How to Plan a Family Road Trip That Won’t Break the Bank

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Planning on a family vacation soon? Soon the kids will be out of school, and summer will be fast approaching. You may be thinking of taking a few family road trips. Get some planning down ahead of time and read up on these family travel tips.

How to Plan a Family Road Trip That Won’t Break the Bank

Summer is just around the corner. Soon enough, the kids will be out of school and you might be thinking of taking a few family road trips. Planning a road trip does not happen overnight. However, you’ll want to start budgeting and planning now to minimize headaches around the departure date.

YES, some road trips can be costly. Thinking about gas, hotel stays to food costs.

But aren’t you dreaming of a family road trip but worried about the cost? With careful planning and smart decisions, you can make your dream a reality without blowing your budget. In this post, we’ll walk you through how to plan a family road trip that won’t break the bank.

Get ready to hit the road and create unforgettable memories with your family without overspending. Plenty of online resources help you save on travel expenses once you get to your destination, but what about saving along the way?

family road trip on a budget - family packing care with suitcases for a day trip

How To Take Family Road Trips on The Cheap

Road trips allow you to see the country at a slow pace and create your own journey. Often they are spontaneous and expensive.

Let’s not worry about the small stuff, plan, and be able to spend quality time with your family. That is what family road trips are all about. 

Gas Expenses

Plan Out Your Route First. Planning your budget ahead of time is vital to controlling your family’s spending. It is important to take the time to map out your family’s vacation route. This will help you determine how many days and miles you will need to cover. 

Whether you are going away for a weekend trip to a national forest near your home or driving cross-country, gas is likely one of the most expensive things you will have to pay for while you are on the road.

Depending on where you live, gas is anywhere between $2.00 to $2.90 per gallon on average right now – not cheap by anyone’s standards, especially if you’re taking a family-sized car that gets fewer miles to the gallon.

Luckily, there are some ways around exorbitant gas prices, such as using Gas Buddy or Upside both are smartphone apps designed to help you get the best deals on gas.

You may also want to plan a road trip that is not too far from home, simply for the purpose of saving on transportation expenses. Rand McNallyGoogle Maps, and MapQuest show parks, ATM locations, gas stations, nightlife spots, restaurants, and hotels along your route as well. 


Another major expense will be food and drinks. Let’s face it you get hungry, your family gets hungry and the last thing you want to deal with when you’re stuck in an enclosed space for several hours on end is irritable family members.

If you have room, pack a small cooler (purchase a small reusable one – you will get many years of good use) to store your drinks and cold items – such as yogurt, coffee creamer, water, etc. – and have another box or two with snacks and/or sandwiches.

To save on food items before you hit the road, check your local grocery store flyers ads, and look for coupon deals.

This way, you won’t have to rely on the few and far in between gas stations that pop up along the highways every so often (which charge wildly inflated prices on their food and drink items because they have little competition in the middle of nowhere).

Think about downloading some helpful apps to your phones such as LivingSocial and Groupon to find deals on restaurants.

Entertainment for the Kids

Public libraries offer free DVDs, and audiobooks to check out, in addition to their book selections. If you have a DVD player in your car, be sure to check out your local library’s movie catalog before going on your road trip adventure.

iPads loaded with gaming apps can also keep your kids occupied for quite some time – just download the free versions, since the only difference between most free and paid game apps is the number of ads displayed Just make sure you do not have your internet connection to your hotspot and double-checking parenting controls.

Remember your days of road trips with your parents. We had no form of entertainment other than ourselves. Encourage your kids to write, draw, or play classic road trip games. I also like to pack a few new small toys purchased from your local Dollar Store. New always means extra time to explore and learn.

Dining Out

After several hours of driving and snacking on whatever you could fit in the car, you will eventually have to stop for a real meal. To save money on restaurants in the local area, check Groupon or Living Social for food and dining deals before resigning yourself to the fast-food selections just off of the highway.

You may also want to schedule your meal times to minimize eating out, such as stopping for a late breakfast or having a late/early dinner. Leaving snacking in between (rather than stopping for three big meals). If you have a smartphone, the Yelp app can be useful for finding quality restaurants around you that have moderate menu prices.

Every dollar saved on the road is another dollar you will have available to spend once you get to your destination, so every little bit helps!

Saving on your Destination

The destination is just as important as the journey. Destination spots must include visiting the local visitor’s center. Here you will receive great ideas and coupon savings to use within that town or city. Thinking ahead; Visit the official tourism websites of the states and cities you plan to visit.

Check out their calendar of events. See what free and cheap opportunities may be available while you are visiting. Research the following ideas.

  • See if museums in the areas you plan to visit offer free days.
  • Summer trips mean free fairs, festivals, art shows, concerts, and more. 
  • Check out an area’s parks, art districts, or libraries, which often offer free concerts or plays.

If you have any tips on how to take family road trips on the cheap, we would love to know all about them. Please leave us a comment below.

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  1. I’ve done this for years, especially for camping….instead of purchasing ice cubes by the bag ( they melt quickly,) freeze plasticware containers full of water. It’s free, and the large blocks of ice last for days, keeping your travel foods cold for a longer period of time, which means you can bring more from home, saving even more money.

  2. We do much of this already. Saving money on the road gives you more to spend on fun activities once you get to your destination. Great tips!

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