Family travel can be expensive. Learn how to save some serious money with these tips for a frugal family road trip.
How to Plan a Frugal Family Road Trip
Times are tight right now and for many of us, budgets are getting tighter.
While you may be thinking that family travel is completely out of the question, you can actually save a ton of money when you travel by car and plan ahead.
Today we are sharing 10 simple tips to help you get to your destination without spending a bunch of dough!
1. The Game Plan
The first step to having a frugal family road trip is coming up with a plan.
Sounds simple, right?
But, the truth is to be able to have a frugal trip, it requires being mindful of what you’re doing.
Therefore, ask yourself the questions:
- Where do you want to go?
- What do you want to do?
- How much is it going to cost?
- Are there any alternatives?
If you’re looking for affordable activities to do, I suggest checking out Frommers. It offers highly recommended activities including the degree of cost.
Once you identify everything you want to do, estimate how much it’s going to cost.
The simple process of making a list and writing all of the projected expenses down will help you prioritize and plan your itinerary.
2. Create a Budget
Once you have decided where you are going, the activities you want to do, and have an estimate of how much it’s going to cost, the next step is to create a savings goal to cover the overall cost of the trip.
We recommend using a zero-based budget.
This type of budget aims to give every dollar from your paycheck a purpose so that at the end of the month, all of your money has been assigned to a specific budget category.
This can be very helpful when you are trying to identify any extra funds that can go toward the road trip.
3. Prepare a Packing Checklist
When you’re dealing with multiple family members it’s easy to forget to pack important items.
When you make sure have everything you need before you hit the road saves money because you won’t have to stop and make purchases of all the items you left behind.
- Phone charger? Check.
- Toothbrushes? Check.
- Diapers? Check
This little expenses can add up to quite a bit in the long run, so it’s best to invest the extra time to make sure you have packed everything you will need on your trip.
That’s why I’m a big fan of lists. A simple packing checklist is an easy way to make sure that nothing is left behind.
4. BYOF: Bring Your Own Food & Snacks
You can save your money (and your health) by skipping the drive-thrus, convenient stores and restaurants along the way.
It’s best to pack food and snacks that are not oversized and don’t easily spoil, and don’t need to be refrigerated like:
- PB & J sandwiches
- fruit snacks
You can take it one step further and bring a cooler filled with ice to pack homemade meals once you reach your destination.
5. Stay with Friends
If you are able to stay with friends or family, that is obviously is a huge way to save.
Additionally, it gives you a chance to catch up with loved ones. (And I’m willing to gamble that they’ll also prepare a meal when you arrive) helping you to keep even more money in your pocket.
However, if you don’t have that option, your next best bet is to stay at a vacation rental, such as VRBO.
You might think that this would be more expensive, but many times you end up saving money in the long run.
This is because unlike most hotels, vacation rentals have kitchens that will allow families to prepare home-cooked meals instead of dining out.
Furthermore, many hotels charge extra for amenities, such as parking and laundry.
An added benefit of a vacation rental that is not financial is that you are not sharing walls with anyone else. When my daughter was three-years-old, we stayed in a hotel that I will not name. I received multiple calls from the front desk because my daughter was “walking too loudly”.
The freedom of having your own space will help to keep everyone happy and calm.
6. Download Media
I don’t often let my kids use their tablets at home. But, when it comes to road trips, anything goes just to keep the peace.
Video streaming apps can use an enormous amount of data on a long drive, which ultimately gets reflected by an increase in your phone bill.
You can save yourself data overage charges by downloading your kid’s favorite movies and shows onto their devices. Some devices accept an SD card, which can add additional storage.
This strategy also works well when driving through areas that don’t get any signal.
Therefore, it can also be helpful to download the map in a navigation app, such as Google Maps.
7. Pack Travel Mugs
Need your coffee to function? You’re not alone.
But coffee on the road can quickly add up and bust your frugal family travel budget.
I grind my coffee beans and have my coffee at home. It has saved me over $2,000 a year by doing this.
Unfortunately, we lose this option when traveling on the road.
To curb the cost of coffee, order the large size and split it into two separate travel mugs.
By doing this, you basically get a small cup of coffee for free!
Also, most vacation rentals provide a coffeemaker. Be sure to brew a cup or two for the road before heading out too!
Furthermore, there are coffee apps, such as Starbucks, that offer bonuses and challenges. Often times one of those challenges is to visit a different location, which is perfect for those on a road trip.
8. Redeem Credit Card Points
Take advantage of credit cards that allow you to collect and redeem points throughout your trip.
Those points can be redeemed and converted into gift cards or even cash.
They can also be redeemed for hotel stays or car rentals depending on the perks of the card.
Every opportunity you get to pay with a credit card…do it.
Some cards now earn more than 1 point per dollar!
We were able to convert thousands of points into hundreds of dollars that we used to pay our bills.
9. Rent a Car
It may sound counter-intuitive to spend money on a rental car to be frugal, but stick with me.
The idea behind this is to stretch the life of your “everyday car” and avoid major repairs. The age of cars at a rental car company is no more than 2-3 years old.
Put the wear and tear of a long family road trip on a rental car and save yourself from expensive repairs or the classic road-side break down.
When selecting a rental car be sure to choose one with great gas mileage to save even more.
10. Travel During Non-Peak Hours
My husband and I prefer to travel on the road just before our kid’s bedtime.
The kids will easily fall asleep versus trying to entertain them while we drive.
Another benefit of driving through the night is avoiding traffic during peak hours.
“Stop and go” traffic does not use your gas efficiently. It will force you to get gas sooner rather than later.
Driving through the non-peak hours allows the driver to enable cruise control and save even more money on gas.
Just make sure your driver gets plenty of rest!
You can still have a memorable family trip while being frugal. You just need a game plan and a budget before you hit the road. I have used these savvy tips time and time again that I’m practically on cruise control.
Related Family Travel Posts:
- The Best Road Trip Busy Bags for Kids
- Family Road Trip Packing List: 9 Essentials for a Successful Trip
Jacqueline is a mother and personal finance blogger for Parent Portfolio. She owns a couple of investment properties in her local market. She loves finding ways to save money and make it grow. She has also been featured in Business Insider and USA Today.