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Today is Day 14 of our family’s annual Super Frugal Road Trip. With 4 days remaining, and almost 2000 miles left to travel, it remains to be seen whether or not we’ll come in under our spending goal of less than $1000 for the entire 18-day vacation.
The odds are in our favour. The total bill for last year’s SF Road Trip came in at $725, while the year previous, it was a paltry $650!
When we arrive home in a few days, I’ll begin the task of totalling up our expenses; the fuel, the restaurants, all of the money Mrs. MMM and I spent creating amazing experiences for our three kids.
If you want to know exactly how a family of five can spend almost three weeks on the road, travel over 4000 miles, stay in nice hotels and eat good food, not to mention make incredible memories, all for under $1000, you won’t want to miss my full recap post.
Until then, I’ve compiled just a few of the money saving tips that we use, and that you can implement, to plan a super frugal road trip of your own.
1. We leverage credit card reward points.
My wife and I use a travel rewards credit card, and we make sure that the accumulated points cover the full cost of our hotel stays. This alone eliminates a major expense from our road trip budget. But this isn’t the only way we save money with our credit card.
2. We have free travel medical insurance.
If you’re crossing an international border, obtaining travel medical insurance is a must. Our current road trip has taken us through parts of Canada and the U.S., so prior to leaving I always make sure we have ample coverage in place.
Thankfully, the same travel rewards credit card I mentioned above comes with the added benefit of travel medical insurance. It remains in place at all times, and covers the cardholder, spouse, and any dependents who are travelling together.
For many years, I paid over $100 for two weeks worth of insurance coverage, but our credit card has eliminated that expense from our budget, not to mention the hassle of purchasing it whenever we travel.
3. We use a travel fare aggregator.
Although our hotel costs are covered by travel reward points, I maximize any available discounts using a travel fare aggregator website. This ensures that we get maximum value from the credit card points we’ve earned.
Booking.com is the site I use for almost all of my hotel bookings. There are a few reasons I love Booking.com. For starters, they make reserving a hotel room a breeze. You can find the best match for your budget and location, and reserve a room within a couple of minutes.
And you don’t have to worry about missing out on a better deal after you’ve made your reservation. In fact, on more than one occasion, I’ve increased my savings by re-booking the same room, at the same hotel.
Booking also sends me email alerts anytime there are special deals at hotels in the area that I’m planning to stay. And as a regular customer, I’m able to unlock additional discounts periodically.
In fact, if you use my exclusive link to book your next hotel through Booking.com, you’ll get $20 off your next hotel stay! (I’ll also get an equivalent credit of $20). It’s definitely worth checking out.
4. We supplement restaurant meals.
Food can be one of the biggest expenses when travelling. This is especially true for families with children. And while eating in restaurants is an important part of an enjoyable vacation experience, in no way do you need to eat out every meal.
There are 3 ways we reduce food expenses during our road trip.
- For starters, we only stay at hotels that serve a hot, continental breakfast. Not only does this take care of the first meal of the day, but our kids love being able to have scrambled eggs, sausages, and waffles. They always look forward to it.
- Whenever possible, I book hotel rooms that have a kitchenette, in particular if we’re staying in the same location for more than one night.
Last week, for example, we stayed at a hotel in downtown Chicago for two nights. Because our room had a kitchenette, with a sink, a stovetop, a mini fridge and a microwave, it was easy to prepare a few of our own meals.
We found a grocery store a couple of blocks from the hotel, and picked up the ingredients we needed, for a fraction of the cost of eating out.
The money we saved on meals more than made up for the slightly more expensive hotel room. Keep in mind that the cost of the room was covered by our credit card points.
It’s OK To Splurge
We did splurge on one restaurant meal while in Chicago, as we walked to a nice Italian restaurant the evening we arrived.
- For long driving days, we pack our cooler with healthy food and snacks. Sandwiches, wraps, fresh fruit & veggies, yogurt and nuts, such as almonds or cashews, tend to be staple items.
My wife makes homemade granola bars as a healthy alternative to the store bought variety, by mixing oats, peanut butter, some pure maple syrup, and a small amount of vanilla.
(that’s likely the closest thing to a recipe you’ll ever see on this blog ;).
It’s not all healthy. We usually buy a bag of Twizzlers or munchie mix for the kids to snack on, and they often purchase their own snacks when we make a gas station stop.
Pro Tip: When traveling, a cooler is high on the list of road trip essentials. However, in my opinion, plug-in coolers are overrated. For years, we used a plug-in cooler, which allowed us to keep food ‘refrigerated’ 24/7. But when ours recently bit the dust, we replaced it with a regular ‘beach-style’ cooler.
While it can’t be plugged in, it’s much larger and is on wheels, making it easier to transport. Also, we found that a bag of ice will stay frozen inside for 2-3 days.
We purchased our new cooler for around $50. Plug-in coolers can run upwards of $150, so unless you can find a used one for cheap, they’re not really worth the price in my opinion.
5. We have our vehicle inspected before our trip.
How is this a money-saver, you ask? It’s a preventative measure, more than anything. We have a 2005 Toyota Sienna, with over 200,000 miles, proof that you don’t need a newer vehicle to venture out on a long road trip.
It’s incredibly reliable, but we still make sure the key components (tires, belts, hoses, brakes, fluids etc) have been inspected prior to heading out. This reduces the chance of a costly breakdown along the route.
That said, on over 20 family road trips, we’ve logged more than 65,000 miles without a single vehicle issue. Part of that is probably due to owning Toyota’s, but pre-trip inspections definitely help.
These are just a few of the money hacks that help us pull off epic family road trips for under $1000 dollars. As you can see, there’s no rocket science involved.
Next week, after we’re home from our trip, I’ll share the single biggest reason that our road trips are so affordable.
Trust me, there’s more to it than a few money saving tips. I’ll also breakdown all of our family road trip expenses in detail, so be sure to check back in a few days, to get the full story.
What kinds of things do you like to do on a family road trip?
How do you find ways to road trip on a budget?
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MYSTERY MONEY MAN – FINANCIAL FREEDOM ADVICE FOR FAMILIES