One of the best things about summer is the opportunity to plan vacations with your family.
One of my favorite memories when my kids were younger is taking them on family road trips.
We’ve driven to Maine, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and all throughout upstate New York.
Road trips can be just as expensive as flying if you don’t plan it correctly.
In this article, I’ll show you all our tips and tricks on planning a family road trip on a budget.
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What Is A Good Budget For A Road Trip?
A good budget for a family road trip should be between $1000 – $1500 depending on the distance you’re driving. This amount includes the budget for hotels, gas, and food on the road. It does not include the amount of money you’ll spend on your vacation once you arrive at your destination.
Gas Saving Tips On Your Family Road Trip
Drive close to the speed limit
Driving the speed limit means you won’t put more strain on your car than is required. The faster you drive, the more fuel your car will need. You could also get pulled over by the cops and get a speeding ticket. All this will cost you more money in the long run. So driving the speed limit will help you save money on your family road trip.
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Don’t buy anything but gas at a gas station
There’s a common saying that you should never eat gas station food. It’s not just to avoid food poisoning.
Buying food at rest stops and gas stations will end up costing you more money down the road.
Their food and snacks are marked up higher than normal prices. They know you have limited options so you’re more likely to buy from them.
So if you want to have a family road trip on a budget, try avoiding gas station food.
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Use apps that give cashback on gas
Another awesome way to save money on your family road trip is to use cashback apps.
Some credit cards like Chase will give you points on every purchase. We’ve used our points to book hotels, buy plane tickets, and even an iPhone in the past (yes, they’re that good!)
If you don’t have a credit card like that one, then download an app like GasBuddy and Upside that give you cashback on gas.
If you’re going to be spending money on gas during your family road trip, you might as well get paid for it.
Plan your gas fill-ups ahead of time
To have a successful family road trip on a budget, you need to plan everything ahead of time.
One thing you should plan is where you’ll be stopping for gas. Make a list of all the states you’ll be driving through, and how much they charge for gas.
This way, you’ll know which states to avoid in order to get the most gas for your money.
Pack less stuff with you
Plan to pack as little as possible with you on your family road trip. This will help you stay on a budget.
When your car has extra weight in the trunk, it won’t drive as efficiently. You’ll end up spending more on gas.
Keep your windows open instead of using the A/C
There’s nothing more satisfying on a drive than letting the breeze hit your face. Roll down your window on your family road trip instead of using the A/C.
The less energy the car spends powering your A/C, the more gas you will save. You’ll have a more satisfying experience on your budget family road trip.
Use space-saving bags
Vacuum-sealed bags can help compress clothing and bedding, making them easier to pack and saving space.
Using space-saving bags will help you save money on your budget family road trip. This is because you’ll have enough space to bring all the essentials with you.
Pack heavier items at the bottom of the trunk and lighter items on top. This will help distribute the weight evenly and prevent damage to fragile items.
If your items don’t get damaged, then you won’t have to spend money to replace them.
Plan to limit toll roads and high-traffic areas
Before you set out on your budget family road trip, plan your route to avoid toll highways as much as possible.
Only pay for tolls when it’s necessary.
Also, plan to avoid roads that are known to have high traffic. It will save you time, money, and fuel in the long run.
Road Trip On A Budget – Tips To Save Money On Food
Buy most of your food at grocery stores
One way to save money on food during your family road trip is to buy food at grocery stores.
Restaurants will charge you up to $16 for a simple chicken sandwich because they have to cover the cost of their employees.
On the other hand, you could buy a loaf of bread and some lunch meat to make multiple chicken sandwiches on your road trip.
It’ll cost you less money to do so.
As much as you want to enjoy good food on your vacation, try to stay away from restaurants as much as possible.
Stay in hotels with free breakfast
Whenever we go on road trips, we like to stay in hotels with free breakfast. It allows you to do so much.
You can get coffee all day during your stay. Make sure you fill up a large coffee mug to take with you before checkout.
