We are getting ready to head out on our yearly family road trip to Texas and Oklahoma. Each summer we load our three children into the mini-van and take off on a two-day trip halfway across the country. And, I love it. We’ve learned How to Enjoy a Road Trip with Our Children. I enjoy the time we get to spend together, eating picnic lunches and playing, and listening to new audiobooks or podcasts. Road trips can be a fun time.
However, road trips can also be expensive. There’s food, lodging, gas, and entertainment to consider. With the rising cost of nearly everything now, travel just isn’t cheap.
How to Plan a Frugal Family Road Trip
1. Pack a Cooler with Drinks and Snacks
We always bring along a cooler filled with drinks and snacks. It’s amazing to me that I can buy a six pack of juices at the grocery store for less than $4, but purchasing one juice from the gas station costs nearly $3. Save the money and bring it yourself! In our cooler we typically have: juices, water, yogurt, string cheese, hard boiled eggs, and fruit. We also have a bag filled with snacks that don’t need to be refrigerated like crackers, homemade cookies, etc.
2. Pack a Lunch and Picnic
Our cooler is also filled with items for lunches at roadside rest stops and parks. Each year I print off a list of all of the rest stops on our planned route. (Just Google “I-40 westbound rest stops in Tennessee” or wherever you are going. You can find the amenities at each and the exit number.) I keep this list in the glove box so that I can check it when we are getting close to lunch time. We enjoy a leisurely picnic lunch to take a break from driving in the middle of the day. Our kids love being able to run around and play at the stop, plus we save a lot of money.
Our favorites for lunches include: peanut butter and jelly, lunch meat sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, and fried chicken from the grocery store. Don’t forget to bring along a few napkins and paper plates! Our typical lunches cost less than $10 for the whole family. If we were to eat at a fast food restaurant along the way, we would easily spend twice that amount.
3. Strategically Choose Lodging
If you need to spend a night on the road, there are many frugal options available. Perhaps you have a friend or family member that you could spend the night with. Maybe you enjoy camping and want to bring the tent along. There are also a number of motel options in a reasonable price range.
Because we have three very young children and typically drive late into the night, we have decided not to camp. We hope to start this when our kids are a little older. For now, we stay in hotels. We are fairly picky, though. (I could tell you some horror stories of cheap motels!) So we generally stay in mid-range hotels with good reputations. We make sure that the hotel has a plentiful hot breakfast. We also use Ebates when we reserve our room–this way we get cash back on our purchase. Last year we got $30 back on our hotel purchase simply by going through Ebates first! (If you are unfamiliar with Ebates, make sure to check out my post here. You’ll learn how to get cash back on purchases you were going to make anyway!)
4. Maintain your Car
When you are on the road, the car becomes your whole world. Make sure that it is maintained well. We always get an oil change and have our mechanic do a thorough look-over for us. This year he found something relatively small that needed to be fixed. I would much rather have him fix it for us here than end up on the side of the road or forced to pay a high price from someone that we don’t know. Also, by keeping on top of your car’s maintenance, changing and checking the oil, and checking your tire pressure, you will get better gas mileage.
5. Simple Entertainment
When faced with the thought of hours upon hours in the car with your children, it can be tempting to buy them a lot of entertainment in the form of toys, electronics, etc. However, fun does not have to be expensive. Try:
-Listening to audiobooks downloaded for free or checked out from your library. (Psst. You can have a 30 day FREE trial of Audible if you click this link. You can download two books for free!)
-Reading a series out loud together.
-Bringing along non-messy art supplies. We like sticker books and Magna Doodles for mess-free fun.
-Playing games like the license plate game or 20 questions.
-Leting your kids ask you questions about your childhood.
-Turning on the radio to sing ridiculously loudly together.
-Writing actual letters and postcards to family members.
-Listening to a podcast. We, being the nerd family that we are, all love to listen to Prairie Home Companion. Here are some other Podcasts You Will Love.
If you plan ahead, going on a road trip does not have to break the bank. You can have fun and make memories on a frugal family vacation.
How do you save money on road trips?
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