, but we also know that sometimes the costs of planning a trip can quickly add up!


We have taken many, many road trips both domestically and internationally. Each time we prepare to make sure our costs don’t get out of control, while still making sure we have the best time possible!

We have put together a comprehensive list of practical tips that will help you make money-smart decisions on the road.


Prep and planning


Consider your costs

The first thing we do for every road trip (whether it’s a short road trip for a week, or for an extended period of time) is set a budget and do your very best stick to it!

Blonde girl eating gyoza in Brisbane Australia Harajuku

Some factors to think about are:

  • Accommodation – this might be campground fees if in your campervan/motorhome, or finding accommodation like hotels and/or self-contained places

  • Fuel – finding ways to ensure you’re getting the best deal on fuel and not paying more than you need to

  • Car hire (if renting)

  • Groceries – a good way to save on food costs

  • Eating out - your luxuries like coffee, restaurants, bars

  • Activities – these include low-cost and more splurge-worthy activities

  • Miscellaneous costs – such as trips to the pharmacy, parking costs, tolls, etc.

  • The boring stuff – big cost items like car insurance, phone insurance, camera costs, etc

  • Emergency - medical/hospital cover and being prepared for unexpected costs like vehicle breakdowns.

We will dive deeper into each of these costs throughout this article.

Building skyline on the beach in Gold Coast, Queensland Australia
Gold Coast, Queensland Australia

Map your route in advance

We usually start this task by literally drawing a map and populating it with all the stops we want to make, which will help give us a general direction of route and what direction to go in.

This will help with planning accommodation along the way and also save the risk of needing to backtrack or missing out on places that you want to see.

Couple walking sunset on Currumbin beach, Queensland Australia

Packing

Put some thought into what kind of things you are going to want to take with you. Think about the kind of terrain will you be heading to and what kind of climates you are likely to experience, as this will help minimiz last-minute and more expensive clothing purchases on the road.

For example, if you are heading to the beach but then also heading into the mountains, you will want to take a mix of clothing to accommodate both climates! If you are travelling through a variety of climates, take smaller layers rather than heavy bulky items.


Making a list of smaller items you might need, like sunscreens and toiletries, also goes a long way!


Sign up to a good credit card

We have been long time Qantas American Express Ultimate Card Members, and have taken advantage of their awesome benefits many times whilst being on the road. We utilised the Plan It Instalments feature during our bus build (allowing us to pay off big purchases over time, with a fixed monthly fee and 0% interest). If you’re in the market for a new card, American Express’ new Cashback Credit Card is currently the highest uncapped Cashback earning credit card in Australia! And it comes with a heap of very handy benefits which can help you save on costs in a big way. That includes:

- 12-month access to Centr Fit (sign-up before Feb 2022) – no need for a gym membership, which we all know can get pretty expensive!

- A Binge BASIC subscription valued at $10/month – lots of relaxing movie nights under the stars

- Smartphone Screen Insurance, when you pay for your device outright or pay your monthly plan using your Card (exclusions, limits and 10% excess applies) – definitely handy when you’re exploring new terrains, climbing mountains, trekking through bushland.

Couple watching binge in a toyota coaster bus conversion

Having a good credit card also just makes sense for those unexpected costs that you may not necessarily be prepared for. We have found it’s always better to be prepared for the unexpected, which is why we love Plan It Instalments!


Have checks done before you leave

If you’re taking your own car/campervan we would recommend having checks done while you are still at home. Having a routine service done (and picking up any issues) before you head off on your trip can save you a potentially much bigger bill if you get stuck in a more remote location. No one wants mechanical headaches while on the road, especially if it is possible to avoid with a quicker and better-planned trip to your local mechanic.


Book accommodation early

If you have a route mapped out, this will be an easier task. We appreciate you may want to maintain some flexibility on your trip, but even if you have a few places booked and leave some unbooked until a little closer to the time, you’re likely to save a few $$, plus you have more options to choose from.

Travelling in a campervan will be easier as your accommodation is travelling with you, so all you need to do is find a campsite. Similar to booking hotel accommodation, some campsites offer a discount for earlier bookings.

Couple sitting outside a cabin in the rainforest in Byron Bay Australia

Think about your Bucketlist

After all, this is the reason you are going on a road trip right! Of course, you should totally have bucketlist... in saying that, you might find yourself considering doing a random tour that looks fun, but that you could actually do in a million other places, and potentially cheaper.

You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this activity something I really want to do?

  • Is this location/area the best place to do this activity?

  • Will I be super sad if I don’t do this activity?

If you’re answer is yes to all these questions… then go ahead and enjoy!

Pod of dolphins swimming in Australia ocean

Pre-book activities

There may be a number of activities on the route that you know you 100% want to do. There are often discounts online if you pre-book, it is also always worth doing a quick google search on any promo codes or referral codes to save some $$ that you may not get if you turn up on the day.

If you’re an American Express Card Member it’s also worth checking out the ‘Offers’ section of the Amex App as there are sometimes offers for tourism operators available, which can help you snag a great deal. Pre-booking will often also save you queuing for ages at the ticket booth.


