The summer vacation is a ritual for many American families. One of the more common ways to go on vacation during the summer is to take a road trip. Summer road trips are increasing in popularity: nearly 40% of domestic travel includes a road trip, according to MMGY Global.
In addition to seeing the country, road trips also are popular because they’re often cheaper than other vacations. The average domestic plane ticket is almost $350 per person, which quickly adds up for a family.
Still, even on a road trip it’s easy to overspend. Here are the best ways to save on a family road trip without sacrificing fun.
Create a budget
Like any vacation, a road trip requires active budgeting to avoid excessive spending. Before setting out, determine a budget for your trip. Decide how much you’ll need for lodging, gas, food and sightseeing.
Next, prioritize your expenses. Your family may want to see more attractions or eat out more. Determining your priorities will help you assign amounts to each category.
Track your spending while on your trip to ensure you stick to that budget.
Ditch the hotel
Staying at a hotel is synonymous with taking a family road trip. The problem is hotels can be quite expensive — limiting the rest of your budget.
“Generally, the biggest expenses for a family road trip come down to lodging and food. If you can economize in either area, you can realize significant savings,” says Chez Chesak, travel and outdoor industries consultant with the Family Travel Association.
Consider one of these ways to save on lodging:
• Renting a house or condo through VRBO or Airbnb
• Staying with a friend or family member
Each provides a unique opportunity to save money. Renting, for example, lets you prepare meals at the house. Chesak warns those looking to camp that it takes gear and knowledge. If you don’t have either, you may be better off in a rental.
Stay away from restaurants
Eating out can be an expensive endeavor for many families, so cutting down on restaurant meals is one of the easiest ways to save money on a family road trip.
Instead of eating out for every meal, limit it to one meal per day. Bring along a cooler and use it to bring snacks, breakfast foods and lunchmeat as well as bottled water. You can even stop at a grocery store to replenish those items and still save money.
“The kids might prefer restaurants, but packing your own food and having picnic meals is a great way to save money,” Chesak says. “Plus, it makes those times you do eat out feel truly special. There are many ways to keep food costs down on a road trip and still make fond memories.”
Know what apps to use
It used to be the only way to save on travel was with an AAA membership. Being an AAA member does still offer savings, but the prevalence of travel-based apps makes saving easier. And you also can use them to discover things to do at your destination.
Here are a few apps you can use to save money and find fun on your road trip:
• CityPass — Lets you find discounted attraction tickets in different locations.
• Daily Deal sites — Sites such as Groupon or LivingSocial often have discounted rates for attractions and amusement parks in many cities.
• GasBuddy — Lets you find real-time gas prices based on city or zip code.
• RoadTrippers — Lets you find unique things to do while on the trip, along with savings opportunities.
• Waze — This is a Google Maps alternative that lets you report and see real-time traffic conditions and radar alerts.
Nonfinancial tasks to take care of before the trip
Don’t fall victim to only planning your vacation. You don’t want to overlook basics that can impact the enjoyment of your trip. Doing a little legwork before the trip will help save money and give you peace of mind.
For starters, before you leave for your trip, make sure your car is ready for the drive.
“Before heading out on a long road trip, get your car inspected,” says Doug Keller, personal finance expert with Payless Power. “It can be just a basic tune-up, but you want to make sure everything is in working order before hitting the road, as there exists a high possibility you’d have to pay more to an unfamiliar mechanic if you experience any mishaps.”
You may also want to have your tires checked and get an oil change to ensure your car is in top shape for the trip and avoid a surprise expense.
Once your wheels are ready to roll, you may also want to take care of the following:
• Call your bank to notify them you’ll be on a road trip.
• Prepare your devices, make sure they’re charged and download any songs or podcasts you may want enjoy on the trip.
• Turn up the temperature on your home air conditioner. You don’t need to keep your house as cool while you’re gone.
Family road trips are a great way to spend time together over the summer. With some planning, you can save money and create lifelong memories.