Our “Frugal” Road Trip

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Mt. Rushmore

This past weekend my husband and I spent a long weekend in the Black Hills. This was something that we was on our fall bucket list. I enjoyed visiting the Black Hills much more than I thought I would. It’s absolutely beautiful. There’s a constant breeze rolling through the hills and the air smells like pine trees.  It’s such a peaceful place. I think its the perfect place for someone looking to unplug a bit and relax..on a budget. If you’re ever within driving distance, I highly recommend making a trip out there. There are tons of things to do in the Black Hills including hiking, museums and historical sights.

How Much We Spent On Our Road Trip

We really wanted to go on a cheap vacation this fall and keep the whole trip under $500. This included gas, food, lodging and entertainment. Here’s what we did:

Hotel $704 $0

We did a great job on hotel expenses. We paid for our hotel with credit card reward points. This was the first time I ever used credit card reward points to pay for something. I must say, I’m really liking this! Using credit card rewards is a great way to save money on a vacation.

If you don’t have rewards points you are still in luck. There are several campgrounds in the area. From what I’ve seen, most places charge less than $30/day for a spot. That’s a great price if you dig camping.

Gas $168

No real way of getting around this expense as we were on a road trip after all. Gas adds up quickly.

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Black Hills

Food $238

This is the place where my husband and I let go of our frugal inhibitions. I made a conscious decision to stop ordering the cheapest/most reasonably priced item on the menu (like I usually do) and instead order what I wanted. One night that even included a steak : ) It was delicious and felt like a total treat. We also ordered desserts and appetizers which is something we normally avoid. Sorry, not sorry!

Entertainment $174

We had a lot of fun checking out the local attractions. A few of our favorite activities included taking a train ride through the hills and visiting the Badlands National Park. Other fun things we did included touring an old gold mine and of course visiting Mt. Rushmore.

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Train Ride

We did find a few free activities in the Black hills:

1) The Museum of Geology in Rapid City. This museum is  all about the Badlands and fossils. We loved it. They had tons of artifacts and really interesting exhibits.

2) The Annual buffalo roundup at Custer State Park – Every year the park rounds up all the buffalo in the park (approximately 1,200 buffalo!) They do this to count, vaccinate and sell (some) of the buffalo. It was really amazing to see the cowboys and cowgirls race down the prairie on horses and round up that giant herd. It was almost like the scene out of a movie. You can see a clip here.

Dog Sitter $100

My sister was kind enough to watch Ruby and pick up our mail each day while we were gone. Taking Ruby to the kennel would have easily been double the price and Ruby hates going there. Ruby is much happier and spending time with her Aunt.

In total, we spent $680 for a 5-day/4-night vacation.

Not bad really. We went over our budget goal of $500 but that’s okay. Of course we could have done it for less. We could have purchased a few groceries for lunch and dinner to cut down on food expenses but I guess you live and learn. I don’t regret what we spent. We had a great trip and it was relatively inexpensive.

**If you’re considering a trip to the Black Hills, I definitely have a few restaurant and attraction suggestions. Feel free to contact me!**

Have you taken a road trip before? What’s your favorite route? How much do you usually spend? How do you save money on a road trip?


  1. I went to the Black Hills when I was 12. These pictures brought back some memories!!
    Splurging on food is my favorite! 😉
    Kara recently posted…Goal Progress – September RecapMy Profile

  2. $680 for 5 days is not bad at all. I’ve been wanting to go there, but it wouldn’t be a frugal trip for us since we’re all the way in NJ. I’m glad you liked it.
    Aldo recently posted…Our Trip To Philly – Part TwoMy Profile

  3. It sounds like a lovely place! It’s great you decided to let loose a little and order what you wanted. I’m also in the habit of ordering the cheaper things on the menu. All that matters is that you have no regrets and had a great time!
    Erin @ Journey to Saving recently posted…September Budget ReviewMy Profile

  4. How fun! You have no idea how insanely jealous you made me with the comment of the smell of fresh air and pine trees. That sounds so nice. I’d say you had one hell of a frugal trip. I haven’t been on a road trip in forever so now you got me itching to go on one. I’ve always wanted to do one from here an go to some of the national parks in utah.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…BATB TV: Tips to Save MoneyMy Profile

  5. I’m definitely not within driving distance, but it looks like a great place to visit. We have the big life goal of visiting all 58 national parks in our lifetime, so we’ll hopefully make it out there at some point. And $680 is not bad for 5 days – our last road trip was just over $1,000 for the same amount of time and we only had once nice meal. Nice job on using your points!
    Autumn @ The Barefoot Budgeter recently posted…September RecapMy Profile

  6. Sounds like so much fun. Congrats on your first travel hack 😉 So funny you mention ordering the cheapest thing on the menu…I do that too! I also try to let go a bit on vacation. Thanks for the fun recap. It doesn’t help with my perpetual wanderlust though!
    Melanie @ Dear Debt recently posted…You Don’t Live Here AnymoreMy Profile

  7. You guys did a terrific job, Liz – super frugal!!! My mom and I took the kids there 7 years ago when they were real little, but Rick and I want to take them back there next year. I’d love to hear any suggestions you have on this…….
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…Smoky Chipotle SalsaMy Profile

  8. This looks like SO much fun! I love road trips for keeping things frugal because you can pack food and drinks to keep costs low. Hubby and I recently went on one to Maine and had a great time. We borrowed a book on CD from the library that was free and perfect for the car entertainment. Congrats on your hotel costs! The credit card churning definitely saved you a bunch of money.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Top Ten Cheap Entertaining HacksMy Profile

  9. It seems like Black Hills is an awesome place to visit. I’m gonna check if it’s possible to visit as soon as possible. Not only the place but also the small expenses make me really so excited.
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  10. Sounds like you guys had a lot of fun out there. Spending $680 for 5 days was incredible too. I am getting inspired by you being so frugal.
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  11. Road trips are my absolute favorite! We took a long 21 day road trip two years ago down through California and across Nevada to the Grand Canyon and up through Utah and Zion National Park. Oh my! It was the best ever! You are super lucky to live so close to Mt. Rushmore! We were able to visit one year on our way to see the hubbies family. It was so hot the kids just wanted to get back in the car. Lol! I can see how you could spend a lot of time there! I have to say we let loose on vacations. We try to be wise with our money the rest of the time;0)