You can also refill your cooler with ice before you checkout.
Some hotels even give you snacks during your stay. Make sure to take as many as possible before checkout as well.
You’ll be able to do a family road trip on a budget if you use my tricks.
Don’t eat too much fast food
Many people think fast foods are cheap.
This misconception is what makes a lot of people spend more when buying fast food than they would spend in a restaurant.
It all adds up fast if you eat only fast food on your family road trip.
On top of that, fast food also makes you more sluggish because it’s filled with lots of junk that’s unhealthy.
It’s better to pack your own food on the journey to help you save money.
Pack lots of healthy snacks
There’s no doubt that you’ll be snacking a lot on your family road trip.
So to stay on a budget and not buy snacks at a rest stop, you need to pack your own.
Rest-stop snacks will cost you money. Spending time browsing the food aisle will take time away from you being on the road.
Some healthy snacks you should pack are granola bars, trail mix, Clementine oranges, etc.
These are small enough to not add weight to your luggage.
Stop at local parks and have a picnic
Don’t just spend your road trip on the road. You can save money by enjoying a picnic in the park instead of eating at a restaurant.
To stay even more on budget, use items you brought from home for your picnic instead of buying more food at the grocery store.
Being out of the car will be good for the family. spending time outdoors will help add to your memories on this family road trip on a budget.
I spoke to a travel expert about what to pack on a road trip. Here’s what they said.
In the cooler
Sliced lunch meats & cheeses, pint bags of carrot and celery sticks with a few ice cubes (they will stay crisp for days), apples, cucumbers, hummus, and pimiento cheese.
Single-serving orange juice, water bottles, a small container of milk (for coffee), pickles, mayo, and mustard.
Crisp, cold cucumbers are amazingly refreshing on a hot day. And a little chocolate.
Ranch or honey mustard or some thick dressing for dipping the veggies. Cut broccoli/cauliflower for the first day (they get funky).
Ice in brand-new freezer gallon Ziploc bags with another bag on the outside of each – this keeps the cooler cold, but dry.
In the food bag
Sandwich bread, potato chips (we only ever eat these on road trips), crackers, homemade cookies, peanut butter, and a few new things to try.
Tips To Save On Hotels During A Budget Family Road Trip
Try camping instead of hotel stays to save money
Camping can be a cool experience if you’re doing it with your family members. It could also help you save money on hotels on your budget road trip.
Some state parks have cabins that you can rent if you’re not comfortable setting up a tent.
We used a cabin when we visited Florida a few years ago. We still got to enjoy all the sights without spending the same amount.
Look for last-minute hotel deals
Websites like Travelocity, Hotwire, and Expedia all run last-minute deals to fill up vacant hotel rooms before the end of the night.
So if you want to stay in a hotel, try using one of these websites for your family road trip on a budget.
Stay with family and friends instead of hotels
Nothing saves you money on hotels more than staying with other people.
When you’re planning your road trip, make a list of family members that live in the states you’re passing through.
If they don’t mind accommodating you for a night or two, then plan to stay with them. You’ll be making memories while saving money on your family road trip.
Try using Airbnb
Airbnb has an option that allows you to rent a private room in a whole house.
As weird as it may be to stay with strangers, it could be a great option for saving money on accommodation.
Other Tips For Going on A Budget Family Road Trip
Use a travel urinal to reduce bathroom breaks.
Nothing will delay your journey more than stopping for bathroom breaks. Whenever you stop to use the bathroom, you add more time to your travel.
So I recommend using a travel urinal like this one on Amazon. I have one in my car for emergency purposes.
It’ll save you time by reducing bathroom breaks during your family road trip on a budget.
Have a mechanic check your car before you go
Having a working vehicle is important if you’re going on a family road trip.
To avoid unexpected car trouble, make sure you have a mechanic check your car before you embark on the road.
