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