How Family Road Trips Can Be Done on the Cheap

Want to take a cheaper family vacation? Try driving your car, packing your own food or camping to save money.
Want to take a cheaper family vacation? Try driving your car, packing your own food or camping to save money.
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When it comes time to pack up the Family Truckster for a road trip, you should set your sights on having a good time, not worrying about your trip's financial tally. You can save a lot of money by finding alternative transportation to air travel, which also has its other headaches. But road trips aren't cheap, either, when you factor in the high fuel costs and wear and tear on your vehicle. Don't forget hotels, tolls, meals and the cost of the fun things you have planned. By the time you get home, your cranky, road-weary family could have racked up a huge credit card bill. Here are a few tips to help you save a little cash on your next trip.

Smart Food

Food costs can add up quickly on a road trip. Don't think you can eat packed sandwiches from a cooler every day either, because you'll get sick of them eventually and find yourself eating out at every meal. The key is to mix it up. Research the restaurants of towns you'll be visiting or driving through, and seek out inexpensive cafes and delis to avoid having to live on fast food. Couple these great local finds with a mix of packed lunches and breakfasts on the go, and you'll definitely see some savings. Keep plenty of snacks on hand to make sure you're all not starving when you arrive at your location. Be sure to get them from a grocery store instead of a convenience store, because you will pay extra for the convenience.

The Internet has tons of Web sites that offer discounted meals through an easy download to your smart phone. Think of it as an e-coupon of sorts. Typically, these deals are based around a city, so scope out online deals in the areas you'll be visiting and take advantage of the savings they offer. Groupon.com and Scoutmob.com are two sites with lots of great deals. If you're traveling with youngsters, look out for restaurants that offer discounts (or even free meals) on certain nights to kids under 12.

Low-cost Lodging

The first thing you'll probably hear when it comes to saving some bucks on road trip lodging is "go camping!" But not all families are into the outdoors, and you're just asking for bad attitudes if you go Clark Griswold and try to force them into it. If your husband and kids are nature challenged, then a hotel will probably be more to more to their liking. Roadside motels usually have great rates, but if your family refuses to camp, they may also boycott the meager accommodations of a roach motel.

Just like with meals, planning for your hotel stays is a must. Plot your stops ahead of time and try to stick to that schedule. Once you know your stayover points, use the Internet to find discounted deals. You might also want to consider joining AAA, which offers savings on pretty much all hotels in the country and a roadside assistance policy that can be helpful in a pinch.

Sometimes a suite is less expensive for a family than getting separate rooms for the kids and parents, or if you really want to save a buck, ask for rollaway beds and have a good old-fashioned slumber party in the same room. And last but not least, home stays are as cheap as it gets, so don't be afraid to call up that third cousin from Topeka who you haven't seen in 10 years.

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Sources

  • "Frugal Road Trip Tips." Planning-Fun-Road-Trips.com. March 26, 2010. (Sept. 8, 2010)http://www.planning-fun-road-trips.com/frugal-road-trip.html
  • Schaller, Bob and Geneviève Lauzière. "The Art of the Cheap Road Trip." RoadTrip America. 2010. (Sept. 8, 2010)http://www.roadtripamerica.com/travelplanning/cheap-road-trips.htm
  • Smith, Laurel. "Stretch Your Dollar on the Road." MomsMinivan.com. 2010. (Sept. 8, 2010)http://www.momsminivan.com/savemoney.html