Get a spare tire and learn how to change it
It’s worth learning how to do simple repairs on your own in case your car breaks down.
Before you go on your budget family road trip, learn how to change a car tire, oil, and windshield wiper fluid.
Learning to do them yourself will save you a lot of money on your family road trip in case of an emergency.
Get some car maintenance necessities
Top up your oil, coolant and get windshield washer fluid. Bring along anything you believe might be necessary in repairing your car in case of a breakdown
Download audiobooks and podcasts to listen on the road
At some point during your drive, your kids will get antsy from being cooped up on a long drive.
To make things less boring, bring along some audiobooks and podcast episodes you’ve downloaded.
Audible is a great place to find unique audiobooks in multiple categories and genres.
Listening to audiobooks isn’t just for entertainment. It’ll reduce your family’s reliance on screen time during your trip.
Bring lots of games kids can play together
You can also bring some games to play on your family road trip. Board games are a budget-friendly entertainment option for the whole family.
It’s also screen-free which means there’ll be less phone charging. Less phone charging means less drain on your car.
Use screen time when necessary
Although I’m not a huge fan of excessive screen time, I do believe there is a time and place for it.
If you’re road-tripping with young children, then you’ll need to use screens for entertainment.
No amount of games and songs will keep them occupied as much as a cartoon will.
Do what you need to do to ensure a smooth family road trip.
Have fun along the way
Whether your family road trip is on a budget or not, you need to schedule a time to have fun along the way.
You can’t have a fun road trip if you’re not stopping to enjoy new places along the way.
It’s not just about the destination. The journey matters too.
My suggestion is to stop at national parks, museums, amusement parks, free attractions, and sites along your journey.
It’ll make your budget family road trip more fun.
Pack some emergency items
Bring a flashlight, extra batteries, a blanket, and other emergency items in case of a breakdown or other emergency.
Don’t forget to pack a first aid kit with bandages, antiseptic, and other essentials.
Don’t rely on your cell phone alone for GPS
We all know that cell phones can be unreliable. You can lose cell service when going through a remote location.
We often lost service driving through the Arizona desert. What saved us was our car’s GPS.
If you’re going on a long road trip, I suggest you bring along an extra GPS like this one on Amazon in case your car’s GPS stops working for whatever reason.
You should also bring along maps of the places you’re planning to drive through in case of emergency.
Use roof racks to bring extra gear
If you have a lot of luggage, consider using a roof rack like this one to maximize space in your vehicle. This will ensure that you’re able to pack all the items you need on your trip.
Other FAQs on Doing A Family Road Trip On a Budget
How do you split road trip expenses?
If you’re going on a road trip with friends or family members, you can work together to determine how to pay for your road trip.
Below are some ways to split road trip expenses include:
Assign a road trip expense to each person
One person can be in charge of paying for the food throughout the road trip. Another person can be in charge of paying for gas, accommodation, attractions, etc.
This will ensure that everyone is paying a part of the road trip expenses.
Divide the total cost of your road trip expenses equally
If the first method doesn’t work for you, then you can calculate how much the road trip will cost in total and split the cost among everyone.
Make sure to keep in mind the cost of food, accommodation, attractions, etc.
How To Sleep Cheap On A Road Trip
You can sleep cheaply on a road trip by looking for deals on hotels.
Use hotel deals
Go for hotels that offer last-minute deals to fill up their vacancies at the end of the night.
Stay in an RV park
You can also sleep cheaply on a road trip by staying in an RV park instead of a hotel. RV parks are significantly cheaper because you’re not getting all the bells and whistles of a hotel.
The final way to sleep cheaply on a road trip is to camp for the night instead of staying in a hotel. Camping has many benefits and is also very cheap.
Final Thoughts On Planning A Cheap Family Road Trip on A Budget
You can have a cheap family road trip on a budget if you are strategic with your planning.
Whatever ways you plan on saving money, don’t let that stop you from having fun along the way.