Skip to Content

6 Tips for Family Road Trips on a Budget

Share this!:

Red Roof sponsored this post but all opinions expressed are my own.

Tips for Family Road Trips on a Budget - Nevada Utah Southwest Road Trip

We take airplanes on a lot of our family vacations. We realized a few years ago, however, that we were missing out on a lot of America by flying over it. Road trips have increasingly become a bigger part of our travels, particularly now that we are a family of four. Four plane ticket purchases (even with all my frequent flyer miles) really add up.

Tips for Family Road Trips on a Budget - Avenue of the Giants California

One of California’s most beautiful road trip destinations, the Avenue of the Giants.

One of the joys of a road trip is that it is possible to do and see a lot of amazing things on a pretty tight vacation budget. We need to save money for plane tickets when we have farther-flung travel plans, so we road trip with money-saving in mind. Here are some of my family’s tops tips for budget road trips.

Top Budget Road Trip Tips

1. Get the car ready

Tips for Family Road Trips on a Budget - Winter Road Trip

Winter road trips require extra preparation.

A budget-friendly road trip always starts with the car. Make sure it is road-worthy and in good repair so you are not surprised with a pricey breakdown in a place where you can’t shop around for a good mechanic. Make sure the tires are inflated properly for the best gas mileage. Fill up the car at a gas station near home where you can get a good price before your trip. If you have more than one car in the family that is road-trip worthy, pick the right one for your trip too. That may be the car that gets better gas mileage or has lower operating and maintenance costs.

2. Rent a car

Tips for Family Road Trips on a Budget - Leggett Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree

One of our favorite road trips where we could drive our car through a redwood!

If a road trip promises to put too many miles on your much-needed aging family car, renting a car for a big road trip may well save you money in the long run. Sometimes a rental car can even save you money in unexpected ways. For example, we recently rented a car for a short day trip with my mother-in-law because we didn’t have a car with enough space to fit a fifth person. We soon realized how much we saved in parking fees and additional gas costs by all piling into one car instead of road tripping in two separate ones.

3. Stock up with plenty of food & drinks

Long drives inevitably turn kids into bottomless food pits. Load up the car with plenty of snacks and drinks. Buy in bulk and stash the snacks strategically in the car so that kids can get to them when they are hungry (but not overindulge). We usually pack a cooler in the car as well, which can be refilled at hotel ice machines to keep items cold for several days straight.

4. Have a plan for hotel stays along your route

Families plan their hotel stays very differently. Some map out hotels far in advance. Some see how far they can drive in a given day and crash at the first available option when they can drive no more. Whatever you do, it’s important to have a plan to make sure you can get a room at the right price. (And if you are brave enough to try your hand at camping, check out these car camping tips!)

Tips for Family Road Trips on a Budget - Red Roof Plus

Road trippin’ Red Roof style!

I recently had the chance to test out a feature from Red Roof on their newly-redesigned website that helps either kind of family. This feature “Along-a-Route” allow travelers to input their starting point and final destination and find hotels along the way. So whether you a looking for a last minute place to stay while actually on the road or planning months in advance, all the options are visible and can be booked with a simple “Tap! Tap! Go!” The site also provides geo-localized and personalized content and deals and a full display of TripAdvisor reviews so travelers to select the property and room that best fit their family’s needs.

Check out my experience using the feature for planning a road trip from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe in the video below.

5. Take advantage of fun & cheap roadside attractions

Tips for Family Road Trips on a Budget - Free and Cheap Roadside Attractions like the Cabazon Dinosaurs

America’s highways and byways are filled with wacky roadside attractions, most of which are just the right fit for kids. More importantly for budget travelers, many of them are inexpensive or even free. Our family always makes an effort to plan our road trips by some of America’s roadside gems. From the Cabazon Dinosaurs outside Palm Springs, California to South of the Border, the ultimate truck stop and tourist trap in South Carolina, family road trippers can find something worthy of a stop just about anywhere.

6. Just say no to souvenirs (or give the kids a budget)

Budget Road Trip Tips - Cheap Pressed Penny Souvenir

One super-cheap souvenir we always allow – a pressed penny (they’re not just at Disney!)

We have learned just how easy it is to waste a lot of money with little souvenirs here and there. When you travel as much as we do, the costs really add up – not to mention the junk in our house back home! Now, we truly try to avoid spending much money at all on things when we travel. The experience of the trip is the gift! When we do cave in to souvenirs, we give our older daughter a set budget. That way we stick to our own budget in the process while also teaching her some important financial lessons at the same time.

What family road trip budget secrets have I missed? Share your ideas in the comments.

Planning a family road trip? Money-saving tips and tricks for sticking to a budget on your next family vacation.

Share this!:


Wednesday 2nd of August 2017

The "along a route" feature is a great idea for booking hotels! My two roadtrip tips: order free city and state maps from AAA (if you are a member), and check out the events calendars for the cities you are staying in. Hotel prices may be higher if the state fair or a big festival is in town.


Wednesday 2nd of August 2017

Great tips! Thanks for coming by to share them. I think so many younger travelers dismiss AAA as something our parents or grandparents used, but my family swears by our membership! Maps and roadside assistance are still very important.