Frugal Family Road Trips: 15+ Easy Money Saving Tips

So you are thinking of going on a family road trip, but wondering how you can save money? Let’s face it, travelling with family can be expensive, not to mention vacations are more fun when you aren’t watching every penny. Consider these money saving tips for before heading out on the highway. After many an adventure, we can give you our top tips on how to save money on road trips, so you can still have an amazing vacation, without breaking the bank.

Here are 15+ ways to save money on road trips you can use to have an amazing, frugal family road trip:

  1. Plan & Map it Out
  2. Set a budget
  3. Travel the Low Season
  4. Tune up your car
  5. Choose car rentals with good gas mileage.
  6. Save money on car rentals
  7. Join Rewards Programs
  8. Find value parking
  9. Save money on gas with apps and reward cards
  10. Drive economically
  11. Pack essentials
  12. Explore budget accommodation options
  13. Bring your own food (& cooler)
  14. Bring filling snacks
  15. Buy a national park pass

15 wAYS TO SAVE MONEY ON ROAD TRIPS

Looking for ways to save money on road trips? We’ve gathered all the tips we use to save money and still have a fun vacation.

Frugal doesn’t have to mean boring. We’ve packed so much more into each section, so without further ado, let’s hit the road to our next fantastic destination. How to save money on a family road trip in these easy steps.

Mitsubishi van parked on the side of the road, in front of yellow, fall colored birch trees.
Family Road Trip Adventures.

HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON A ROAD TRIP

1. Plan Your Frugal Family Road Trip – MAP IT OUT

Planning is the key to a successful family road trip, especially if you have limited funds. Mapping out your route can save on gas, and time, as you’ll know exactly where you are going.

No unexpected two hour detours in the wrong direction. Yes that really did happen to me. My only excuse was I was tired, on small back roads, and it was very confusing, sparsely populated area (I would have asked for directions, honest).

Plan Out Your Road Trip Route to Save Money & Avoid Tolls

Toll highways may be quicker, but they do cost money. Is there a route that is free and of a similar length? Going the road less travelled can lead to fun and unexpected things to see and do along the way. Which really is the beauty of travel.

Hey, if there’s some super cool unexpected detour you spontaneously want to take, go for it. YOLO!

Planning ahead and mapping out your route can also help you and your family find cheaper accommodations, gas and food options, and set a reasonable budget. Enjoy the sites, hotels, and unique food, without worrying about your next destination, where to eat, or your house / pet back home.

So you can just relax knowing everything is taken care of.

This is where our 35 page Ultimate Road Trip Planner Printables come in. Each checklist and page will help you walk through all the essential steps you need to plan the best road trip possible. Easy & fun to use, watch your dream trip unfold.

Use code SWEETDEALS for 25% OFF (at checkout).

Twleve printable road trip planner pages fanned out.

2. Set A Budget (And Stick With It)

One of the most important ways to save money on your road trip is to create a road trip budget, stick with it, and avoid spending money you don’t have.

Every credit card charge you plan on paying off later, takes away money you could be spending on better things, like saving up for your next trip. You also end up paying a ridiculous amount of interest.

Set up your budget by figuring out the total cost of your road trip, then figure out your per day budget.

Make sure to include all the spending categories you think you will need, as well as a buffer for unanticipated expenses. You never know when some cool activity might catch your fancy, or if you might need a little extra in case of unexpected events like car troubles.

Create a travel budget for your family road trip.

Some common budget categories for road trips include:

  • Accommodation
  • Car Rental & Insurance (if not covered already)
  • RV Rental
  • Travel insurance
  • Gas
  • Parking
  • Food
  • Attractions
  • Extra Money for unexpected costs

Review your budget at the end of each day to make sure you are staying on track, and to remind yourself what amount of money you have for the next day.

PRO TIP: Get discount attraction tickets & tours online. Learn more about where to buy cheaper tickets here.

3. Travel The Low Season

While travelling the low season may not always be possible, with kid’s school schedules, it does offer low season rates on hotels, motels, and often attractions. Being flexible gives you more budget friendly options.

👉 Road trip ideas: Bryce Canyon National Park in a day or Acadia National Park Itinerary

SAVE MONEY ON DRIVING

4. Tune Up Your Car

If you plan on driving your own car, than an easy money saving tip is to make sure your car gets a tune up before you go. Happy car = Happy adults.

Get an oil change. Check the fluid levels, lights, wiper blades, and tire pressure. My windshield wipers once stopped working in the middle of a blizzard, and I still had 40km to go to the nearest town. No fun!

