Learn how to plan an inexpensive weekend road trip with only a few simple steps!
A few times a year I try to get away and visit my sister up in Brooklyn, New York.
It’s simple because I can hop on Megabus for less than thirty dollars round-trip and then mindlessly ride into Manhattan without the hassle of traffic, tolls and paying attention. I get a lot of reading done! Or napping…
Recently, though, my sister and I decided it would be fun to go somewhere together instead.
We have limited budgets (and time), so we have to be strategic with all the components that would go into a road trip. That makes it trickier in some ways, of course, but we’ve found once we have parameters in place for what we want to do and when, the actual search is fun.
Each road trip is for four days and three nights, generally a Saturday through Tuesday. We find that’s enough time to wind down from the drive, have a day to explore and do things, as well as have time to put our feet up and veg before we need to head home.
Here’s what we talk through to plan an inexpensive weekend road trip:
I live in central Maryland and my sister lives in Brooklyn, New York, about four (or so) hours away. We want to find places to visit that are within a few hours’ drive of either location.
Then, if the spot is up north I’ll drive up to her place, spend the night and we’ll head out the next morning. If the location ends up being south of Maryland, then vice-versa.
Somewhere in-between, say Pennsylvania, and we’d just plan to meet there in the middle.
We also talk about the types of towns we want to visit, based upon the goal of feeling rested at the end. Even though we both enjoy bigger cities, we focus quaint smaller towns. The East Coast is ripe with those, so we’re lucky!
In order to keep to a tight budget, and to stay somewhere with a kitchen and some character, we tend to find lodging via Airbnb instead of finding a hotel.
For example, we found a super cute cabin in Wells, NY, for our trip to the Adirondacks with two bedrooms and a full kitchen. The hosts were charming, the space was new and cozy, and it was just the right size for the two of us.
And, because we have a little space to stretch out with a small house or an apartment (as compared to a hotel room), we’re able to spend time relaxing inside, which also helps save money … by doing things like cooking in, watching a movie and putting together jigsaw puzzles.
As mentioned earlier, eating at the house for at least one or two meals a day is one of the ways we save money on our weekend trips. Cooking happens to be something we both enjoy, so it’s a fun for us, rather than a burden.
We decide what recipes we want to make before the trip, and then pull pantry items from our own houses to bring, and stop at the grocery store on the way to our destination to pick up perishables.
If you’re not into cooking, you can always pick up some ready-made meals that only need to be reheated, and that’ll help too.
Even though we enjoy cooking, we also like to eat out! Like, a lot.
We’re smart about it, though. We try and find “cheap eats” that look yummy and also speak to the local vibe (rather than, say, traditional fast food).
Take New York City, for example. It’s easy to spend a fortune eating out, but you don’t don’t have to do that in order to enjoy great food!
It’s not as simple outside the city to find affordable (and good) restaurant options—including those that fit the budget—on the fly. We have to plan in advance by scoping out the area.
So, we always take a look within an hour’s drive or less from where we’re staying to ensure there’s a variety from which to choose. There are a ton of resources online to help sort out those places to stop, including Yelp, tourism sites and local bloggers.
We plan to stop somewhere interesting along the way there, and we also figure out a breakfast, lunch or dinner out each day for once we’re at our spot for the weekend.
Surrounding small towns make for great little day trips, too, which is why being in close proximity to a quaint downtown with restaurants and storefronts is important to us.
We also like to get out and explore beyond just eating and window shopping!
For example, when we visited the Adirondacks, we stopped in a cidery, walked around and ate lunch in Woodstock, spent time driving around Wells and other little towns taking photos (the scenery was breathtaking since it had just snowed), and there were great trails for hiking.
On that trip, we weren’t looking for anything too extreme given our relaxation goal, but we did want to get out and appreciate the landscape around us, including checking out the views from the fire tower at the summit of the Hadley Mountain trail.
(WORTH IT, despite the actual hike up being more taxing than planned, thanks to the unexpected November snow.)
Besides getting out to explore our surroundings, my sister and I also plan for slower days where we don face masks, work on puzzles, watch a movie, and—gasp! —maybe not even leave the house.
It feels weird planning a “do nothing” day, but because our nature is so on-the-go we need that reminder for ourselves.
Movies, reading, pedicures, going on tours, museums—possibilities are endless for simple ways to enjoy downtime during your weekend road trip, especially if you do a little research ahead of time!
We find there’s a sweet spot of not having too many things scheduled (without anyone else but us to think about, it feels like a luxury to not worry about start or stop times), and making sure some decisions and plans are made in advance.
You can read more about our first wintry weekend away in the Adirondacks to find out what a small town getaway looks like.