How to Save Money on a Family Road Trip

How to Save Money on a Family Road Trip and other road trip tips.

Planning a road trip with kids? Here are the three best ways to save money on a road trip. Plus a couple extra road trip tips that will keep you sane.


We’ve done it several times. In fact, we’ve crossed the country three times with little ones. Yes, you’re going to threaten to turn the car around a time or two. But it’s totally worth it for the memories that are made.


Road Trip Money Saving Tips


Our family traveled more than 3000 miles in a week’s time this summer for our big fat Canadian move — and doing it frugally was our top priority.  So how did we do it?  I’m glad you asked.  Without further ado, the Bohemian Bowman’s top tips for a road trip with a big family.


1. Stay with friends.


How to Save Money on a Family Road Trip and other road trip tips.

This one thing can save you hundreds of dollars on a long road trip.   If it’s practical, map your route and stops according to friends who are willing to put you up.  We stayed nearly half of our nights on the road at the mercy and hospitality of others.  And more of those than not I only knew from internet friendships!


In 2013 we took an epic road trip that included 13 stops. We spent only one of those nights in a hotel! We have, literally, saved thousands of dollars on our three cross-country road trips staying with family, friends, friends of friends, and internet friends.


How to save money on a road trip.


It’s true, staying with a host rarely affords the comfort and privacy that a hotel would, but it’s a lovely communal, stretching experience in our culture of selfishness and individuality.  And it saves you on food and lodging for a night, as it generally includes free dinner in addition to the standard continental breakfast. :)


2. Picnic for lunch.


Road Trip Tips


Not only does packing a picnic every day save you money on your road trip, it’s almost always more healthy than hitting up the drive-thru.


You can make this as complicated or simple as you like.  Personally, we went the peanut butter and honey route every day.  I didn’t want to have to worry about keeping things like condiments, cheese, or lunch meat cool during the day or finding space for them, so peanut butter was our preferred sandwich.  With a side of water and some trail mix.


3. Don’t go to McDonalds.


Road Trip Tips

Just trust me. (<- click for embarrassing bathroom story)


4. Splurge on the suite.


Road Trip Tips

Saving money on a road trip for a big family can be tough. Hotels won’t typically house more than 5 people in one room for safety reasons, but never you fear – there’s more out there in the big wide world than just connecting rooms.


If you have 6 or more people in your family, stay in a suite. Suites not only give you at least two rooms to stretch out in, depending on the quality of the digs, you’ll also get at least a kitchenette or possibly even a full kitchen.  Which can save you even more money if you choose to cook your own dinner.  And the best part? Suites are almost always cheaper than booking two adjoining rooms.  Crazy, eh?  Do it.


5. Stop for the scenic moments.


Road Trip Tips

You can’t make all the stops and detours you’d like on a road trip, believe me I know.  But make the best of what you can do.  If you’re like us, it’s easy to focus too much on pushing your nose to the asphalt grind each day, pushing, pushing to cover more ground.  Don’t let the trip become a blur in the rear-view mirror. Make at least a couple of scenic stops to stretch your legs and your camera clicker.





How to save money on a family road trip. Three tips that can save you hundreds of dollars!


Canada Or Bust Part 3

Yup. That’s how far we’ve gone so far.


We are on day 5 of our Bohemian trip, y’all.


Last night we stayed with more Christian Unschooling peeps.


With 10 combined kids, ranging from just under 2 to 11, it was kind of crazytown.  Four Year Old immediately started laying down nicknames so as not to have to actually learn people’s real names.  Like, “Mr. Mario Man” and “Blue-shirted baby”. There was a little orange plastic pistol envy but there was no fighting and, much to my surprise, the giant slumber party settled down pretty quickly after we laid down all the blankets and turned off the lights.


Yeah, that’s a lot of kids.

And Eleven Year Old got to meet one of her online friends, which was kind of surreal for her.


We hit the road this morning with another more than 400 miles to cover.  Husband found his very high-tech mp3 player with cassette tape adapter, so we treated ourselves to a Queen medley, starting with Bohemian Rhapsody, naturally.  With some Guns N Roses, Cake, Beck, and R.E.M. thrown in.  Yeah, we were pubescent in the 90’s, can you tell?  Until the battery died, then we were reduced to the sound of the wind again.  But thankfully, western Nebraska was more scenic that eastern Nebraska, and Wyoming was even better.


Unfortunately, there was one major flaw in our plan.  McDonalds.


I knew better, I did.  You see, we had run out of sandwich fixins for lunch, and instead of going to the store early that morning (because we wanted to get straight on the road without losing anytime) we resolved to dollar-menu it for lunch.


By the time we sat down I was having definite buyers regret. I hate Mcdonalds.  Hate it.  On principle, among other things.  But I told myself it was all going to be okay.  I wasn’t really feeding my children poison.  Exactly.  It was just one meal, right?  And, thankfully, the children all survived the nutritional assault relatively unscathed from as far as I can tell.  I on the other hand …


Well, by the time we stood up to leave I could already tell my stomach was fairly angry at me for the dollar menu McDouble, but I didn’t think it would be a big deal.  So I ignored all the warning signs and walked mildly uncomfortably to the car.  By the time we were 2 minutes down the road I realized something was definitely wrong and told the husband that we were going to have to stop at the next rest stop.  Then I remembered that we had just turned off the freeway so there weren’t going to be any more rest stops.  A couple of minutes later I told him that he definitely needed to stop “as soon as humanly possible”.  “Right here?”, he said.  “No, somewhere with a toilet!”, said I.


A few short minutes later, when the sweats started rolling in, and I was pretty sure I was actually dying, I uttered the words I never thought I’d say …

“There’s a tree, just pull over!”


At which point I grabbed the roll of toilet paper that my husband had so wisely stashed in the glove box and made a mad dash for said tree in nearby ditch.


Yeah.  That really happened.  Me, on the side of the road, in a neon tie dyed dress.  Thankfully, the hills and grasses (and tree) of Nebraska hid me safely in my ditch of agony.


After the … ahem, “episode” had passed, I stepped out all wobbly like a baby deer and made my way back to the vehicle as quickly as possible before the oncoming truck could see me in my tie dyed glory, toilet paper roll in hand.


Sigh.  Once the pain, terror, and embarrassment had passed, I simply convinced myself that I was all hard core and ready for expat adventures in Asia.   Please concur.


After that it was smooth sailing, and digesting.  The only other time that we slammed on brakes to pull over onto the side of the road was when Husband had to emergency identify the Wyoming State Bird, the lovely Western Meadow Lark.  Between Husband and Eleven Year old I think we’ve identified every bird and horse in Nebraska. We also pulled over once to take a picture of a buffalo.  Because, ya know.  Whatever.


And now we’re nestled safely in Wyoming.  My quite delicious pecan and apple chicken salad from Arby’s still abiding safe in my person.


I don’t even know what exactly tomorrow holds.  Besides, ya know, Montana and Idaho.  We’ll see when we get there.  I really appreciate everyone who’s been keeping up with us and praying for us.  So far the Durango has been a champ and it hasn’t had any problems what-so-ever.  So keep them “traveling mercies” coming, y’all.


Also, be sure to check out the rest of the guest posts I have lined up this week and next.  I’ll be around to update when I can!