Inflating your tires can help optimize your gas mileage. Tune ups can also help you avoid expensive repair bills in small towns and precious time lost on your vacation.

If you are planning on renting a car, rather than taking your own, then next tip is essential.

5. Rent A Car With Good Gas Mileage

I know it can be tempting to rent a fancy SUV. Or maybe it’s your dream to fly down a coastal highway in a red convertible with the top down, wind blowing your suddenly long and luxurious hair. Reality check, a frugal family road trip is likely not the time or place. Not to mention luggage storeage in a convertible = non-existent.

Choose a car rental car that costs a reasonable amount, meets your families needs, and has good good gas mileage.

6. How To Save Money on Car Rentals

Some other tips for finding economical car rentals include:

  • Book / Reserve your car early – especially during peak travel season. Or anytime these days.
  • Avoid booking at airports – they tack on surcharges for convenience. There are usually lots of options close by.
  • Ask for discounts – Companies often offer military, seniors, corporate and association discounts
  • Pay with a credit card that offers insurance benefits already
  • Check your own auto insurance – most cover car rental insurance already
  • Check memberships – many offer car rental discounts (ex. Costco, CAA/AAA, AMA)
  • Don’t pre-pay gas – it costs a premium. Fill up before returning the car.
  • Reserve the car only for days you need it.
  • Track your car rental on Autoslash – It will notify you if / when you can get a better deal, then you can cancel & rebook. Just make sure you don’t pay for the rental ahead of time, and their are no fees to cancel.

Join car loyalty programs

Joining car loyalty programs can get you discounts and free car upgrades, depending on the card, and how frequently you use their rental services. If you have a premium travel credit card, sometimes you can also get preferred rental status.

Now that you have your car all sorted, let’s think about parking.

7. Find Value Parking

One overlooked consideration on road trips is the cost of parking. Parking can be expensive, especially if your family is heading into major cities. Searching out value parking options before you go can save your family money.

Accommodation Parking

Parking at your hotel may not be the cheapest option. Is there a cheaper parking lot close by? Call or email your hotel ahead of time to confirm the cost of parking and if there are any other options close by. Or consider booking at a place that offers free parking.

How To Find Cheap Parking Spots

Use booking apps / sites ahead of time to check out the cost of parking for your destination(s). Price comparison can save you money, and these sites can help you find the best parking spot for your requirements.

  • Parkopedia and Park Me App App are two options that will let you compare prices, locations and book parking directly on their site.

8. How To Save Money on Gas – Apps & Reward Cards

If you are travelling through Canada or the US, the Gas Buddy App will help you fill up your gas tank with the cheapest option. You can search gas prices by city, state, postal/zip code and even by brand. Add your location and it will give you cheapest gas location.

Another great tip is to apply for a free gas reward card and use it before and during your trip to rack up points. These points can then be used for discounts on your fuel.

How to take a cheap Family Road Trip. Driving through local national park with red rocks, taking a photo out the window, captured in side mirror.

👉 You may also like our free family friendly Victoria activities for your epic Vancouver Island road trip bucket list.

9. Drive Economically – Slow Down

Another way to save money on the road is to drive at a reasonable, steady speed. I know speed demons, it’s not the race track dreams of your youth. But studies show that fuel efficiency decreases, as your speed increases. Not to mention driving the speed limit will help avoid costly speeding tickets.

Some other helpful tips for how to save gas on road trips:

  • Use cruise control
  • Use Eco mode
  • Avoid rapid acceleration and deceleration
  • Reduce idling time
  • Minimize weight (this means don’t over pack)
  • Replace the engine air filter

MORE ROAD TRIP MONEY SAVING TIPS

10. Pack Essentials

Packing road trip essentials from home will save you money, and is one of the key road trip money saving tips.

Essentials like toiletries, pain medication, sunscreen, cameras, phone chargers and batteries, often cost more on the road. Why pay for duplicate items when you can be using that little extra to splurge on a fancy dinner, or ride the zipline your kids have always wanted to try.

You will also likely know where the best places to get these items at a discount are in your hometown, or can wait for sales to get the best price. Last minute purchases are almost always more expensive.

Make sure to use a packing list and double check it before you leave. I almost always forget my toothbrush and toothpaste as I wait until the last minute to add those. Here’s a beach vacation packing list, if you are planning to end up at the beach.

