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10 tips for saving money on your family’s summer road trip

Summer travel on a budget

The countdown is on – summer is coming! Summer is coming! If you love traveling like I do, you can barely contain the anticipation of spending a warm summer day on a road trip to explore a new (or familiar) place with your children.

Whether you are off to the lake, to visit Grandma and Grandpa, or to uncover the world’s hidden mysteries, these tips will help you do it without breaking the bank.

Eating on the Road

Pack a Cooler
Drinks and snacks at the gas station add up so fast! It doesn’t take long for it to cost more than the tank of fuel. Throw in some of your family’s favorite snack foods from home along with some bottled water, and keep the expense down to that bag of ice you toss on top when you fill up.

Grocery Shop
Hitting the grocery store instead of the fast food drive-thru will not only be cheaper, it will result in healthier choices for your brood. Growing up, I ate a lot of sandwiches prepared on the back bumper of our car. You probably did, too! Take a page out of Mom and Dad’s book and spend a few extra minutes on lunch.

Plan Ahead

Phone Apps
The list of apps out there that can help make your travel easier is huge, but taking advantage of a few can really drive down your bottom line on your road trip. GasBuddy finds you the lowest price gas in the area, leaving those extra nickels and dimes for entertainment when you reach your destination. Pull up your favorite hotel app (we love to find the best accommodation deals on the road. Google Maps will not only ensure you don’t get lost, it will also route you around any delays in your path and save you valuable time.

Pack Wisely
There is nothing worse than getting stuck paying big bucks for something you know is sitting on the shelf at home. For me, that means finally learning to pack allergy medications even if I’m not having symptoms when I leave. I have been known to have five or six boxes in the cupboard because I picked them up on assorted trips. Plan ahead to save yourself from falling into this trap! Make sure you have the sunscreen, shampoo, and toothpaste along, too.

Slow Down
Plan ahead to make sure you have plenty of time to reach your destination. Nothing blows your budget like a speeding ticket. (Plus it’s rough on gas mileage.) Save yourself some bucks and set the cruise control.

Having AAA will save you big in an emergency, but it also offers discounts on hotels, activities, and much more. I have maintained a membership since I first left home, and it has come in handy more times than I can count. Don’t forget to ask if there is a discount!

Entertaining the Troops

Dollar Store Surprises
When my children were very small, I read this tip that has served me well – whether you are on a road trip or a flight, bring along a few new-to-them toys to pull out along the way. Nothing keeps a kid engaged quite like a new toy.

Free Attractions
Roadside attractions are our favorite. We are known to frequently take an exit with no notice just because we saw a sign that sounded interesting (birthplace of Superman, home of Punxsutawney Phil, the list goes on), but you can also seek out these free or cheap attractions ahead of time. Googling your destination along with “free things to do” is sure to result in a list of parks, arts districts, festivals, and monuments. You never know what you’ll find!

Visitor Centers
Visitor Centers, often conveniently located at rest stops along your route, are another great way to gather information on your destination or the road in between. Pull in, unplug, and see what brochure or poster strikes your fancy.

I hope these tips inspire you to take low-cost adventures of your own this summer. Get out there and make some memories with a summer road trip of your own!

Written by Crysta Parkinson


Crysta Parkinson lives with her husband and nine-year-old daughter, Bria, in Williston. They have a big “his, hers, and ours” family, with five of their six children now grown and off exploring the world on their own. Crysta is a freelance writer, social media manager, and blogger. She can be found online at and and her travel blog,

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