Road Trip with Kids | Keeping it Cheap

Just for fun

July 13, 2021

With any vacation, there is a cost factor that has to be considered. I don’t know anyone that goes on vacation and says “let’s just spend as much as we can!” Doing these trips annually are fun, but they could get very expensive fast if I didn’t work hard to keep the cost down.

One of the reasons I can do these annually is because I keep the cost of these trips down and make it an affordable vacation option for the kids and me. Generally I spend less than $800 or so each trip, which isn’t bad when you consider that I’m gone 10+ days each time! The cost of gas is a big factor as well as the things we do on the trip, but for the most part, I work really hard to find discounts and keep the trip as cheap as possible!

This post is one that gives tips and ideas on how to keep the cost of your trip down. I hope you find this installment helpful!

1) Stay with Friends and Family– when possible, stay with people you know. Hotels are the most costly part of doing a road trip, so when you are able to, stay with friends and family you know around the country. In fact, plan your trips around seeing these people! Don’t be afraid to reach out to that friend from high school you haven’t seen in 10 years or reconnect with a cousin you haven’t talked to in a while.

My road trips have actually reconnected me with cousin whom we didn’t see for many years due to location and life stages, but now she’s been on my road trip stops twice and it’s been so much fun to reconnect with her and her family! I make friends like none other and keep in touch well thanks to social media and texting. If someone isn’t able or doesn’t want to host us, no skin off my back, at least I asked! Most of the time we are staying only one night, sometimes two at a location, so most people aren’t put out by taking in the three of us for our trips.

On my next trip next week, we will be staying in six cities and I am doing a hotel at one location. We will be staying with 3 college friends, 2 photographer friends that I met at workshops/conferences, and a good friend from my adulthood. My son loves our hotel night(s) as it’s a fun way to swim and stay in a different place, but we don’t hit up a ton of hotels on our trips. Later on when I being to take us further west and I know less people out that way, I will have to start doing hotels more than I do now; but right now, I know a lot of people around the eastern part of the US!

Staying with various friends on our 2019 road trip!

2) Pack Your Food– this is another big one! Food costs really make the trip more expensive, so take your own food. I pack a big bend of food with me that includes fresh fruit, a loaf of bread, peanut butter, honey, snacks, etc. I also bring a cooler with veggies, deli meats, salads, and whatever else I want to keep cool. These are mainly for meals while we are on the road. When we get in locations with our friends, we eat at their homes or sometimes go out for local fare. But there’s no need to stop for fast food every time you need to eat while you’re on the road. I find somewhere like a local park, state park, or national reserve area to stop for lunch. The kids and I picnic and we’re good to go! Sometimes I pull into the parking lot of a gas station and make sandwiches real quick and head back on the road and eat in the car depending on the timing of where we need to be and when! Doing this saves a lot more money than you realize!

3) Ask the Locals for Things to Do– when we go visit our friends, most of the time they have ideas on what to do. Ask them for fun things to do with your kids and see if they know how to get discounted tickets to wherever you’re going. If they have a seasons pass to the local zoo and have buddy passes to use, y’all take advantage of stuff like that! We often get discounted rates on tickets because my friends were able to buy them in bulk for all of us or use their local status for a discount to wherever we go.

Our super fun time at the Life and Science Museum in Raleigh back in 2018. We got in discounted since our friends had season passes!

4) Look Up Discounted Tickets– places often run specials on purchasing tickets to their museums. Sign up for their newsletters earlier in the year and when they send out discount or specials, buy your tickets then. Go to Groupon and other money saving sights. We got our tickets to a train museum in Cincinnati for this summer on Groupon and saved $3/person.

5) Reach Out to the Facility– this doesn’t work for every place we go to, but a lot of train museums we visit, for example, are only open on certain days. They have train rides only on the weekend or might only open the museum on certain days. Often our trips don’t revolve around these specific dates and we miss things like the train ride in North Carolina this trip, because we aren’t there at the right time. HOWEVER, they do open the train yard to visit to the public on certain days and we will be going next week to tour the train yard. Last summer, I called the local train museum in Asheville and we got permission to come to the train yard even though they weren’t technically open. The manager was there and welcomed us in and didn’t charge us anything to do it. This has happened a couple of times for us on our trips where we have gone somewhere during non-peak hours and gotten in for free. I wouldn’t have known about any of these opportunities had I not reached out to the facility to see!

Our free visit to the Craggy Mountain Railway last summer! We had the whole place to ourselves!

6) Get Outside– we often hike and do outdoor activities that don’t cost anything. One of our favorite places last summer to visit was a hike we took in the Asheville area! We didn’t pay anything to go and had a blast! This is a very inexpensive way to have fun and do something on the trip!

Gorgeous hike at Black Balsam Knob outside of Asheville last summer!

7) Explore and Get Lucky– we often will go to a city with no specific plans. Last summer, we spent the morning in Charlotte before heading home from our 10 day road trip. I looked up earlier that morning that there was a local commuter train we could park my car and ride the train. While on the train, I found there was a free botanical garden on the UNC Charlotte campus. Afterwards, I looked up a yummy pizza place for lunch, and while walking to the pizza place, we found these really cool repurposed globes around the city encouraging recycling the ways to help the environment. The kids LOVED our morning in Charlotte! The tickets for the commuter rail were super cheap and the pizza cost probably $15. It was a really fun impromptu morning with little cost for the memories!

Super fun morning in Charlotte with no plan when we woke up!

  1. tracy says:

    These are great tips for travelling cheap with kids! I love taking a picnic lunch and stopping somewhere nice instead of a fast food restaurant!

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