11. Explore Budget Accommodation Options

Exploring family friendly budget accomodations can save you a ton of cash. On most road trips planning out where to sleep is often your biggest expense. Places like the Travel Lodge, Days Inn, or Super 8 provide comfy beds at reasonable prices, and some even have pools and a free breakfast.

Booking in advance and doing your research, will help you find the best place, at the best price point that works for your family.

How to find cheaper hotels

We suggest comparing hotel prices on different sites like booking.com, or expedia.com or going directly to the hotel or motel site. Often hotels will offer discounts or run specials.

Being flexible with your travel dates will help save money as you can take advantage of these specials, or travel midweek when prices are often cheaper.

Once I have an idea of what I’m looking for, then I head over to our go to booking sites:

  • Booking.com for good deals on hotels, resorts, cottages & other accomodations
  • ​VRBO for family friendly accommodations that have the comforts of home, but without the cleaning!
  • Hotels.com for hotels that aren’t available through booking.com

Booking Directly with the Hotel

Booking directly with a hotel can give you more flexilibility with cancellation policies, changing reservations and other perks if you have rewards cards with a specific hotel chain.

You can often build up free nights, get free room upgrades, and discounts on other products.

If you travel frequently check out these popular hotel reward options with a global footprint:

  • IHG Hotels – A family and business favourite with over 6000+ hotels and perks like free night stays, guaranteed room availability, and late checkout.
  • Marriott Bonvoy – One of the largest hotel chains (7000+ hotels), so wherever you go there will likely be a Marriott to chose from.
  • Hilton Honors – Popular as it offers hotel choices for all budgets, plus it’s easier to get top tier status and has over 6400+ hotels globally.

Consider alternatives to a Hotel

On the topic of flexibility, if you don’t mind camping or are comfortable with a private rental through AirBnB or VRBO (our family uses both of these regularly), these are great options for affordable places to sleep.

If you choose a private rental that comes with an equipped kitchen and a washer and dryer, you will be all set to vacation with the comforts of home, all while spending less.

Some other alternative options for accommodations you can try out are:

  • Camping – there are many cool campgrounds at National Parks, and private places that are cheaper than a hotel. Especially for larger families.
  • Hostels – I know this conjures up 20 something backpackers, but many hostels now cater to families with family rooms. they are a great way to meet other travelers. If nothing else, it could be an adventure.
  • Sleeping in your car – unless you have an rv or a big van, likely not a great family option
  • Rent an RV – this is likely not the most economical option, but traveling with your own house can save on accommodation & food costs. Outdoorsy.com is a fun option that connects local RV, motorhome and campervan owners with people and families wanting to rent them.
  • House Sit – This may only work if you are planning on staying in one place for awhile, but house sitting would be a cheap option. Sign up for websites like TrustedHousesitters.com. For less than the price of one hotel night, you get a year’s worth of stays across the globe. Perfect for all your budget travels.
  • Stay with friends or family – take a road trip somewhere you know you have a free place to stay. I always get a kick out of hosting people I haven’t seen in ages.
Ways to save money on road trips - avoid tolls. Young child putting hand out car window on dirt road beside a field.

Choose location wisely

Staying in major cities can be expensive. Think New York City expensive. Consider if there is a smaller town close by you could stay in and either use public transportation to get into town, or drive into each day. A word of caution. Factor in the price of daily transportation, parking and the time it takes, as in the end staying out of the city may not be worth it.

12. Bring Your Own Food (And A Cooler)

Drive-thrus, restaurants, and gas station pit stops can quickly add costs to your frugal family road trip budget. The best way to avoid over priced meals is to bring a cooler and pack your own food.

I can hear the groans now “But do I have to?” No, everything is optional. However, if you are strategic with your food spending, your family can indulge in a more expensive quality meal or two or three, rather than spending it all on quick somewhat questionable gas station foods.

We like to pack easy-to-make and eat road trip meals like sandwiches, fruit, and our special homemade road trip muffins.

Replenish your supplies at the grocery store and prep for the next day wherever you are staying.

Bring water bottles and a thermos for coffee. That way you can fill up before your day starts, and bring them with you. It’s better for the environment and your wallet.

Which leads me to the next topic of food, snacks. Anyone feeling snack?!?

13. Bring Filling Snacks

Snacking and roadtrips goes together like peanut butter and jelly. I don’t know what it is about the open road, but I get snacky.

To keep your snack food costs down, make your own snacks, or buy in bulk and bring the deliciousness with you. Choose snacks that satiate, so you and your family members will be less likely to binge shop at the nearest gas station along the way.

