So you are thinking of going on a family road trip, but wondering what are some easy ways 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 before heading out on the highway.
Here are 13 easy, money saving tips you can use to have an amazing, frugal family road trip:
- Plan & Map it Out
- Set a budget
- Travel the Low Season
- Tune up your car
- Choose car rentals with good gas mileage.
- Find value parking
- Pack essentials
- Save money on gas with apps and reward cards
- Drive economically
- Explore budget accommodation options
- Bring your own food (& cooler)
- Bring filling snacks
- Buy a national park pass
Frugal doesn’t have to mean boring. We’ve packed more into each section, so without further ado, let’s hit the road to our next fantastic destination.
13 EASY, MONEY SAVING TIPS FOR A FRUGAL FAMILY 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).
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.
Planning ahead can also help you and your family find cheaper accommodations, gas and food options, and set a reasonable budget. Which leads us to the next item.
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 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.
Some common budget categories for road trips include:
- Car Rental & Insurance (if not covered already)
- Travel insurance
- 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.
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
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.
How To Save Money on Car Rentals
Some other tips for finding economical car rentals include:
- Book early – especially during peak travel season
- Avoid booking at airports – they tack on surcharges for convenience
- Ask for discounts – Companies often offer military, seniors, corporate and association discounts
- Pay with a credit card that offers insurance benefits
- Check your own auto insurance – most cover car rental insurance already
- Check memberships – many offer car rental discounts (ex. Costco, CAA/AAA)
- Don’t pre-pay gas – it costs a premium. Fill up before returning the car.
Now that you have your car all sorted, let’s think about parking.
6. 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.
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.
You may also like our free family friendly Victoria activities.
7. Pack Essentials
Packing essentials from home will save you money. 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.
8. Easy Ways 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.
9. Drive Economically
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 to increase fuel efficiency:
- Use cruise control
- Avoid rapid acceleration and deceleration
- Reduce idling time
- Minimize weight (this means don’t over pack)
- Replace the engine air filter
10. Explore Budget Accomodation Options
Exploring family friendly budget accomodations can save you a ton of cash. On most road trips, where you 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.
We suggest comparing hotel prices on different sites like booking.com, expedia.com or going directly to the hotel or motel. 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.
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, 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.
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.
Other inexpensive lodging options include:
- Sleeping in your car – unless you have an rv or a big van, likely not a great family option
- Hostels – hostels often have family rooms, and they are a great way to meet other travelers. Try Hostelworld.com
- Stay with friends or family – take a road trip somewhere you know you have a free place to stay
- Camping – in campgrounds or at free campsites.
11. 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 foods.
We like to pack easy-to-eat road foods 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.
12. 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, 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:
- Nuts, trail mix, dried fruit and jerky
- Granola bars, Lara Bars
- Crackers & cheese
- Apples & nut or seed butters
- Veggies & dip
Check out our full road trip food list for snacks. Ideas for roadtrip snacks for kids, adult and food restrictions such as gluten-free and keto.
13. BUY A NATIONAL PARK PASS
Finally, number 13 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 costs $140 for the year and is good for over 80 places across the country that typically charge a fee. In the US, the National Park 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. Most importantly though, it will also give your kids a chance to stretch and run out their wild energy.
PIN IT: Save these easy tips for future road trips
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.
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