This post was sponsored by RITZ as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.
What do you do when you’ve got a minuscule budget but still want to get away for a weekend? Road trip, of course! Read on for ten ways to save a bundle and take the cheapest vacation ever…without sacrificing an iota of fun! Plus, don’t miss the Walmart Gift Card giveaway at the end!
Money-Saving Road Trip Tips
A little background story before we get into these money-saving road trip tips. I’m a single mom to a 14-year-old son. My best friend is a single mom to a 3-year-old toddler. We’re both what one would call “totally broke” most of the time, yet we don’t want to sit inside all summer long! We’ve gotten pretty creative at getting the kids out of the house while sticking to a super tight budget! Find out how!
1. Choose a budget-friendly destination
Before you pile everyone in the car for your road trip, spend some time really thinking about your destination. Ideally, you’ll want to find a place that offers plenty of free activities! Some ideas include:
Day trips to cities
Choose a city that’s full of free parks, historical landmarks, and outdoor festivals that are free to attend. The downside of that, of course, is that accommodations are a lot more expensive. We live close to NYC, so instead of spending the night, we’ll drive to Hoboken early in the morning and take the PATH in. It’s only a few bucks. Parking is a nightmare, but if you’re willing to walk a bit, you can usually find a relatively cheap garage a little further out.
All-inclusive resorts on an “off” day
Another idea: opt for an all-inclusive resort and go during the week or other “off season” times. You would be shocked by the price difference between checking in on a Friday of a holiday weekend versus checking in on a random Tuesday!
Water park resorts are a good option because the park is free with your stay. Of course, that stay is usually more expensive than the average hotel but it evens out when you consider that most major amusement parks cost $50+ per person these days.
Make it a themed road trip
Another fun idea- especially if you have older kids- make the road trip the main event! Instead of traveling to a big, expensive destination, load up your itinerary with a bunch of mini destinations around a central theme.
- If your family loves history, plan a trip that takes you to a bunch of really neat (and free-to-visit) historical monuments.
- Love kitschy stuff as much as I do? Plan a trip around the weirdest tourist attractions! Biggest ball of twine, anyone?
- Plan a “sweet treats” tour and make your destinations all about places with unique desserts. Bonus points if you plan it around places that give out free samples of those desserts!
2. Do a “surprise destination” trip
Surprise destinations are all the rage right now, and for a good reason. They’re a surefire way to get everyone excited about your road trip right from the get-go. Again, make the trip itself the start by stopping at places that give hints about your final destination.
By the time you arrive, everyone will be so excited to find out if their guess was right that they won’t even care if it turns out to be something really inexpensive. Just don’t be mean about it. It’s cruel to set up clues that make it seem like you’re going to Disney World when you’re really going to a state park for a day of hiking, especially if you’re traveling with younger kids.
3. Save money on gas
With gas prices on the rise again, fueling your road trip can really eat away at your budget. Don’t worry, though, there are some things you can do to keep your gas bill from getting too out of control.
- Use an app to find the best gas prices along the way and plan your fill-ups accordingly. I live in PA, but NJ is just a few miles away. Gas is always cheaper there for some reason. Plus, they fill your tank for you since it’s illegal to pump your own.
- Don’t gas up right off the highway! It’s worth it to drive a few miles out to get cheaper fuel. I live right off I-80, and gas is up to 10 cents cheaper (or more) just a few miles away from the exits.
- Limit your use of AC. I’m not saying everyone has to roast in a hot car the whole trip as that will just make everyone cranky. Instead, turn it on just long enough to cool down the car, then keep the windows up to retain the cool air. When it starts to get warm, roll down the windows. When you’re stuck in traffic or on a low speed limit street, turn it back on. I know for a fact that this works because I had a car that ate gas when the AC was on, and it’s how I managed to survive even the hottest car rides in it!
4. Plan a route that avoids tolls
This tip requires a bit of calculating ahead of time, because sometimes the longer route ends up costing more in gas than it would have on tolls, but considering the cost of some tolls, it may be very well worth it!
Here’s one example: I cannot go to New Jersey without paying to get back into my own state. Honestly, I don’t think there is a single way out of NJ that doesn’t require some sort of toll! The main bridge from NJ to PA on I-80 is about $1. I think there’s a bridge that’s only $0.50, but it would take way more gas than that to get to it.
On the other hand, when I’ve taken trips to Maryland to see my brother, the extra gas to take the slightly longer route was worth it compared to the cost of tolls on the PA Turnpike. If you’re driving into, say, NYC, it’s definitely worth it to take the longer way and avoid those major bridge or tunnel tolls. You just have to do a little math (or find a decent trip calculator) to decide if you’re betting off avoiding toll roads.
