Ah, the Great American Road Trip. There’s no other way quite like it to see and experience the country. It can also be a more affordable way for families to travel. This year, my family and I have been planning a 10-day road trip that will include Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana. (And that’s after cutting out Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico!)
Today I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned from taking road trips before as well as some new resources I’ve discovered while planning this one. I also want to emphasize how we’re hoping to save money on our road trip, since this is of course, a website focused on that very topic!
#1. Plan your route, but keep an open mind. It took us a few weeks to narrow down our route. We created ours on Google Maps, which is most excellent because you can save your route, see how many miles are between destinations, and the like. My husband also told me about TravelMath, which calculates the miles/time very quickly between cities. We weren’t too hasty to finalize our route, which I’m grateful for. Our initial plan spanned 14 days and 9 states and in the end, we decided that was more ambitious than we wanted to go. By shaving off a couple days and a few states, I estimate we’ll save at least $300 (plus a lot of extra driving).
#2. Book your hotels ahead of time. Some people prefer the “anywhere the wind blows” aspect about road trips, but I prefer to book ahead of time, for a couple reasons. First and foremost, to ensure you’ll have a room. You might think Cannon Beach sounds like a fun stop, but suppose you get there and the only rooms available are out of your budget? Or worse, there are no rooms at all? Once we had a general route in place, my husband and I booked all our hotel rooms for the trip. If a particular location seemed a bit spendy, we opted for a nearby town. All in all, we spent about $1,000 for 10 nights, including taxes and fees (so right around $100/per night). We booked all our hotels through Hotwire, which I totally recommend. (See my Hotwire review for more information.)
#3. Choose hotels with amenities. Pay attention to what the hotels you’re booking have to offer! That $100 4-star hotel downtown might sound like a steal until you discover there is $20 per day parking, $20 per day WiFi and fees for just looking at the minibar. All of the hotels we’re staying at have free parking, free WiFi, and pools, and about half offer free breakfasts. Incidentally, sometimes it’s the less spendy hotels that offer more of the freebies! Go figure!
#4. Get organized. Now this might seem a bit over the top for some of you, but I love organizing travel documents! And, because we’re in the heart of back to school season, you can easily buy pens, folders, highlighters, binders, dividers, and notebooks for pennies. I picked up the green prong folder pictured above for $0.15 at Fred Meyer a couple weeks ago.
So far, inside I have: our car insurance information, travel confirmation sheets for each of the hotels, a calendar that contains the trip itinerary and a spreadsheet that outlines the amenities and contact numbers for each of the hotels we’ll be staying at. I also plan on adding health insurance information and maps, and possibly, printouts from places we want to see along the way. I might be set in my nerdy ways, but I love me a good organization project!
If you prefer going mobile, I noticed there are several FREE apps that will manage your travel documents and maps for you, too.
#5. Consider renting a car. My husband I own used cars, and we were concerned about putting a ton of miles on them or worse, wondering what would happen if one of them broke down on the trip. After weighing the risks and benefits, we’ve decided we’ll be renting a car for our trip! This means we’ll get to enjoy a nicer car without worrying about putting the wear and tear on one of our vehicles. To us, this is worth the added cost. I just called our insurance company and was excited to learn our policy transfers to rental cars, so we’ll be able to avoid the steep fee.
#6. Plan a budget. Of course, your budget should come into play when planning a trip! We chose a location (Yellowstone) that was low in cost to visit even during peak seasons and kept the vacation to a length we could afford. Here’s generally what we’re looking at for our family of 4, but I may need to refine this a bit more – I’d love to get closer to the $2,000 mark. I may have shot on the high end for some of these expenses. About half of this is already booked & paid for.
- $1,000 for Hotels, 10 Nights, including taxes & fees (already booked)
- $800 for Rental Car & Gas (booking this week)
- $500 for Food (we’ll be eating some meals we’ve prepped ahead of time + free breakfasts, so this may be high)
- $200 for Souvenirs and Incidentals (already set aside)
- Total: ~$2,500
Over the next few weeks, I plan on sharing with you some more ideas about getting organized for a road trip (and in particular, traveling with YOUNG KIDS! EEK!).
Are you planning a road trip currently? Any tips for saving money on a road trip or general advice for organizing one? Please share!