Here are some easy road trip snack ideas:

PRO TIP: Check out our full road trip food list for snacks. Ideas for road trip snacks for kids, adult and food restrictions such as gluten-free and keto.

14. BUY A NATIONAL PARK PASS

Finally, number 14 on our list of money saving tips for a frugal family road trip. Drum roll please……. Buy a National Park Pass.

If your family is planning on hitting up multiple parks in Canada or the US, buying a pass will save you from paying multiple entrance fees, and they are good for a year. Ample time to take advantage of the pass, and maybe even go on more than one trip.

  • In Canada, the Discovery Pass for family costs $146 for the year (up to 7 people in the car) and is good for unlimites admission to over 80 places across the country that typically charge a fee.
  • The US National Parks Pass costs $80 for the year and is good for over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country.

A stop or two at a national park along the way, will provide your family a great opportunity to explore the natural beauty of your surrroundings. Like with our 7 day road trip itinerary to Zion, Bryce & Grand Canyon.

Most importantly though, it will also give your kids a chance to stretch and run out their wild energy.

Add this to your list on how to save money on a family road trip, for frugal road trips.

PIN IT: Save these easy tips for frugal road trips

15. BONUS TIP – Choose 1 or 2 Items To Splurge On

Sticking to a frugal budget can sometimes feel like you are denying yourself. This can lead to overspending, as nobody likes to feel like they are witholding the enjoyable things in life.

I highly recommend planning a couple of activities you can splurge on. Maybe it’s a fancy restaurant you’ve always wanted to try. Maybe it’s a day at an amusement park, a special tour or a visit to an aquarium.

Giving yourself permission to spend a little extra will not only prevent overspending, it will also create special family memories you can all cherish in the years to come.

There you have it, our list of simple money saving hacks for a thrifty family road trip. Do you have any tips, tricks, or hacks for cheaper road trips we’ve missed? Let us know in a comment below, or send us a message on social media. We’d love to hear from you.

how to save money on a family road trip

Looking for Road Trip inspiration, try these articles:

33 thoughts on “Frugal Family Road Trips: 15+ Easy Money Saving Tips”

  1. It was a very inspiring read. I know so many people who are at home working 9-5 and hating it, but think that they are stuck doing what they are doing because “they don’t have enough money to travel”. I’ll be sending this article to some friends back home

    1. Thank you! Sometimes it is difficult to get out of the mind set of doing what we’ve always done. I hope it inspires them to look at things from a differnt angle.

  2. These are excellent tips! We always pack our own food for road trips. Saves so much plus we are vegan so we know we are eating healthy.

  3. great tips! I always tend to overspend on travel so this is so helpful! I love the idea of packing a cooler plus all the fun road trip snacks 🙂

  4. Such practical and easy ways to save money on the next getaway! Buying a park pass pays for itself pretty quickly (at least here in the states).

  5. I love the Gas Buddy app. It is so handy. We have started booking rooms with a kitchen. This way we can have breakfast and coffee in the room, plus snacks. I also like the idea of passes. We have a parking pass for all our state parks here, which saves quite a bit.

  6. Love your tips. I’m thankful that we drive an electric vehicle but I like your suggestion of picking one or two things to splurge on. Gives a little wiggle room in the budget!

  7. Here is nothing more to add! You said everything! This is a very useful and good guide not only for families but also for couple travels! When I am traveling with my boyfriend we are also looking at almost all those things and actually we are saving a lot!

  8. Pingback: 27 Simple Ways to Build a Family Travel Fund | Packed for Life

  9. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It’s always useful to read through articles from other authors and use something from other sites.

  10. I really like the point about keeping weight down. It is an easy one to not even consider, but will have big impact on fuel bill. Also the National Parks pass is a great tip.

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    1. I hear you! There are times I should take more of my own advice as well. Sometimes you gotta splurge, and sometime you gotta take a ride on the frugal side.

  12. Such great tips, you can tell they come with experience. Many of these my mom has taught me since we were little, but some of these were new!
    As an avid road-tripper, I definitely have to try these out on our next trip!

    1. I love that your mom passed on these tips as you grew up. We weren’t much for road trips when I was a kid, but they are definitely something I have enjoyed as an adult.

    1. Love all the tips you gave! I’ve been wanting to take the family on a road trip since there hasn’t been much to do and I’m not ready for plane rides just yet. I’ll definitely be using this list for planning one in the future. Thank you!

    1. The National Park Pass does seem like such a great deal, as it gives you access to so many parks in the US. I would definitely buy one next time I’m planning a trip down south.

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