A great road trip can offer your family memories for years to come, but sometimes it’s difficult to carve out enough time or save enough money to getaway.
What if I told you road trips don’t need to be as costly as you may think? Last fall, my family of five embarked on a 10-day, 5,000+ mile road trip from our home in Ohio to the Coast of California and back. It was an amazing trip filled with many amazing memories (and a few not so great ones that we’ll laugh about in a few years), a trip that had my husband and I asking ourselves “ Why didn’t we ever consider a trip like this before?” You know what had always held us back? Money.
We didn’t think we could afford to make that trip and honestly, there were years when we couldn’t have, but there were other years when we could have. Years we could have spent traveling, if only we hadn’t thought it would be too expensive. Our entire road trip last year cost us just over $2,500. And that included a 10-day rental that ate up nearly $600 of that budget for the ten days.
I think we did a pretty good job, but you know what I learned? We could have done better. That’s right. We could have spent even less. Today I’ll share some of my money saving ideas with you.
Practical Tips to Save Money on your Next Road Trip
I’m a firm believer that a penny saved here and a penny saved there add up to big savings and one of the biggest areas that those pennies add up to dollars is gas. Fuel was our #1 expense on this trip. So how do you save money on gas?
Practical Tips to Save Money on Gas
1. Download the GasBuddy app.
You no longer need to stop for gas, fill up only to cringe when you pass the next exit on the interstate and realize that gas is .05 cents cheaper a gallon. With the GasBuddy app, you can find the cheapest place along your route to get gas before you stop.
2. Utilize fuel points.
Does your favorite grocery store offer rewards in the form of fuel points? Kroger does. A percentage of what I spend each month rolls over to fuel points saving me .10, .20 cents, even $1.00 off per gallon of gas. You can’t store your fuel points up, and they aren’t accepted at all locations, but if you can save .50 cents or more on a fill-up to get you started on your road trip, that’s a few bucks you can use towards something else.
3. Put your warehouse store membership to use.
I’ve found that the warehouse memberships offer more than food savings. When you travel check prices at your Costco or Sam’s Club Fuel Centers- many times you’ll see a substantial savings.
Practical Tips to Save Money on Hotels
Saving money on hotels is kind of like a game. Sometimes it pays to book ahead, sometimes it pays to wait, but you don’t need to leave it entirely to chance.
1. Book in advance.
If you think you find a great deal on a hotel, book it. Most hotels don’t charge your credit card until you arrive at the hotel and as long as you pay close attention to the cancellation policy of the hotel, you can book and continue to look for a better deal. If you find one, cancel your original reservation.
2. Use your rewards points and be mindful of promotions.
While my family typically stays at one of two hotel chains, Choice Hotels or La Quinta hotels, I have rewards cards for nearly every chain there is and I get email alerts from them, taking note of any promotions that they offer. If one hotel chain is offering a free night after two separate stays, it’s easy to plan to work stays at that chain into my plans. Even though I didn’t book in advance on our road trip to California and back, I did manage to save 10- 15% off our rooms on our road trip by booking online with my membership card.
3. Use hotel coupon books, Groupon or HotelCoupons.com for last minute deals.
You can’t typically book these hotels in advance for the coupon rate, but you can call the hotel to verify the rate and make sure they have rooms. I use coupons many times when my family travel.
Practical Tips to Save Money on Food
Food is expensive, especially when you travel, but it doesn’t need to be.
1. Stay at a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast.
I’m not a big breakfast eater, but my family is. I ALWAYS stay at a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast, and I’m not talking donuts and watered down juice. Nope. I stay at hotels that offer hot breakfast foods in addition to cold cereals and breakfast breads. And while I’m not a fan of raiding the hotel for snacks to take on the road, I have been known to grab a piece of fruit for a mid-morning snack.
2. Pack lots of snacks.
I recently drove from Ohio to Orlando with three teen girls. We ate breakfast at our hotel, packed a ton of healthy snacks and stopped once a day for a good sit down meal at a restaurant that was new to us. We packed grapes, oranges, apples, almonds, sunflower seeds, cheese sticks, peanut butter and Kashi granola bars (my favorite). We didn’t pack junk, and we divided the snacks into serving sizes so we weren’t mindly driving and overeating.
3. Save money with Restaurant.com.
I regularly purchase gift certificates from Restaurant.com when they are on sale for a couple bucks and save them to use when my family is traveling. With the Restaurant.com app, I can easily find participating restaurants in our current location and save $10- 15 off a pizza for my family (my typical meal of choice when traveling with my teens).
Practical Tips to Save Money on Entertainment
When my family traveled to California from Ohio, we spent less than $100 on entertainment. And I have teenagers! You may wonder how on earth that is possible. I taught my kids early that FREE is good. That doesn’t mean that we never splurge, come on, we’ve been to Walt Disney World, several times. It just means that before we spend money on an attraction, we discuss it to make sure it’s somewhere that we want to visit.
1. Download the Roadside America app.
Roadside Attractions are a hoot. I’m a huge fan of quirky and unusual and depending on the attraction, my family is too. Many roadside attractions are free or very low-cost so adding a few stops to your route can stretch your travel budget.
2. Plan to visit state or national parks.
Many state parks offer free admission as well as many national parks. Plus, an annual National Parks pass will cost you around $80 for the year and goes towards supporting our national parks.
3. Buy an Entertainment Book before your travel.
If you’re planning to spend the bulk of your trip in one location, consider buying an Entertainment Book to save money not only on entertainment but also on food and lodging.
More Money Saving Tips:
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