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Written By Colin Graves

POST UPDATE:  AUG 27/2017. – In re-reading over this post tonight, I noticed that I made a glaring error in calculating our trip expenses.  It’s actually in my favour, meaning that we spent even LESS than I reported in the post below.  For anyone who is interested, the theme park tickets and parking, listed at a combined $247, were reported in Canadian dollars, rather than being converted to US dollars, as I did with all other expenses.  That expense, expressed in US dollars, would be $197.85.  reducing our overall trip expenses by just under $50.

In short, the updated net cost of our 17-day road trip was $675.86!

Also, Chris, over at Keep Thrifty, pointed out that I wasn’t quite as extreme as I could have been when determining our net vacation expenses, as I did not factor in savings such as water and hydro that we weren’t using while we were away.  He was right, and I have no excuse other than laziness, as the thought had crossed my mind.  He makes a good point though, there are so many ways to reduce your net expenses when planning a family vacation.

This past week, we returned home from our Super Frugal Road Trip (2017 edition), and I’ve finally found time to total up the expenses from our vacation. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that we embarked on a lengthy family road trip last month. If you haven’t and would like to get more detail on our frugal vacation, make sure you check out Part 1 and Part 2!

Before I go any further, I’m pleased to report that the net cost of our vacation was, drum roll please….$725.01!

No, that’s not a typo.

We loaded our family of five into our Toyota Sienna, and embarked on a 17-day, 4000-mile adventure across seven states and provinces.  Along the way, we stayed in nice hotels, ate great food, and spent time with our extended family.  We took in breathtaking scenery and a world class theme park.  My kids, who love to swim, were in the water at least 10 days during our trip.  Most importantly, we created memories that will last us a lifetime.

If done right, road trips can be the BEST way to pull off an epic family vacation without breaking the bank.  Let’s face it, travel of any kind can be very expensive, especially for families with children.  With close to twenty long road trips under our belt, I can say with confidence that my wife and I have become experts at creating memorable family adventures of the four-wheeled variety.

frugal road tripIT’S ABOUT MORE THAN MONEY 

For me, road trip vacations are about more than just saving money.  Trust me, as the child of an airline pilot, I’ve done my fair share of air travel over the years.  I love flying, but there’s something special about being on the open road.  Perhaps it’s the adventure of taking in all that lies between point A and point B.  Choosing to stop and spend a few hours in a world class city like Chicago, pulling over to enjoy a beautiful sunset, or taking a dip at a gorgeous beach along the road.  These are the types of moments you can create when you’re not 40,000 feet in the air, bypassing it all.  The best part is that these adventures don’t have to cost a thing!


The ONE caveat to road trip vacations is that you have to enjoy driving to some degree.  Our family happens to LOVE driving.  Some more than others, but everyone is adept at managing long days on the road.

frugal road tripEXPENSE BREAKDOWN 

Why I calculate Gross vs. Net expenses. 

In the table below, I’ve separated gross and net expenses, here’s why:

We were away from home for 17 days.  Because of this, we didn’t incur many of our regular living expenses during this period.

As an example, we spend approximately $300 on groceries every two weeks.  While travelling, that’s an expense we don’t have.  Yes, we are spending money on food, one has to eat after all, but to determine the net cost of our vacation, I’m only factoring in the food costs that are in excess of our regular grocery budget.

This provides a more accurate picture of our vacation expenses.  It also helps to illustrate just how accessible this type of vacation can be, from a dollars and cents standpoint.  With good savings habits and advanced planning, anyone can pull off a frugal family road trip vacation.

Without further ado, here is a breakdown of where our money went:

Note:  All amounts are in US Dollars.

frugal road trip


There you have it.  Our 2017 Super Frugal Road Trip.  It was one we’ll never forget, and we went less than $750 over and above our regular budget.  We found ways to save money by staying with family for a portion of our trip, redeeming travel rewards points, and by favouring free outdoor activities over expensive family entertainment.  Even though we made it frugal, our experiences and the memories created were richer than anything money could buy.

Note:  In 2016, we made a similar trip.  If interested, you can read more about it here.


  1. You’ve got skills, MMM. What strikes me about this is that, aside from not blowing mindlessly through money, which is an easy mentality to fall into on vacation, if you use some good money tricks to neutralize one or two big buckets, you can really make the impossible seem possible… in your case using miles for hotels and Costco for park tickets. If not for those two things alone, your final net figure would have been over 50% higher. Nice.

    • Thanks Linda. That’s how I look at it as well. A few years ago, It occurred to me that we were saving a significant amount of money by not being at home in our daily routine. If we could find ways to be strategically frugal with our vacation spending, the net cost of our vacation wouldn’t be far beyond our regular budget. Thinking about it this way is incredibly motivating, which makes it easier I think to avoid the mindless spending while we’re away.

  2. Wow! That is super impressive! We’re taking off on a week long road trip here in a few weeks and have been trying to plan out a route to minimize hotel stays. Those tend to be the biggest budget buster for us when traveling.

    • Hey Derek! Thanks for reading. Where are you headed on your trip? Hotels can really add up, for sure. Of course, we saved lots of money by staying with family for a good portion of our time away. I might experiment with a shorter road trip next year where we don’t stay with family, but see how frugal we can make it. We’ll have to great really creative then! : )

  3. That’s awesome! I like your approach of calculating net expenses as it’s a much more realistic assessment of how much things cost you. If you went extreme (which I usually do), you could also look at electric, gas, and water bill savings by not being in your house.

    I unplugged everything except the fridge while we were gone and turned the thermostat off, so I’m hoping to see a nice big drop in our next bills.

    We spent about $4000 (gross) on the 12-day trip we finished earlier this month. We haven’t gotten into rewards points or travel hacking yet, but are starting to get into it to help with future trips.

    Thanks for sharing your tips – I’m excited to see what we can do to drop our costs for next time around!

    • Great thoughts Chris. I thought about getting more extreme by calculating water and hydro savings into the net costs, but I was too lazy. No other explanation, I’m afraid : ) I did make one glaring error, which I realized as I was re-reading my post just now. The theme park tickets as well as the parking pass are listed in Canadian dollars (I forgot to convert to US). I’ll have to make an edit in the post to account for that. It reduces the overall expense by about $50.

      I’m really looking forward to your road trip post (I think I read on Twitter that you’re putting one together). I’m always looking for new inspiration/ideas for future trips.

      • Another $50 off? Man – you guys really kill it on expenses 🙂 Ours are quite a bit higher, but still a lot cheaper and more fun than flying!

        Thanks for the shout out in the post!


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