It is the middle of summer and the heat is on! Now that we’ve hit the halfway point of summer break, the kid’s summer activities have pretty much wrapped up and families are planning their last-minute vacation road trips.

I remember the good old days, taking a road trip in the back seat of our family’s 1984 maroon Chevy Impala. Once the arguments with my two siblings over who had to sit in the middle finally subsided, we had a great time cruising down the road, counting Wall Drug billboards and listening to tunes like Free Fallin’ and Fast Car. It was a fun and frugal time, and one that I’ll never forget.

Taking a road trip to your family vacation destination can be not only a fun experience, it can be a great way to save a few bucks on travel. But, if you aren’t careful, that savings can quickly be gobbled up as you make your way down the road. There’s a lot more potential for hitting financial potholes during a road trip today than there was when I was a kid. Convenience stores and restaurant chains litter the highway exit ramps. Sure, they are convenient, but they can also turn your frugal travel plans into travel budget disasters. Here are a few tips you can use to keep your travel expenses low on your next family road trip.

Avoid Restaurant Temptation

If you are heading out on a road trip, especially if it is going to be an all-day affair, eating out for every meal can easily add over $100 to your travel budget. But nobody’s going to remember the stack of bones you dropped at a roadside Denny’s in Bowling Green. Instead of hitting the restaurant, build a fun family memory of a picnic on the road. Many rest stops have picnic areas which are usually set in a relatively peaceful and pretty setting. There you can rest up, grab a bite to eat, and enjoy each other’s company outdoors. Remember to pack a few snacks back inside the car to tide the kids (and your rumbling tummy) over until your next stop.

Bring a Water Bottle

Buying water is just plain silly. Still, I find myself doing it on almost every single road trip. The worst part about it is that the price of water on the road continues to go up. I mean, why in the world should I pay $1.50 for a bottle of water when I can get it from a tap for FREE?!? And can somebody please tell me why a 20 oz. bottle of soda is worth $2?!? I know it isn’t much, but it all adds up. I go in a gas station to buy a water, and pretty soon I’m coming out with $10 bucks in waters, sodas, and snacks. Plus, all that plastic is terrible for the environment. Instead of wasting money, I should be bringing my own reusable water bottle. Then, when I stop at the rest stop, I can fill it up for free at the stinking water fountain! Ugh! I’m disgusted by my own lack of frugal awareness!

Find Ways to Save on Gas

When you are traveling across the country by car, your biggest expense could very well be gas. Although gas prices are down from a year ago, when you’re trying to save on travel, every last dollar counts. It is easy and convenient to fill up with gas at a station right off of the highway, but – in many cases – you can save up to $.10 a gallon just by driving a few minutes further into town. If you can, try to plan to fill up your tank in states or areas that may be cheaper. For instance, I’ll never fill my car up in Chicago because gas is a lot more expensive there than it is in Madison. You can also try traveling overnight. When it is cool out, you’ll actually get more gasoline for your money because it won’t gas off! (As a bonus, the kids will be sleeping so you may be able to avoid meal times all together.) Finally, ease back on the gas pedal. Having a lead foot may get you there quicker, but it can cost you dearly in gas mileage (and in speeding tickets).

Borrow a Book from the Library

Picking up a few trashy magazines during a refueling stop is pretty common for a lot of road trippers, including us. However, those $3 tabloids can add up in a hurry. Try renting a book from the library instead. First of all, the library is free – and you can’t beat that. And, even though you may not get caught up on “Why They Split!” or “Who Wore it Better?”, you’ll get a lot more entertainment value out of a book. Who knows, you may even learn something valuable that can help you make more money after your trip!

Traveling by car is a great way to see the country and to build family bonds. It can also be a great way to save money on your summer vacation if you don’t fall into spending traps along the way. Hopefully, these tips will help you save a little bit of dough on your next road trip.

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