7 Simple Ways to Save Money on Family Road Trips
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Love them or hate them, family road trips are a classic summer rite of passage. I grew up taking road trips regularly and do so now with the little Frugal Rules.’ In fact, one of my favorite vacations was a near 3,500 round trip vacation we took last year as we drove from Omaha to San Diego. Yes, there were cries of “How long ‘til we get there?” but it was also a blast to have that quality time together as a family.
Road trips with kids can be fun, but they can also be expensive. They don’t have to be though; they can be quite frugal if you work it the right way. If taking to the road this summer is in the cards for you, then some of these tips to save money on road trips should help out.
Plan it Out
I’m a planner by nature and going on a road trip brings out my inner organizer. There are a variety of things to think of, such as:
- Where will you stop for gas?
- Will you be going through areas that don’t have gas stations?
- What kind of gas mileage are you getting?
- Do you have enough cash for emergencies?
- What hotels will you stay in?
There are a variety of other things to consider, but planning out your road trip helps you save money. Make sure to take advantage of money saving websites to help reduce your travel related costs. You can use Expedia, for example, for your hotels to try and save money on lodging costs, among other things.
Prepare Your Car
Depending on the length of your road trip, you’ll need to make sure you have your car ready. The last thing you want to do is get into the trip and have your car break down as it’ll only add unexpected cost. Among the things to look at are:
- Are the tires properly inflated?
- Do you have a full tank of gas?
- Do you need to have it checked out by your mechanic prior? (Depending on the length of the road trip)
You want to make sure everything is working right with your car, and if in doubt, don’t write off renting a car. Yes, it adds cost, but it mitigates the wear and tear on your car. There are many ways to save money on renting a car, but we’ve actually found that renting through Costco gets us the cheapest price in nearly every instance.
Bringing your own food along is a tried and true road trip tip. Meals can get expensive – you can easily spend over $25 for a family to eat lunch at a fast food restaurant. Not only is that not very healthy, but it also adds up quickly.
To counter this, make sure you take plenty of snacks, water and lunch. We’ll even take a small cooler and throw some sandwich meat in there so we can make lunches on the way to save even more money.
Here are some coolers from Amazon you can buy to do the same thing and save money.
This way, you’re only needing to buy dinner each night (at most) and lowering the overall cost of your road trip.
Road trips with kids means one thing – keeping them entertained. This is where road trip games come into play. These help the time go by faster for the kids, but it also can keep you awake at the wheel. 😉 We’ve tried the Chat Pack for Kids card game with the kids and they love it.
For our San Diego trip last year, Mrs. Frugal Rules had read somewhere about taking surprise sacks on the road trip. We included things like healthy snacks, short books, trinkets and a few treats in each sack. Every 75 miles the kids got to pick something out of their sack. They absolutely loved it and it helped time pass by that much faster for them.
We also bought the Snack and Play Travel Tray from Amazon for our youngest. It attaches to the car seat and allows the child to have a tray to play on or eat from.
It was a great investment and he still uses it today. At the end of the day, the entertainment aspect makes it that much easier to avoid buying crap stuff you don’t need while on the road.
Set A Budget
Saving money on road trips comes down to one thing – knowing what you have to spend. As with anything, we budget what we have – we set a per day budget in fact.
Not only does this help you know what you’re working with each day but it also makes you question if you really want that souvenir.
If you know you’ll be traveling later in the year it might make sense to put money in a savings account strictly for the trip(s).
CIT Bank is a great option as they pay 1.55 percent (currently 22x the national average) and have just a $100 minimum balance.
Don’t Stay at a Hotel
Depending on the length of your road trip, you may need to stay somewhere a night or two while on your trek. Hotels, especially in some cities, can be quite expensive.
There are other options to consider. You can save money through renting a house or condo through VRBO. We’ve done this a number of times and always save a significant amount of money.
If your family enjoys spending time outdoors or in nature, you can also look at camping as a means to save money. If a hotel is your only real option, then make sure to check through someone like Costco for deals.
Family road trips mean one thing – making stops. Not only do they add time to the trip, but they can also add cost as you’re allowing yourself more opportunity to shop. Limiting stops may be more difficult when taking road trips with kids, but it can be done.
Make your stops count. Instead of making a bunch of shorter stops, consider reducing them and taking fewer, longer stops. Combine different things like getting gas, going to the grocery store for snacks and bathroom breaks all together and you’ll shave time and cost.
Family Road Trips Can Be Fun and Frugal
Family road trips can be fun. Yes, they can be a little nutty, but that’s half the fun of it. It’s good to know that you can have fun without spending a ton of money. With some simple planning and discipline, you can make the road trip cost effective and one to remember.
What do you like to do on road trips? What is the longest road trip you’ve ever taken? How do you save money on road trips?
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