Road Trip Tips for Families on a budget

Road Trip! Who doesn’t love a good road trip?! We have done a lot of road trips, however, in the spring of 2019, our family did a fun road trip to Tucson, AZ, and back.  We didn’t have the right truck at the time to pull our camper so this was going to be a real van road trip…hotels, gas station bathroom stops and hours of in-the-van entertainment to be had! We had a blast, saw so many new sights, and learned a few tricks along the way.

Make sure to comment below with your own road trip tips and hacks 🙂

Tip #1Collect points and use them!

We collect Airmiles and Aeroplan points when we shop at different stores or when we use our credit cards. There are so many points programs out there. Do the research and see what works for you. It’s such an easy way to cut down on costs when traveling.

We planned out our days by how many hours we could drive in a day, what sites we wanted to see, and what cities had hotels that we could book with our Airmiles or Aeroplan points. I think we did the entire trip, minus 2 nights on points! It was nothing fancy, but it was just what we needed. A clean, safe place to stay; a pool for the kids, and a free breakfast in the morning!

Tip #2Pack a cooler.

Our DC plug-in cooler has saved us hundreds of dollars! It is a must for road trips. So we would eat our free breakfast at our hotel and then lunch items and snacks were packed in our cooler, which is basically a traveling fridge! Plugs into a regular plug in the hotel and then into the vehicle for the day on the road. When it was lunch time we would find a green space or big parking lot; pull out our paper plates and makeup wraps or sandwiches with a side of raw veggies or fruit. Simple and cheap and easy to clean up. Here is a link to a cooler, similar to what we have.

Tip #3Hotel-Cooking.

On the topic of saving money still and eating…hotel cooking! Now, this is hardly cooking, but if you have a microwave and a grocery store nearby – you’re set! We would buy pre-cooked chicken and a bag of caesar salad mix and we’d have a meal! Or we would have 2 hot pots ( ) and cook up some packaged noodles or rice or even fresh potatoes and have that as a side with our fresh cooked chicken from the grocery store. It saves so much money not eating out…we often told the kids that if we can save money this way we can do more fun things along that way.

Also, depending on the time of year and where you are traveling, sometimes outdoor cooking can be an option. We brought our camping stove (which is just a small flat item that could be stored in the bottom of the van) and a frying pan and one flipper to cook a few times outside. At one hotel in Tucson, we actually had access to a barbecue! It was so great. You bet we took advantage of that!

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Tip #4Daily Journal for the kids.

Keeping kids busy on long trips is always a challenge. This didn’t take too much time, but keeping a journal not only gave them another activity to do every day, but it was also a good memory for themselves to have in years to come…or at least they could laugh at their little drawings and how many words they mis-spelled. HAHA! Every morning as we started out the day on the road they would fill in the printed-off pages I had prepared for them. It had a spot for the date, where they stayed that night, a couple of generic questions about their stop, and a spot for a picture.

Tip #5In Car Activities

There are tons of ideas about how to keep kids busy in the vehicle. Of course, we had our share of movies and audiobooks. But one thing I found that was fun was making a binder of activities for each of them before we left. So on our trip to Tucson, I had put a map of the USA in there and since we were going to be traveling through a lot of different states they could color each state as we visited it. It was something educational and fun, especially for our map-loving kid! I also filled the binder full of mazes, word searches, math sheets, and coloring pages – each at their level. The key to this is not to let them look through the binder ahead of the trip. Keep this all a surprise, as it helps keeps them busy for a longer time if they haven’t looked through it before the trip.

Other good activities for the car are just road trip games that we’ve come to love. We made a YouTube video of our favorites.

There are just endless ideas to keep kids busy in the car. One thing for sure that’s always helpful, is when at the end of your rope…buy a new movie. Stop at the nearest Walmart or Target. Go to the $5 bin and buy a new movie. Don’t be a hero and try to do a whole road trip without letting your kids just watch a movie! HAHA! You will save your sanity and your back from turning around trying to entertain the kids for hours if you just break down and buy that DVD player or a new movie! Trust me!

Tip #6 – Air Mattress

Depending on the size of your family this may or may not be needed. But we are a family of 5 and sometimes hotels rooms are only made for families of 4. A lot of the time we got a pull-out couch so the 3rd kid could crash there, but when there were only 2 queen beds we used our air mattress instead of spending an extra $10 on a cot from the hotel. So with that of course we had to have a sheet and blanket packed along, but it didn’t seem to be an issue with packing. We got it all in and it was so nice that someone didn’t have to ever sleep on the floor.

Tip #7Suit Case Clothes Dryer

This travel hack we discovered on our Tucson trip. Almost every night the kids got to swim in the hotel pool, and there really wasn’t too much time between swimming and leaving the next morning for their suits to dry. And who wants to pack wet bathing suits right? So we quickly figured out that we could use the hotel suitcase stand to drape our suits on and then point our fan (brought along as our noisemaker) to quickly dry them by morning. It was genius!

See it in action in the first YouTube video in this post.

What are some of your favorite road trip tips and hacks that you can share with others?



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