How To Take An Inexpensive Family Road Trip


Who wants to take a road trip? I know I do! This happens every spring. Some crazy little thing just keeps niggling at the back of my mind. Let’s go somewhere!

I even tried to talk my husband into making my trip to Seattle at the end of the month into a big family road trip. He’s saner than I am, and declined. So I’m flying out instead. But whatever. I digress.

how to take an inexpensive family road trip

Here’s the thing: road trips with your family can be a lot of fun, AND not necessarily expensive. just think about it; yes, you have to pay for gas no matter what you do, but even that can be lowered with a little work.

The key is to plan ahead. Going off ‘half cocked” as my mom used to say, never saved anybody any money. The key is to plan ahead.

How To Take An Inexpensive Road Trip With Your Family

Save money on gas/fuel

Rewards cards. Murphy USA – the gas stations connected with Walmart give you three cents off each gallon for using their gas discount card. Last time I checked, you could also just buy a Walmart gift card to save your three cents.

Find gas station gift cards at a discount on, or

Use to find the best fuel price in your area.

Save on Food

Hands down, the first thing to get out of hand on a road trip is food. You can pretty much figure out how much gas and lodging money you’re going to need ahead of time, but food? The choices are endless, and prices range all the way from pauper to princely.

What kind of trip are you taking? Is it a sight seeing trip? An amusement park trip, or trip to a place?

I get that eating out is part of the fun of traveling, and believe me, I make room for it on my own trips –  on my recent trip to Seattle, I planned one meal out every day.

But unless your road trip is specifically geared around eating (if I ever make it down to New Orleans, that trip will DEFINITELY be a food trip!), there’s no reason to blow your budget on food.

  • Make and freeze snacks ahead of time. One of my favorite travel snacks is green power bites, followed closely by high-protein energy bites, and healthy chocolate chip cookie dough balls. All of those recipes freeze really well, so I can make them to freeze in advance to avoid that day-before-trip craziness.
  • Make fresh food for the first half of your trip. Sometimes, we just pack regular dinner food in lunch trays. Other times, because my kids are sandwich lovers, I love to make a roast beef, or homemade summer sausage, and take sandwiches for our lunches. Other road trip lunches we like are salads – start with lettuce on the bottom of your container, add your veggies and meat on tip, and top with salad dressing last of all. Mix it in just before your eat it.

  • Take non-perishable food for the second half of your trip. Of course, the fresh food thing only works for the first part of the trip unless you want to take a big cooler full of ice, so we also plan to take cans of tuna, homemade jerky, and/or freeze-dried meat and vegetables for lunches and dinners. In extreme cases (because of my husband’s food allergies more than because it was cost effective), we have also canned soup to take with us.

Save on lodging

  • Camp. We’re huge fans of camping – and by camping, I mean tent camping! It’s such a fun adventure for the kids, that it more than offsets the work that goes into it. Plus you get to try your hand at cooking over an open fire (that never goes very well for me – but it’s fun to try!).

    The best part is, it’s super cheap!

    Look for state parks, and more remote camping spots to keep costs down, sometimes as low as $7 a night.

  • Hotels. First, google hotels in the area you’re interested in, and compare prices. Next, search for a promo code. Lastly, call the hotel directly, and ask for their lowest possible rate. Don’t be shy!

    Another point worth making concerning hotels, is that a continental breakfast can save you a load of money on food, IF the price of the hotel is the same. Don’t fall for hidden costs!

  • Travel during the week. No surprise here, but prices tend to be cheaper during the middle of the week, so if you can swing it, mid-week road trips are perfect!

how to take an inexpensive family road trip | save money on vacation | travel

Save on entertainment

Taking a road trip with kids can be stressful, but there are quite a number of ways to quite a number of ways to provide inexpensive entertainment for them, which you can read about here.

But what about the entertainment that you’re driving to? That’s entirely different, and yet, it’s not impossible to save money on your road trip destinations either.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Visit State and National parks and landmarks. Entry into state and national parks is usually very inexpensive, and the parks themselves can be a lot of fun for those of us who like camping, hiking, biking, and just enjoying nature. I would love to plan a road trip for the sole purpose of visiting national parks and enjoying new landscapes every day. After all, that’s kind of what we did on our trip to Argentina last summer!
  • Plan Your Trip around Groupon Deals. Want to go to New Orleans? Go to Groupon first. This is especially great for people like me who just want to go to all the cities, and eat all the famous food (beignets, Chicago-Style pizza, New York bagels…), but there are also often deals on hotels, and other touristy things to do as well.

To wrap it up: Plan ahead, do some research, and have fun! Your family memories will be priceless.

Your turn! What are your best tips for an inexpensive road trip?

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One Comment

  1. We map out any and all state or highway provided rest stops along the route. This way, we always know where the next one is and can minimize the stopping at gas stations and restaurants where the begging for snacks will begin.

    We also try to spend the minimum number of nights directly in the experience sive main attraction. For example, we recently visited Arches National Park in Utah. The only town that we could stay in was Moab, Utah. Nightly rates there were at least double where we could stay a few hours from the park. We were able to time it so that we drove into town and had the entire afternoon to explore the park. We enjoyed a nice dinner, spent the night, went back into the park the next morning for an early hike. We returned to the hotel for a late check-out and showers and then we were off to our next destination, a much less expensive hotel.

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