Here’s our little family high atop the continental divide near Cottonwood Pass in Colorado.  We took an incredible 8 week road trip this summer and spent as little money as possible.  We mulled over what we did right and how we screwed up and decided to share the good with you first.  Drumroll please…
1. Bring your own food for the road.
2. Grocery shop and cook at “home.”
3. Find FREE entertainment wherever you are.
4. Make the trip the thing, not souvenirs.
5. Ask for favors.
6. Utilize local resources.
7. Find travel deals online.
8. Piggyback on a work trip.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
1. Bring your own food for the road.
We packed lunches for driving days, kept an ice chest full of drinks and snacks, and brought reusable water bottles.  If we hadn’t prepared we would have spend an average of $5 per stop on snacks and drinks and $15-20 on lunches.  That adds up really quickly.  The bonus to this tip is that you can make the snacks and meals as healthy as you choose and not be bound by whatever fast food you can find.  If you do order fast food, order a bigger meal for yourself and share it with your child (if they are small enough), rather than ordering a kid’s meal.
2. Grocery shop and cook at “home”.
Stay in places with kitchens or kitchenettes whenever possible.  You will save so much money cooking at home.  Grocery stores in tourist towns can be pricier than at home, but most chains are interconnected so you can use your saver cards from home.  We meal planned throughout our time so that we wouldn’t waste food and wouldn’t be caught by surprise when dinner time came around.  We did go out to eat several times, but we used online menus to check out the restaurants beforehand.
3. Find FREE entertainment wherever you are.
Hiking, biking, exploring, window shopping, cruising around, and seeing the sights are all usually free.  Pick one activity that costs money and try to make the rest of your fun free.  We paid for one activity the whole trip (riding the ski lift at Red River) and it was well worth it.  Look for local entertainment guides that often contain coupons for activities.
4. Make the trip the thing, not souvenirs.
It is incredibly tempting, especially when traveling with kids, to become convinced that you must buy that t-shirt/stuffed animal/taxidermied jackalope/etc.  You don’t need it.  The trip is what you came for, not the junk.  You took your child on an amazing vacation.  They don’t need anything but memories to prove it.  If you love souvenirs, pick one thing that will remind you of your vacation to take home.  I like shells found on the beach, river rocks, and other found objects.  I also love a good Christmas ornament.  Magnets and coffee mugs are good, cheap reminders of your trip that you will actually use daily.
5. Ask for favors.
We asked our friends for help, and they responded generously.  What do I mean?  We ask to borrow houses, stay on couches, and get “friends and family” rates on vacation rentals.  A friend’s guest room is way better than a hotel any day of the week.  You would do the same for them.
6. Utilize local resources.
Ask locals for help with recommendations, must do activities, restaurants, etc.  They will usually be excited to help you.  We also found the welcome centers and Chambers of Commerce to be helpful in several towns.  Become a pamphlet reader.  Look for local blogs.  Do your research.
7. Find travel deals online.
We used Travelocity‘s Secret Hotel deal, Priceline’s Name Your Own Price app, and the GasBuddy app, several times.  We used VRBO to find rentals.  Read reviews online and listen to them.  We got burned by ignoring bad reviews of a hotel.  There are tons of great online resources for couch surfing and house swapping as well.  Again, do your research.
8. Piggyback on a work trip.
I know this may seem random or complicated, but it worked really well for us.  I had to be in Colorado for a month for work, so we planned our crazy road trip around my work trip, because my company paid for our mileage there and back.  This won’t work unless you travel for work, but might be easier than you think.  Our friends the Mitchells took their family to Disney World and got their mileage and most of their hotel paid for by his work because he decided to drive to Orlando for a conference instead of flying by himself.  Genius.
There you go friends, our top 8 travel tips for now.  We’ll be back later with our top blunders and screw ups.
What’s your best frugal family travel tip?

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5 Comments on Frugal Friday – Our Top 8 Frugal Family Travel Tips

  1. becca. i have no travel tips because you have ALL OF THEM here. great job. great list. sounds like the trip was awesome. and i LOVE LOVE LOVE your new header…sweetest cutest family photo of yall at Trail West. and the family photo from the continental divide isnt bad either!. print them both. love you friend and glad youre home

  2. #4 is so very important! We moved last year from Hawaii to Virginia and drove across the country to get here. It was just my Husband and I on the trip, sort of (we found out we were pregnant on the trip!!). It is so important to really enjoy the trip 🙂 We were able to see so many places that we could not have afforded if we had spent all of our money on souvenirs. This is a spectacular post!

    Found your blog thanks to Mom Blog Monday!

    Check mine out, too: http://mommasdailyrelish.blogspot.com/

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