5 Ways to Save Money on a Family Road Trip

road in mountainsThe holiday season may be in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean a family vacation can’t be on your mind. Winter break is just around the corner, and summer will be here before you know it. This is a tough time to travel as a family, as the recession has led to dwindling savings accounts yet no break in the normal costs of living. Airfare is more expensive than ever and offers fewer perks. Whether your decision stems from these financial concerns, a fear of flying or a simple love of the highways and byways of America, many people choose a road trip for their family vacation. It’s a great option for a ton of reasons: you don’t have to be as careful about packing, pee breaks are easy and fresh air is plentiful. But you’ll still have to keep an eye on the bottom line. Here are five ways to save money on a family road trip.

First of all, get your car ready to travel before you hit the road. This may not seem like a money-saver, but any problems you can discover and solve now will always be less expensive than if you deal with a breakdown and repairs at some random stop on the road. In addition, there are certain minor tweaks that will save you money. Have your tires rotated and filled to the proper pressure and you’ll get better gas mileage. Check your air, oil and fuel filters for the same.

Once on the road, be smart about your gas consumption. Road trips are great, but you will be filling that tank far often than is usual. If you’ve got a hybrid or electric vehicle this may not be as much of a concern, but you’ll still want to think about saving money. Download an app for your smartphone that identifies inexpensive gas stations. Check that when you’re right around a quarter of a tank, so you can choose the right place to stop for each new tank. Also consider leaving for your trip mid-week, and not around a national holiday if at all possible. Gas is always more expensive during the summer and during holidays, when more people are traveling.

You’ll have to stop at the end of each day, so look for hotels and motels that offer deals for your children. You should be able to get some sort of discount for a traveling family. If you are a member of AAA you should contact them about places to stay along your route. AAA member hotels will always give you a great discount. Also look for hotels that provide you free breakfast. That’s one meal you won’t have to worry about paying for further down the road.

With or without a free breakfast, food is going to be another major expense. So bring a cooler with reusable ice packs you can freeze at every stop. That way you can get supplies at supermarkets instead of at convenience stores or pit stops along the highway. Pack some basic utensils and have your significant other put together sandwiches for lunch on the go. Stock up on large water bottles and fill smaller containers, instead of always stopping for expensive soft drinks. And carry a supply of healthy snacks as well. The kids will be much better behaved if they’re not always going up and down a sugar rollercoaster. If you’re really adventurous, stay in hotel rooms with kitchenettes. They’ll be a bit more expensive than standard rooms, but you can cook dinner in and save a ton over restaurants.

Finally, try not to drive during the hottest or coldest times of the day. In the dead of summer take midday off, pick up some outdoor accessories at outdoor grove and let the kids blow off some steam. In the winter make sure you wrap up your driving before the dead of night. The car has to work harder when you’re blasting the heat or air conditioning. That means more gas used and a greater chance of some sort of breakdown. Be kind to your vehicle, especially on these long road trips, and it will return the favor.