5. Buy snacks before you leave
I cannot stress this enough: go to Walmart and stock up on plenty of snacks for the trip. DO NOT buy them at a gas station! Convenient stores know that by the time you’ve reached their snack aisle, you have a car full of hungry people and you’re willing to spend more to stop them from yelling, “I’m starving!” for the next hour!
I’d much rather spend just under $3 for a full-size bag of RITZ Crisp & Thins than $1.50 for a tiny bag of chips! Plus, you can grab flavors that everyone loves, like Barbecue or Cheddar (the Cheddar is my personal favorite, SO good!). Bonus: they’re less messy than chips, which tend to be greasy so your kids leave fingerprints all over the place. Plus, they have 50% less fat than the average potato chip. They really are the perfect grab-and-go snack for road trips!
RITZ Crisp & Thins are available at Walmart. I started doing 99% of my grocery shopping there and I’m saving so much money, so of course I’ll get all my road trip snacks there, too. Along with a few bags of RITZ Crisp & Thins, you may want to pick up some peel-free (or pre-peeled) fruits like grapes and berries, string cheese, and other “grab and go” type snacks.
6. Stick to rest-room only rest stops
Even if you pack plenty of snacks, if you stop at a convenient store for bathroom breaks, you’ll inevitable end up buying expensive goodies. For some reason, Jake instantly craves jerky the moment we enter a gas station. That stuff is expensive!
He’s old enough to not bug me if I say “no,” but I’d rather remove the temptation (and disappointment) entirely by just stopping at rest stops that have little more than a bathroom and a few vending machines full of stale candy that no one wants anyway!
7. Be smart about where you stay
While the obvious way to save money is to rent the cheapest motel room you can find, that’s not always the smart play.
First, some places are cheap because they scrimp on things like cleaning, laundering sheets, and other things that would make your skin crawl (sometimes literally!). Others are so cheap because, while they’re not bad motels themselves, they’re in a particularly rough part of town. I won’t give up good hygiene or my safety to save a few bucks! Besides, do you want to pay for a non-refundable room only to find that you wouldn’t even let your worst enemy stay there?
Another reason it’s sometimes smarter to go with a slightly more expensive room: built-in entertainment! A hotel with a pool gives you something to do on a rainy day besides spend a fortune at the movies. We’ve done weekend getaways where the hotel was the main attraction. Jacob loves hotel pools, so we’d just check in and swim all weekend.
8. Ask for local coupons & discounts
Once you check in, make sure you ask the front desk clerk about local coupons and discounts. I also always check that big display of local attractions, but sometimes the staff has access to other discounts that aren’t on the display.
You’ll also to visit the local Chamber of Commerce. Don’t just visit the website, actually go in person. Sometimes you can score better freebies or discounts that way! They’ll also have the most recent discounts that may not be up on the website yet.
9. Use public transportation at your destination
Once you reach your destination, stick to public transportation as much as possible. A bus ride usually only costs $1-2, whereas you’ll burn through a lot more gas driving in a city or town full of stop lights. Also, most hotels offer free parking (or at least much cheaper parking than you’ll find in a garage). Bonus: riding a bus gives you a chance to see more of the city and can be an activity all on its own.
10. Set a souvenir budget (or skip them entirely)
By and large, souvenirs have the most potential to completely obliterate your budget, so make sure you set very clear rules ahead of time.
My biggest rule: If it’s not unique to the place we’re visiting, it’s not necessary. For example, if it’s just a random plush dog that I can find in Walmart, there’s no need to spend 10X more to get it in a zoo. On the other hand, if it’s a plush dog that says the name of the zoo, then I’ll consider it.
I also prefer to take plenty of pictures to use as souvenirs, rather than buy stuff that will end up in the junk drawer or back of my son’s closet in a week. Since it’s no fun to leave with nothing, I buy a magnet from every place that we visit. They’re relatively cheap and everyone can enjoy them since I stick them all on the fridge.
By following these simple money-saving tips there’s no reason why you and your family can’t enjoy a vacation this summer even on the tightest budget! Even just one or two of them can make a huge dent in your spending! If you choose just one, make it the tip about bringing your own snacks. You would be surprised at how fast convenient store snacks add up! Once again, I recommend RITZ Crisp & Thins! Just make sure you grab at least one bag of their new Barbecue or Cheddar flavor!
Walmart Gift Card Giveaway
Enter below for a chance to win one of these awesome prizes:
- Six (6) $50 Walmart Gift Cards
- One (1) $200 Walmart Gift Card (Grand Prize)
Giveaway runs from now through June 13, 2019. I-C will randomly select winners from all program entries and will facilitate fulfillment of the seven (7) winning prizes.