I think road trips are highly under rated. I know we all picture scenes from when we were kids that involve Dad yelling,
“Don’t make me stop the car!“
Jim’s dad used to always put a full glass of water up on the dash before beginning a road trip, which would inevitably spill into his lap at some point during the journey, bringing on the slew of muttered cuss words followed by complete silence in the car. My parents used to always bicker because my Dad would never let Mom drive. He would get so tired that he’d nod off at the wheel, causing a huge argument followed by complete silence in the car. Ah, the joys of travel with the family….
I feel like we are a little more functional and have road trips down to a science. We know what to pack, what things to bring to keep a 6 year old entertained, and even what to do in the event of a breakdown. You all know that I’d almost never pay full price for travel. If we did, we’d at least get some awesome credit card rewards for doing so. Here are some tricks we’ve learned over the years that help us save money on road trips.
Bottled Water Costs How Much?
Bring your own snacks and drinks. Never start a road trip without a stash of food and beverage plus a cooler that you have easy access to while driving. If you have a child that can talk, you know that the car can’t get more than 10 minutes down the road without an “I’m Thirsty” or “I’m Starving.” It doesn’t matter if you just ate. It’s like moving vehicles set off some sort of hunger and thirst signal in kids. Bottled water costs about $4 for a 24 pack at the grocery store. It costs at least $1 or more at a convenience store. Why would you pay 6x more for anything? Because you didn’t plan. Don’t be the one who doesn’t plan.
Maximize Your Gas Purchases
One big expense of road trips can be fuel. We save our grocery points from stores like Kroger and Safeway to get up to $1 off per gallon on a fill up. You can really maximize your points if you wait until gift cards go on a 4x gas points promotion. If you buy gift cards at the grocery store for things like restaurants or attractions you want to visit on your trip, then purchase them with a credit card that earns double rewards, like the Barclay Arrival card, you can really get the most bang for your buck. You can also buy gas with a credit card that really rewards extra category points. Right now, the Chase Freedom card is paying 5x points for purchases at gas stations. My theory is if you have to spend it anyway, you might as well get rewarded as many times as possible.
Make a Food Budget
This sounds really simple, but setting a daily limit for food spending on trips helps us save tons of money. Our daily budget for road trips kind of depends on where we are going, but is usually around $50. If we ate out for every meal, we could easily spend over $100 a day on food. We love to eat out. We often get something to drink besides water with our meals. We leave big tips for excellent service.
We can do this by eating out once a day and having the other meals picnic style or in our room. One of our first stops when we reach our road trip destination is the grocery store. Then we divide that total spent by days on our trip and subtract from our daily budget. That is how much we have left to go out to eat. If we go somewhere nice one evening that costs $100, then we have to eat sandwiches the next night. Often you feel the need to splurge on vacation, and it’s easy if you have a credit card, but you’ll pay for it when you get the bill. Even a peanut butter sandwich tastes gourmet if eaten on the beach or while enjoying a great view. We don’t feel deprived at all if we don’t eat at 5 star restaurants every night.
Get Creative with Lodging
The internet is such an asset to have when planning travel. We might have gone on more trips in my youth if it had been available then. You can find lodging to fit pretty much any budget. We like to use miles and points to stay in really nice places, but sometimes those don’t work with the area you are visiting.
Last year, we stayed in an cottage about a quarter mile from the beach in coastal Oregon that we found on VRBO.com. When we go to Coronado Island later this month, we have found a funky little hotel that is much cheaper then most of the same size rooms in the area. It doesn’t have a ton of amenities, but it’s right by the beach, so how much more could you want?
We all know camping is cheaper than hotels, but even if you aren’t much of an outdoor person, many campgrounds offer cabins. Some even have a bathroom if trekking around to go pee at 2AM isn’t your thing. We are taking a trip to Moab, UT this weekend and staying in a campground cabin. It has bunk beds and a playground. My kid will be in heaven for a fraction of the cost of staying at one of the “cheap” motels there that jack their prices up during spring mountain bike season.
Air travel is faster, but I have a fondness for the open road. I think we will always take a road trip or two every year. Without road tripping, I would have never found places like Bucksnort, TN or Bumble Bee, Arizona. Sometimes the journey is as much fun as the destination.
Do you have funny stories of your family going on a road trip? How do you save money on car travel?