If you’re thinking ahead to spring break or summer travel, these tips from Kari Patterson will come in handy.
Efficiency is one of my core values. Chances are, if you read this blog, it’s one of yours as well. We plan our errands to hit as many stores as possible in one trip. We organize our coupons by expiration date so we don’t waste a single one. We read this blog so we can discover all the local deals with just one click. I do it too.
So when I found out my cousin was getting married in Las Vegas, I immediately started planning how many other stops we could make along the way, and how we could make the trip double as a family vacation.
Because, if you’re already in Clackamas, you might as well hit Costco, Winco and Target, right? Right. If we’re going to Nevada we might as well visit California, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho too, right?
So began our road trip plans. All in all we had a blast—although the 12-hour drives were a stretch for our Littles (ages 3 and 5). We’d definitely do it all over again… just not tomorrow. Here are a few ideas for surviving your own budget road trip during these last few beautiful weeks of summer:
Plan a theme for the journey, not just the destination.
It’s great to take a road-trip to Disneyland, but if the only exciting part is the destination, the long drive it takes to get there will be seen as merely hours to endure.
We planned our entire journey with an Oregon Trail/Pioneer theme. We checked out 23 books from the library and spent three weeks before the trip reading and learning about the Oregon Trail. That way we could plan games, activities, and stories to read and play along the way so that part of the fun was the journey, not just the destination.
You can also check out our awesome Are We There Yet? Travel Bags here as another way to help the kids pass the travel time.
In desperate times, swallow your pride and pull out the portable DVD player.
That said, there comes a time (after nine hours in the car, for us) when the thought of another travel game makes everyone want to cry, and “Just three more hours,” or “We’re almost there,” means nothing to a child with no concept of time.
Though we don’t own a DVD player, I borrowed one from a friend and saved it as a secret treat when we really needed it. Though I love the idea of traveling “technology free,” I also love my sanity, thank you very much.
Whatever you decide, keep something on hand as a treat for when times are tough and you need something special for those final miles.
This highly-rated DBPOWER Portable DVD Player is a best seller on Amazon!
Never underestimate the power of the Peanut Butter Sandwich.
In order to stay under budget, we knew we needed to limit eating out. We planned two food stops at In-N-Out and brought the rest of our food from home.
Yes, we all grew tired of raisins, apples, carrot sticks and almonds, but no one seemed to grow tired of whole-wheat bagels with peanut butter. I brought two bags of bagels and a jar of peanut butter. To my amazement, even when we stopped at In-N-Out, the kids passed on hamburgers and chose the PB on bagel.
Our lesson? Kids are pretty easy to please. If we pack their very favorite food it will be easier to pass on all the expensive food options on the road.
Go with Groupon, Costco, and the in-law’s hide-a-bed.
We got a great deal through Groupon on our hotel in Vegas (complete with food vouchers that covered our meals while we were there), got food and gas at Costco, and enjoyed three nights of free lodging on my in-law’s hide-a-bed couch. It wasn’t fancy but it was free, and our kids were in heaven spending three whole days with Grandpa and Grandma.
It’s never too late to plan a fun, budget road trip for your family. It just takes some creativity… and plenty of peanut butter sandwiches.
Kari Patterson is pastor’s wife, mom, writer, speaker, reader, blogger and frugal living enthusiast. She writes all about the beautiful mess of life over at KariPatterson.com.
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When my two sons were younger, we took several long road trips. I put together goody bags with snacks and dollar store toys, and hid them away. I would show them where we are on the map and let them know that when we got to a certain point they would get a new goodie bag. They followed the map and learned how to determine where we were based on mile post markers and landmarks. When we got to that special point on the map, their new toys and snacks would keep them entertained for the next couple hours.
Here is another food/snack idea. We call them Kiddie Kabobs. So you can use pretty much any ingredient your heart desires. Use the straight pretzel sticks and have your kids create their own kabobs. Diced cheese, pepperoni, grapes, strawberries, diced ham, etc. You will be amazed at what your kids come up with!! My boys have made cars with the pepperoni and cheese before. Keeps them occupied for awhile, and they love eating them 😉
Kate from Frugal Living NW says
That’s a great idea! Love it.
While this is a great article for tips, after driving from Missouri to Orlando and back on our last Disney trip, I opened up a Southwest Airlines Rewards Visa account for both my husband and I, charge our purchases on it, earned rewards, and in a year’s time we, all four of us) will be flying round trip on “wanna get away” flights for free (minus the 2 x $99 yearly fee). There is no comparison. Plan ahead.
Just finished 2 plus road trips to Bay Area Calif. with my 3 little meeps. My hubby was working. My mom is in Calif. along with 1/2 our lives. I lived in Calif age 1-25 and now we are in PDX 25- 42 ish :). Getting to Calif is important. Being frugal is important. Having family time is crucial. So packed our madza 5 with snacks, dollar store delights which is more than the gift. A good book can make all the difference. My kids age 2, age 6 and age 8. My son had a good buddy from class pass us NARNIA from Focus on the FAMILY MAGNIFICENT.. lifesavor on cd.. and so combined with lots of coffee, water, library books, dollar store delights. I drove my kiddos to CALIF.. a grand total of 14 hours or so on my own. We also play a mean game of Melissa and Dougs license plate game. When we get all 50 States, we get to eat at Flying Pie Pizza. Subway is AWESOME for a mom with 3 kids.. clean restrooms, good kid menu prices,and great parking more often than not. I learned muffins make the HUGGEST mess. I will admit at the end of the summer our car needed a detail in a bad way. The memories were priceless. The Lord was very present and gave us joy.
We travelled several years ago to vancouver BC and vancouver island and did hostels the whole trip, and while in the city took the buses everywhere on our 3day pass. The hostels were great because they had breakfast and cooking facilities for dinner and it was great to pick up stuff thru the day for dinner. We could then meet other families and talk about the day and what they did to get ideas of what we could do or shouldn’t. One night after dinner the kids had all helped with dishes and one family had a bag of popcicles to share… lots of memories in that trip and look forward to doing again
Great story about budget travels. Everyone laughed that of our 2 week honeymoon we were spending a few days at a friends in San Francisco than a few more with the husbands mother in LA. Saved us probably at the cheapest $600.00 if not more.
We were able to apply the savings to see those cities as well as spend the next week of our Honeymoon in Disney World. May not be the best to honeymoon at your MIL but oh well.
I always book hotels with breakfast. With 6 people to feed, it saves us time and money. I tell everyone to grab an apple or an orange in the breakfast room right before we check out as well so we don’t get 3 miles down the road and I have to hear “I’m hungry”! We hit 7 states in 10 days this June and it was so fun. My other tip would be to book a hotel with a pool because after 8-10 hours in the car, we all need some physical activity. If you travel with a DVD player, you can rent $1 Redbox movies at one McDonalds and return them at another down the road, even another state. Carry your grocery rewards cards like Safeway and Fred Meyers, they will work at Von’s and Kroger for more discounts on groceries. Do your research online before you go and it can not only save you money but I have found fun places to eat or visit I wouldn’t have thought of. Tripadvisor is my favorite site.
Never under estimate the use of the potty chair. We have one that conviently fits under the little table between the front seats in our van. It comes in very handy when someone in the back seat yells out just after you passed the rest stop that they have to go and have to go NOW, even though you asked BEFORE the rest stop and every one said no. Even the older kids use it in a pinch. Kids 16, 9, 7, and 4. And of course for the carsick prone I keep a roll of doggie poo bags in the storage compartment next to every seat in our van just in case. They take up almost no room, are just the right size, and since they are designed to contain it all they don’t leak.
Mia Marie says
We drive up from Portland to the Olympic Peninsula! We circle the whole thing, camping all the way, in the National Forest so that we don’t have to pay for a camp site (you make your own! Just clean it up when you leave). We eat food we packed or catch (often harvesting oysters and clams, fishing, berry picking, etc.). Our big expense is gas and doing the tour of the Olympic Game Park, which lets you drive through as many times as you want for the cost of admission.
It’s our awesome, budget vacation every year!
Twin Mom says
We went to Yellowstone for 9 days (5 people) for ~$900, $700 of which was gas. Our first truck camper (our family since outgrew it and inherited another) was $800. We don’t mind camping, especially with the convenience of heat and electricity. We’ve also visited Redwood, Teton, Olympic, Banff and Jasper National Parks.
I save snack foods and single rolls of packaged paper towels for camping trips. We take all of our groceries. Hard boiled eggs are a favorite not everyone might think of.
I learned that you should always have plenty of water in the car, those long stretches btwn reststops are not to be underestimated:). And I would bring a French press to make coffee on the road w just hot water at the convenience store. It was fun to see so many people in such a short amount of time! We counted 9 different people we stayed w in 3 weeks! I wouldn’t recommend a solo driver but that’s what we had to do. I made sure I had the Lord’s protection beforee we left and he kept us very safe somehow. (My mom has since passed away and I am so thankful He allowed us to see her one more time :))
My girls, 5 and 11, and I had to take a trip to AZ from WA this last April/May to see my mom who wasn’t doing well. My husband couldn’t take all that time off so it was just the 3 of us girls. Brought the homeschooling books with us, and toys for ea of them in the back seat that kept them busy, (at one point, leaving San Diego, I looked back and the older one was showing the younger one how to crochet :). We packed our sleeping bags and stayed w/ friends and family that were each 8-12 hours away from the last in ID, NorCal, SoCal, and AZ! Whew!
We did eat out a lot but we shared, so I think I lost weigh
t during it. I was glad to be making the trip in our newly purchased VW Jetta wagon that got almost 40mpg, our previous sub got 17
karrie k says
While we travel from Washington to Kansas we stopped at every state line & took the kids picture in front of the Welcome to……. The kids really enjoyed it.
I loved reading this post, because over the years (when our five kids were young), we took several budget road trips. One time we spent two weeks in the car driving across the mid west, through several states to Illinois and back. We did a lot of research and planning before we left home and we had wonderful experiences. Our kids say that they learned more about the history of our country from our trips than they ever did at school. Some of the things that worked for us, were:
1) We took a small cooler, and basic picnic supplies and had a picnic for lunch in a park every day. This saved $ and also let the kids get some exercise. We also saw some great places, we would have missed if we just gone to “fast food”
2) Each child was assigned specific places to study about and report to the family about the places we would visit before we left home. This got them invested in and excited about actually seeing these places.
3) I had wrapped small, inexpensive “prizes” to give to each child as we crossed the boarder into a new state. This was a great way to keep them interested and watching for the state lines!
4) In comparing lodging prices, we actually found that staying at a slightly more expensive hotel that provided breakfast, saved us money in the long run when we factored in the cost of breakfast for 7 people.
We just got back from a trip to my sister’s house. They have a great house with plenty of room… the only catch is that it is 920 miles from here. We decided to try it *all-at-once*… We left around dinner time (the kids are tired by then and not fidgety), ate on the road, took turns driving *thru the night*, stopped only 5 times and were there by mid-morning. After a nap, I felt A_OKAY and NO $$ spent on motel rooms!