On the Road


Loyalty

This can be applied to many aspects including things like

  • Credit card – in our opinion, it makes sense to stay loyal to one credit card company where you can build up points or earn cashback. The American Express Cashback Card gives you up to 1% Cashback per $1 spent – so you’re basically getting rewarded for money you’re going to spend anyway! You can also receive a bonus 1.5% Cashback when you save the Shop Small Offer to your Card and spend at participating Shop Small businesses (up to $200 Cashback. Ends 31 March 2022).

  • Hotel bookings – We often utilise certain hotel price comparison websites such as booking.com where we have now achieved a status that we receive 10-15% all of our hotel bookings

  • Grocery shopping – if you shop at one supermarket you can often earn points which will go towards your next shopping. If shopping at Coles or Woolworths, you will also sometimes receive petrol discount coupons for their affiliated petrol stations.


Pick up the brochures

Check out those destination brochures you see lying around on tables of hotels, restaurants and cafes and tourist information centres. They are often packed full of coupons and discounts for visiting attractions and restaurants!


Find those free activities

Not everything you do will need to cost money! Enjoy the free things too like enjoying a day at the beach, going for a hike in a national park, go waterfall hunting, take a wander around the local towns, check out free museums and art galleries, find some cool rockpools to take a dip in!


You don’t need to skimp on things you enjoy

Instead of buying a coffee every day, take a French press! You can pick up some seriously good coffee beans from the supermarket or local cafés these days. Plus you’re guaranteed some of the best coffee views in Australia when the back doors of the campervan are open.


Stay hydrated and save the world at the same time

Ok, you might not be saving the world, but you’ll certainly do things to reduce your footprint. Carry your reusable water bottle or coffee cup with you and fill up when you can. If you need to carry extra water with you, trying to pick up a reusable container that saves you having to keep buying individual bottles of water.

Hands holding a cappucino coffee

Avoid toll roads if possible

You’ll quite often have the opportunity of multiple routes to a destination, there is an option to ‘avoid toll roads’ if you are trying to cut these costs down. You are usually blessed with it being a scenic route too!

Girl walking alone at sunset on Currumbin beach in Queensland Australia

Move slower

After all, isn’t this the reason we love a road trip? Take the slow road and hang out for a while in one spot if you have the time. It will not only help save on gas, but also on random and unplanned purchases.


Food planning


Do a lunch instead of dinner

Thinking about enjoying afternoon out? It is usually easier to find a good deal at lunchtime in comparison to dinner time. It is also usually a lot more tempting to buy a cheeky wine at dinner time than at lunch, which could also save further $$. If you do buy an alcoholic drink, you’ll also find happy hours start earlier in the afternoon.


Sharing is caring

Rather than buying two treats, buy one and share with your travel buddy!


Find local deals

Places such as RSL’s or similar will become your best friend for a cheap feed if you want a break from cooking for yourself. These kinds of eateries usually have a daily special that will help make your money go further, often mixed with some live music and a good crowd it can be a great afternoon/evening out in a new place!


Eat out on a weekday

It will generally be cheaper to eat out mid-week than on the weekend. A quick search online will help you find any daily discounts in the local area.

Eat Street Northshore, Brisbane Queensland
Eat Street Northshore, Brisbane Queensland

Avoid gas stations

Do a big grocery shop and avoid buying food at gas stations. It is overpriced and usually really not great anyway! Your waistline and wallet will thank you for packing some healthier and tastier snacks.


Closing time deals

We love sushi and try to head to sushi eateries towards the end of the day, so we can pick up anything they haven’t been able to sell over the course of the day, often with a big discount. This isn’t just the case for sushi, lots of cafes do this too with fresh bakery goods, bread and salads.


Snacks, snacks, snacks

Stock up on items such as nuts, fruits, or pre-make some sandwiches and make a stop somewhere scenic for lunch on the go. This will also come in handy when you’re on top of that mountain (and there is no café waiting for you at the top!)


Picnics are the new way to dine

Who said picnics can’t be fancy! Our new favourite way to enjoy a new place is to pull out a rug and set up a spread. Soak up the scenery and enjoy some homemade food, team it with a couple beers and enjoy. Idyllic!

Drinking wine at sunset on roof top deck looking out to the ocean in Australia

Download helpful apps


Download apps that will make life easier and more fun while you are on the road.


Our top 5 favourites are:

  • Campermate which assists with finding low-cost or even free campgrounds, free water, toilets, and event points of interest

  • Fuel Australia will help search for the best pricing on fuel when travelling through Australia

  • Wikicamps is similar to Campermate but will sometimes show different campgrounds so it is worth using both interchangeably

  • Google Maps just makes life easier, helps select best routes and keeps you up to date with any traffic changes

  • Amex App to help keep track of your spending, set-up Plan It Instalments plans and access Amex Offers while on the road

  • Spotify because who wants to road trip without your favourite tunes!

Was this helpful? Let us know!


Get a card that will cover the cost of your trip and help plan for your future adventures too. American Express’ Cashback Card allows you to plan for all the expected and unexpected expenses that can come up during your trip.


Cards are offered, issued, and administered by American Express Australia Limited ABN 92 108 952 085, Australian Credit Licence No. 291313.

All Card features and benefits mentioned throughout this blog are subject to Terms, Conditions and Exclusions. To find out more, click here.


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