The weather is warming up nicely now, and it makes me want to spend all my time outside! With my schedule lately, I have been fortunate enough to take off every other weekend with my kiddos and make it to someplace new. Over the last few weeks, we have been road-tripping like crazy and going from Georgia to Tennessee and South Carolina. Soon, I will be taking off for North Carolina for a birthday trip with my oldest baby (I guess now that he’s going to be 14, he’s not a baby anymore, but I don’t care! I’m always going to call him my baby)! With all of this road-tripping with my kids, I have to stay on a tight budget.
As a military family, we have had to take road trip after road trip all across the states going from base to base and visiting our families that are spread out all over the place. If I don’t have this road trip thing down by now – I don’t think I ever will. So, I thought I might share a few tips with my readers so you might benefit from what I have learned over the years when traveling both short and long distances with my kids.
It is so easy to break the bank when you are spending tons of time traveling or even traveling at all! If you aren’t careful you will end up spending a whole lot of money that doesn’t need to be spent on anything other than gas! It all comes down to preparation and organization really. I know it can seem hard to do, but it is so much easier in the long run. This post can help you get a better understanding of what to pack for your road trip ahead of time to save you money. It will also go over alternative overnight stays and ways to keep your kids entertained and happy and still stay on a budget.
Packing Food For Your Road Trip on a Budget
Pre-pack your food! All your snacks, all your drinks. Get them ahead of time! You will spend an arm and a leg on gas station treats if you don’t! I pack a cooler filled with drinks, lunch meats, condiments, and any other items that need to be kept cool. A great way to break up your trip is to make a stop at a nice rest stop on the side of the highway and have a picnic! The kids, the dog, and you get to stretch your legs and walk around without over-indulging in junky fast food. Most rest stops anymore are really quite nice with cleaner restrooms than what you will find in gas stations or fast food restaurants. Many of them have picnic tables with large trees for shade as well.
We usually make deli-meat sandwiches for our lunches. My kids love pickles so I always keep a jar in the cooler along with some fruit or some cut-up cucumbers and sweet peppers. You can pre-make them but I usually just pack the groceries as is to save time and the hassle. The food always stays fresher that way too.
Homemade muffins, cookies, breakfast bars, and quiches are also great contributions to your road trip menu! They don’t spoil and are easy to eat without making a mess.
Some other lunch/dinner ideas:
- Pre-made salads
- Various Kinds of Wraps
- Meat, cheese, and cracker trays
- Cold portions of pasta
- Ham and Cheese Crescent Rolls
- Small bags of chips/ Crackers/ Pretzels/Popcorn
- Granola bars/ Protein bars
- Grapes or any other fruit
- Cut up cold veggies – Carrots, Celery, etc.
- Trail mixes
- String cheese (keep them in the cooler)
Tip: Your kids are always still going to want what they don’t have! While on your road trip, when you stop for restroom breaks, you can totally allow them to pick something sweet or salty out ONCE, but then keep it upfront and use it as an incentive for good behavior!
What Else You Need to Pack and How to Stay Organized
When packing for your road trip. everyone should have their own backpack packed with their overnight essentials including toothbrushes. My kids are responsible for packing themselves a small bag with pajamas, an extra set of clothes, a hoodie, their toothbrush, flip flops, and whatever personal items they want like a book, game, or craft. That way, if and when we do get down, all they need to grab is their own small bag. I also let each kid bring their own small blanket and a pillow. This makes them more comfortable and you hear fewer complaints about being too hot or too cold.
Because of how often we camp, I almost always have a tent, a picnic blanket, and a hammock in the truck of my van.
These essentials aren’t a bad idea to keep packed in your vehicle at all times even if you aren’t planning a road trip!:
- Bug Spray
- Toilet Roll
- Wet Wipes
- First Aid Kit
- A Lighter or Matches
- A Pocket Knife
- A Portable Charger and Extra Cord
- An Extra Tote
Staying Overnight Stay on a Budget
I know a lot of people are gonna have a hard time with this one, but… I totally sleep in my car on long road trips. Usually, I drive as much as I can after the kids have fallen asleep so its easy to pull over and take a snooze. If that isnt for you, don’t be afraid to stay in cheaper hotels. They are usually a lot cleaner and nicer than people give them credit for.
However!!! Depending on your length of drive, and the time you have available, stay at a hotel with a pool so that the kids can get out and play! If you are taking trips that are over 24 hours then I defo recommend staying somewhere that will keep these trips memorable and happy! Kids love pools.
Camping! Camping is a great way to add adventure to any trip. It will add outdoors fun, relaxation, and a way to get exercise. If you are organized well, camping can be easy too.
Keeping Everyone Happy and Entertained on a Budget
Making sure that everyone stays happy and entertained is no small feat. Especially if you are like me and don’t want them drowning out hour after hour by staring at a screen. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with letting them watch a movie or two depending on the length of your trip. However, there are plenty of ways to keep kids happy, engaged with you, and making real memories that you all will cherish.
To keep electronic use to a minimum, we listen to audiobooks that everyone enjoys. Some of our favorites are Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Skippy John Jones, the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and just about anything by Roald Dahl. Those are just to name a few. There is nothing quite like a good book to open up your child’s imagination.
I recommend giving them easy crafts to do during the trip to occupy their minds and their hands. Now… this being said. If your kids are anything like mine – they are going to make a mess! It doesn’t matter how well you organized it. It doesn’t matter if you just give them a coloring book and some crayons. They will find a way to have it all spread out everywhere! The best thing I have found are sticker books and other activity books that don’t require much outside of a pencil or marker.
Whether you kids like school or not, I will tell you a secret. They actually love learning. Look up some fun trivia, or get a book of interesting facts and read it to them. They’ll love it! Also, jokes! Laughter is the best medicine for just about anything in life, and a successful road trips will have a lot of it!
Take Kid-Friendly Road Trip Breaks Without Spending a Dime!
As you head down the road, after a few hours everyone is going to get restless. Luckily, my kids are trained for super long stints and long hours on the go. Nevertheless, we still need to stop and stretch our legs from time to time. My recommendation is to skip that nasty Mcdonald’s playground and find an actual park. Fresh air and maybe even a small hiking trail are so much more enjoyable! You can also find lakes and rivers to enjoy and relax near for a break. We often cannot help but want to rush our road trips when going from destination to destination, but if you slow down and make time for truly nice breaks, you will enjoy it all so much more in the long run!
If you are taking really long road trips, remember that there are also a lot of cities that have free kid-friendly museums! Road-tripping on a budget means doing your research and staying open to different possibilities that not everyone else is doing. Sometimes it’s nice to get back to the basics.
Money-saving Tip: Every time you stop, there are going to be souvenirs. Just say no! They don’t need those souvenirs! They will be everywhere, and your kids will whine for them but keep your willpower! You are in charge! Keep the money in your wallet and not as an extra piece of junk in a drawer.
All in all, road trips can be a great experience for you and your kiddos, and you don’t have to over-spend to do it! I hope this info will help you succeed in making yours great!
MY NUMBER ONE TIP for having a successful road trip with your kids: Keep a positive attitude and a flexible, open mind. You have to expect delays and hang-ups. They are going to happen, and if you aren’t prepared mentally, it’s just going to make things worse. You can stay positive and still understand the reality of long trips. Be patient, breathe through the traffic jams and the inevitable fights.