Five Tips For Planning a Family Road Trip on a Budget

4 years ago

March in our house means one thing: spring break! Okay, make that two things: spring break and road trip!

Even with a family of five, we make sure that we take at least two family vacations a year. But with a family our size, we know this means that most, if not all, of the travel we do will be by car and not by plane. It’s just not practical for us to buy five airline tickets while also paying for hotel, food, and everything else involved in a fun vacation. The hubs and I enjoy ourselves much more when we know our vacation is budget friendly.

With spring break fast approaching and three elementary-age kids eager to be entertained, I found myself quickly planning something for us to do this year.

Last summer, we drove 16 hours to New York City for BlogHer ’12. It worked out great for us because we were able to kill two birds with one stone – a work trip for Mommy, and a family trip for everyone else.

We cleared our calendars for eight days and packed up the car. We had such a great time driving up and down the East Coast and saw much more than what we would have seen on a plane, at an affordable price. It only makes sense for us to do something similar for spring break this year. If everything works out as planned, we’ll be heading to Tennessee to spend a few days in the mountains. We’re just so excited and crossing fingers!

With that in mind, here are my tips for planning a family road trip on a budget.

1) Don’t blow your budget on food. Instead, pack plenty of food and snacks, and then stock up along the way at grocery stores, not the gas station mini-mart. I make fresh sandwiches, fruit salads, and divide up baggies of sweet or salty snacks for the kids. I pack a cooler with fresh food, juice boxes, and water. We usually do breakfast where we sleep. By the time dinner rolls around, we’re okay with enjoying a nice, hot meal somewhere family-friendly.

2) Plan the big details early and hunt for online savings on hotel, theme park tickets, tours, etc. You can save a ton of money just by booking online and off-site. Always check the web for deals and packages, or ask friends for a promo code. I usually save at least 20 percent just with a promo code.

3) If you can, plan a road trip with a route that includes friends or family along the way, and stay at their homes. We broke our 16-hour trip from Florida to New York into three legs. We drove eight hours and stopped outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina. We saved money by getting a hotel outside of the city. We toured the city that evening and returned to our hotel. We took advantage of free breakfast in the morning. Then we drove another four hours to D.C. and stayed two days with family.

4) Find some free entertainment at your destination. You don’t have to pay for everything. If your hotel has a pool, spend the day there rather than paying for an entry fee somewhere else. You can also check local papers for community events and happenings. Most are free or have nominal fees. Museums are also great. If your kids want more of an adventure, you may have to be a little more creative.

5) Let your car save you money. Make sure your tires are in good shape and not running low, as this can cause you to drain more fuel. Avoid traffic so that you are driving at a constant speed. And if you can, open the windows and enjoy the fresh air. With gas prices going up, fuel can really have an impact on your road trip budget. The more you can do to save on gas, the more you will save.

What are your tips for a family road-trip on a budget?

This post is part of BlogHer's Family Fun on Four Wheels editorial series, made possible my Mazda CX-9.

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