We aren’t big fans of flying, so we tend to make our vacation a road trip. This can be tough with two small children, yet somehow we manage. However, with such a diversity of needs in our family vehicle, we can find costs starting to get a little crazy. Therefore, there are some things that we find are helpful in keeping expenses down when on a family road trip.
There isn’t a whole lot we can do about our vehicle’s estimated miles per gallon. Sure, watching our speeds, not carrying a lot of excess weight, ensuring tires are properly inflated, and similar helpful tips can save us little bits here and there on gas mileage, but it’s not likely to make a huge difference. This is why I don’t focus as much on this aspect of our travels and fuel costs, choosing instead to go another route.
I focus instead on our trip planning, not so much our route — although I do try to take the most efficient route possible — obviously, but the best spots to fill up with gas along the way. I use gasbuddy.com to find what areas along our route offer the lowest gas prices. In this way, I can find areas to stop along our trip where we can save up to 15 or 20 cents a gallon, which on a 2,000 or 2,500 mile roundtrip journey can put an extra $20 or $25 in our pockets. Hey, with two kids, every little bit counts.
Shop before we go
I know how much things cost here at home and where I can get them cheaper, whereas I often don’t have such information at locations we travel to, or I know already that the items we’ll need are more expensive at our destination. I don’t want to be forced into buying things at a premium, so if we can get them before we go, it saves us money. For example, on our most recent trip to Florida, we took the majority of food items we’d need while there along with us, even packing a cooler with certain cold and frozen items.
We’d made the mistake before of buying once we arrived and it cost us significantly more than we would have spent on such items at home. A few items like eggs and milk were left behind for obvious reasons, but we took a lot of the rest. When we arrived, we took a trip to the local Wal-mart and found these items that we’d left behind were about double the price we’d pay at home, proving us right for doing the majority of our shopping before we left.
A stocked cooler
As I mentioned, we brought a medium-sized cooler along with us on our trip. We also brought a bag with snacks and extra food for the kids. Stopping constantly for food and snack items can slow us down, and having to pay for these things at fast food joints or gas stations can increase our travel costs. On just a two-day trip, it really is amazing how much our family of four can spend on food if we don’t plan carefully. But being able to snack on pretzels, bringing bottled water along, being able to make sandwiches if we want, and having access to other food and drink items keeps costs on buying such items to a minimum along the way. It’s also a good way to keep the kids occupied and quietly munching.
Stopping points with little or no costs
A final cost-cutter on our road trips involves finding stopping points with little or no associated costs. One year this include stopping at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (admission for private vehicles were $10) out in Montana on the way out to the west coast. Another year this involved stopping in at the Milwaukee Mile race track for a little IndyCar action (free admission for practice and the Indy Lights race the year we attended).
Such events are memorable yet affordable and can act as a nice way to break up the monotony of a long trip or even make the trip itself worthwhile without breaking the bank.
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The author is not a licensed financial or travel professional. The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice of any kind. Any action taken by the reader due to the information provided in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion.