By Marcella Simmons
I love to travel with my family as much as I love to eat! But sometimes finances (and lack there of) puts a damper on travel plans to some extent. Every year, we take off somewhere during the summer months and stay gone three or four weeks at a time. Yet we have a shoe string budget (no spending money at all except for money for essentials like food, gas and lodging.) We have been traveling as a family for many years. We seldom travel solo as some people do. There are always two or three car loads of kids, grand kids and friends and family and their kids who come along for a little fun! But we have a good time no matter where we end up. Let me tell you our little secret for a traveling good time on a budget.
While you’re traveling too and fro, find the cheapest gas available. Sometimes driving away from the Interstate you may be able to find gas as much as 12 or 15 cents cheaper, give or take. It pays to shop around.
#1: Book your rooms several months early or in advance to save money. Remember too that room rates are usually cheaper during the first part of the week and the prices go up on weekends. Every few dollars saved can be used for other things. Depending on what time of year it is, consider this: a motel with an inside or heated pool during the winter months is a good idea because the kids can swim. Even in the summer, an inside pool is ideal in case it rains. Have a little fun yourself. Grab your swim toys and hop in!
#2: If you plan on taking the family someplace fun and exciting, it’s best to plan ahead. Know where you are going. Let the Internet be your next best friend. Get familiar with your destination. Contact the Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau and request brochures, travel guides and maps. Don’t be shy – ask questions. Find out all about the free festivities going on in town for the week of your planned stay. Remember your budget. If you are taking kids and other family members on the trip, the more you have to do the better. Sometimes the freebies is more fun than you think.
Next, decide on one or two paid activities (remember to stay within your budget) such as the zoo or an amusement park and book online. Some zoos/aquariums offers a combo package which can save about $10 or 12 a person – usually you can find some great deals online but be careful when buying tickets online – be sure to read the fine print.
If you have a question about what you are buying, call the number given and ask before you buy. If it’s unclear what you are purchasing online then it’s unclear what you’re getting.
A free adventure tip: If you are running out of things to do, and the kids are bored, take them to visit a local pet shop. It’s free to look. A domestic mini zoo! Sometimes pet shops have activities going on, sometimes not.
#3: Months before the trip, set aside at least two rolls of quarters per person for spending allowance. Tell each person how much money they have for the duration of the trip and stick to it. It’s hard giving in when the little ones spend all their allowance and whine for more. When you’re a budget sometimes you have to sacrifice a few little things to stay within your means.
Quarters spend as easily as dollars. They may seem a little bulkier but this a great way to keep your hands off the credit cards and out of your wallet every where you stop.
#4: Set aside several rolls of quarters to wash clothes every evening. It makes sense to start saving early. Shop at local dollar stores for laundry detergent. Buy a container that will last the duration of the trip. Whatever’s left over you can always take home.
Bring the kids a beach towel and swim suit. When they’re done at the pool hang the wet items over the shower stall for the next time they want to swim.
When we first started vacationing with the grand kids, I brought the towels and swim wear but they would go swimming several times a day and not wear the wet swim suit again because they were wet and cold. I’d have at least 4 washers full of wet clothes every day. Not happening now. It may be a little inconvenient for them and a bit cold but they’re going swimming and are going to be soaked in a matter of minutes.
Washing clothes is expensive if you’re budgeting your funds. Save the money for something else.
#5: Stay away from coffee shops. Starbucks is expensive. Why pay $4 or 5 for one cup of coffee when you bring along your own coffee pot and can of coffee. Bring the sugar and creamer too. Like tea? Bring your own. You can drink as little or as much as you want and you’re not spending a fortune on one single cup.
Bring a thermos on the trip. During the drive in and drove home, you can fill a large thermos for less than what a medium cup of coffee costs, usually around $1.59 per thermos. And it holds several cups.
#6: Carry the coolers. Stock them with plenty of water and your favorite drinks for the road trip ahead.
#7: If you are planning your trip months in advance, this is good. Remember though that you will have to eat. We eat out everyday, once a day usually at a fast food restaurant because of the Value Menus. But one way we do it and not have to take away from our trip budget is simple really. Restaurant gift cards. Every week, several months before our trip, I fudge $10 – $15 out of my grocery money and buy a gift card for Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Dairy Queen, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Applebee’s, Denny’s or I-Hop. Cracker Barrel has cards available, too. There may be others but these are some of our favorites. You can find these gift cards at dollar stores or Walmart and they are redeemable any time.
Buying a card once a week isn’t as bad as it seems. You’ll probably never miss the $10 or $15 dollars you spend out of your grocery money any way.
I do this every week and when it’s time for the trip, I usually have enough gift cards for our family and we eat out in the evenings every day of the trip. It doesn’t come out of our living expense budget set aside for our trip.
I usually book motels that offer a deluxe breakfast (waffles, eggs, the works… ) so we don’t worry much about that. Besides, some assorted fruit, breakfast bars, a few boxes of cereal and milk kept in the room takes care of that and in between snacks during the day. Lunch is usually sandwiches and chips or a bowl of soup from a can.
It might seem like a little more work to be prepared but if you limited with spending money for eating out, this is the only way to go. I know. If you have a bunch of hungry kids and no money set aside to feed them a burger once in awhile, you will end up wishing you’d stay home. If they are ungrateful and think you’re cheap, so what? They will forget it and remember only the good times they had with you when it’s all over. Been there, done that!
#8: Take a few minutes for yourself while you are gone. Let someone watch the little ones while you take a dip in the pool, or a relaxing hour in the hot tub by yourself. Or stroll along the beach with your significant other and just enjoy some alone time with your favorite person or alone, whichever you prefer. It’s free, and good for the soul and it’s good for what ails you. Just because you are on a budget doesn’t man you can’t enjoy your trip. I’ve been doing this for over twenty years and each trip we take just gets better and better.
Enjoy a movie in the room while everyone else is down at the pool. Take a hot bubble bath and sip a glass of wine. Relaxation is free and revives the spirit!
That’s my tips for today, Guys! Traveling is fun and exciting and expensive but you can enjoy it on a budget. You just have to learn what works best for you.
Marcella is the publisher of several travel websites for families such as The Family Travel Host USA at https://familytravelhostusa.com/