We recently returned from a 26 day road trip through the southeastern United States. We visited 11 states, drove over 3000 miles, and had an amazing time. We live on a tight budget on my husband’s teacher salary (plus the part time income from this blog and my part time job with Young Life). We live debt free and don’t use credit cards at all (thanks to Dave Ramsey‘s Total Money Makeover). So, how did we take such a big trip on a little budget? We got creative, kept it simple, and made a plan we could stick to. Read on to find out tips for taking big trips when your income is small.


 Our Frugal Family Travel Tips for Taking a BIG Trip on a Little Budget:

1) Plan ahead, then set a budget and save for it. Do you want to take a big trip next summer? Start saving now. Dream about the trip you want, then get real about how much it will actually cost. If you are driving factor in gas and an oil change. How much will you spend on lodging and attractions? Write it all down and do the math. If you know you will need to save $2000 to take a trip next August, set aside $167 each month starting now and you’ll be able to pay cash for your vacation.

2) Save money on food whenever possible. Make your own breakfasts. Pack lunches for outings. We shopped at Aldi in every city there was one, and stocked up on essentials. If you drink adult beverages, buy them at the grocery store and enjoy them on the deck of your beach rental for 1/10th price of the bar down the road. Buy a case of soft drinks from the grocery store to enjoy instead of buying them at a gas station on the road. Stay in places where you can cook. Budget for some meals out, but save a ton by eating at your rental whenever possible. You can read about our beach week meal plan for some ideas here.

3) Choose your accomodations wisely. We stayed with friends during most of our travels, and then rented homes for the rest. Renting a place with a kitchen in a beautiful location will be much more economical than a hotel stay every time. You can cook at home and entertain the kids in a larger space. We stayed with friends because one of the main purposes of our trip was to see people we miss from our East coast days, but it also saved us a ton.

4) Save money on attractions and souvenirs. Keep the main thing the main thing, for you and your kids. You are getting to go on a fabulous trip, so your mementos will be photos and free stuff, rather than gift shop trinkets. We collected shells at the beach and rocks from our other stops to remember each place. I took 1.5 million photos (approximately) and will print some out for the kids’ rooms and make a family photo book for all of us. Find all the fun free things to do in your location and do them first. If kids want to visit expensive attractions not on your list, they should pay with it with their own money. Give them jobs to do in advance of the trip so they have their own spending money.

Traveling together builds memories and gives your family so much quality time. If it is something you value, take time to plan for it and make it happen. Read about our stay in the Smoky Mountains here. Read more of our travel tips here and here. If you have small children, check out our tips for keeping them entertained while traveling here.  If you are headed to a beach destination, read our family beach vacation travel tips here. Please share this post if you found it helpful.

How do you save money on family travel?

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9 Comments on Frugal Family Travel Tips: How to Take a BIG Trip on a Little Budget

  1. You sound a lot like us — my husband, who is a high school teacher, is the breadwinner of the family while I work to build my freelance writing business, so we don’t exactly have a ton of cash to throw around. But I’m finding you don’t NEED a ton of cash when you plan well and spend wisely…and live simply. Because travel is one of our priorities, I’m always looking for tips on frugal travel, so thanks for your suggestions in this post! Aldi is definitely a gem — you can get so many great items for much less than larger chain grocery stores. Anyway, thanks again for the ideas. I look forward to reading more!

    • Thanks Meghan! You are so right. Living simply solves so many of the cash flow issues. If you don’t concentrate on the material stuff, everything gets a lot easier.

  2. I love this post! It is so inspiring to see how families make travel possible on very little by making good choices. Thank you for showing everyone that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the world.

  3. Awesome! I am trying to figure out a way to travel and homeschool full time, but because the rest of the family isn’t in total agreement, I think we will have to stick to lots of budget vacations. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I love this! My family and I feel the same way. We always try to travel as much as possible and live simply to make more travel happen. I love the idea of stopping by Aldi’s in each city. It really is a great store to get bargains at! If we’re in a hotel, we also try to only stay at ones that have free breakfasts to take care of that meal and maybe provide us snacks for later in the day! We are going on a two week road trip this summer and have started the planning!

  5. I love these tips! It’s important to plan ahead for large vacations.
    We also try to limit the number of places we visit, and prefer to stay in the one place for as long as possible. Travelling around a lot ends up costing more money, and you can usually get a better accommodation price if you stay at least a week.

    I write about family travel on my blog and I’d love it if you could stop by sometime!

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