The call of the open road — little is more fun and potentially more frustrating than a family road trip. Spending long periods of time cooped up with anyone, no matter how close you are, how amusing they are, and how much you love them, can cause tempers to flare out of control. Also, without proper planning, your spending can spin out of control.
One of the best ways to relieve a bit of the pressure is to ensure that you aren’t spending more than you need to. The following tips can help you save money on food, fuel, places to stay, and other things you are likely to face on the road.
Save on Accommodations
1. Drive Straight Through
When at all possible, try to drive straight through to your destination. This may mean getting up extremely early — like three or four in the morning. It may mean taking turns with other drivers in your party. One person can sleep while the other drives. However you work it out, driving through reduces the expenses associated with an extra night in a motel before reaching your target.
2. Stay With Family or Friends
Spending the nights at a friend’s house saves money in several ways. First, it removes the need to pay for hotel rooms. Second, it reduces the amount you will spend on food at restaurants. Third, you’ll spend less on laundry. Last, they can probably help you find inexpensive forms of entertainment. Bring a house gift, take them out to dinner, or offer to make a meal to compensate for their hospitality.
Most campgrounds cost much less than motels. Many provide different forms of entertainment, such as game rooms, or playgrounds. Also, cooking over a campfire or a grill is less expensive than eating “out.”
Save on Fuel
4. Plan Your Route
Use a GPS or MapQuest to plan out the most direct way to get where you are going. Keep those resources handy for ready reference during the drive. This ensures you don’t get lost. Having to backtrack or wander around uses a lot of fuel unnecessarily.
5. Increase Fuel Efficiency
There are several easy ways to get the most out of a tank of gas. First, check the air-pressure in your tires and make sure they are properly filled. Second, drive slower. It’ll take longer to get there, but you’ll actually use less fuel. Third, avoid rush hour. Fourth, pack lightly to reduce the weight and therefore the gas. Driving smartly takes less money.
Check online for the least expensive service station prices on your route. Then, plan to fill up when you get to them, even if you aren’t low. It’ll save you money in the long run. Gasbuddy.com has both a website and a mobile app.
Save on Food
7. Pack Food
It may seem obvious, but packing sufficient amounts of food for the trip keeps expensive impulse buys at the convenience store at bay. Make some sandwiches and bag some trail mix. Bring drinks from home. Pack food for meals on the go, as well as snacks. Twenty dollars in groceries goes a lot farther than twenty dollars at the drive-through.
8. Grill at a Park
Many state and local parks have barbecue grills available for public use. Just bring some premade hamburger patties or chicken fillets and you’re good to go.
Use online resources like Yelp to find inexpensive eateries on the way. You can obtain comparative pricing and customer reviews on which to base your decision. Additionally, some places post their menus, so you can even figure out your order before you arrive.
Save on Entertainment
10. State or Local Parks
Parks are a fantastic resource for so many things. Not only can you use it as a place to stay and a quick place for a meal, but also as a source of entertainment. Many provide playground equipment. Some have walking, running, and biking trails. Bring a Frisbee for some cheap entertainment.
Nearly every town has a museum of some sort. Pick a couple on your route and use these stops to break up your trip. If not everyone in your group likes the same things, let each member pick one museum with the agreement that everyone participates in each.
12. Road Games
Play games to make the trip seem faster. Some popular options include “Twenty Questions,” “Six Degrees of Separation,” or “Slug Bug,” but there are many others. You can make the most fidgety member of your group the “Game Captain” and let him or her choose what game is next. Or, place game names in a hat and take turns drawing for the next fun choice.
More Saving Tips
13. Budget the Trip
Plan everything out ahead of time. Determine where you are staying, where you are getting gas, what activities you will engage in and how much each of those cost. Set a certain amount for each day’s meals. Barring emergencies, stick as close to the budget as you can.
14. Journal Your Expenses
To help you adhere to the budget, document your spending. Keep a running total. This helps you refrain from mindlessly spending or “forgetting” charges. It also keeps you honest with yourself about your spending so you don’t go over your budget.
15. Use Cash
It is much more difficult to part with cash than to whip out the plastic. It also makes accounting for the total much easier than checking how much you spent with your credit cards while on the road. Plus, if you commit to only bringing the amount you need and then not spending any more than what you have with you, there is no way you will exceed your budget.
As you can see, you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy a road trip with your friends or family. By remaining conscientious about fuel use and food expenses you can have a good time without worrying about the cost.
Please share with your economically conscious friends and family members so they, too, can travel for less. The more money you save, the greater the number of road trips you can afford to go on.