Road trips are a huge part of summer family fun. Whether it’s a smaller day trip or a few weeks holiday, costs can often escalate quickly in the name of enjoyment, especially when there are kids in tow. With a little bit of preparation, road trips really can be an inexpensive way to enjoy time with your family this summer – from start to finish! In this article, we share a few tips to ensure the open road doesn’t translate into an open wallet.
Getting ready to go:
- Research – Before you go, spend a bit of time on the internet, at your local library or calling 1-800 numbers for local tourism authorities, attractions and hotels en route and for your destination. If you have older kids, this is a great way to get them involved in the planning and preparation. Do searches online using key words and phrases like; “kids eat free”, “free family fun”, “free activities” plus the name of your destination.
- Call the local provincial, state or city tourism centre – Ask tourism centres if they have any promotions or coupon books for activities and venues that you’d like to do and see along the way.
- Ask the locals – Head to sites like Craigslist.org and in the local baby/kid section ask for help looking for fun, inexpensive things to do in the area.
- Check your memberships – Places like Science World have reciprocating memberships, meaning your family membership here will get you into participating science centres around the globe. CAA memberships can offer great savings as well, so check their website or call customer service.
- Check your points cards – If you collect Air Miles, Aeroplan or even Save On More points, you can sometimes save on accommodation or activities if you cash in your points. There are many more options for points then just flights.
- Remember to pack smart – Make a list before you pack and check it off before you go for big ticket items you don’t want to have to buy on your trip. Camera, cell/camera chargers, prescription meds, a well stocked first aid kit, travel membership cards (CAA, or coupons you’ve collected), even swim floaties and other items all add up if they’re bought en route.
- Groupon your Destination! – With so many group buy sites out there all across North America if you play your cards right, you could be dining and getting entertained along the way for half the price you’d normally pay! Some of our favorite sites include; Groupon, TeamBuy, StealtheDeal, WagJag, and there are lots more out there.
On the Road
- Eat cheap – Pack snacks for the family. It’s always fun to stop for ice cream or treats on the way, but if you have to stop every time someone hollers they’re hungry, it quickly takes a bite out of the trip budget. Pack fun foods the kids might not always get at home. And don’t forget to shop at local big box or grocery stores to stock up depleted supplies. Also bring along reusable water bottles; any convenience or coffee shop en route will easily fill them back up for you.
- Pack some prizes – Stock up on a few inexpensive toys and treats and organize homemade road trip games to keep kids occupied. For the little ones, have them spot common items and keep track (certain coloured cars, types of trucks or even farm animals). For the bigger ones have them keep track of different license plates, landmarks and other fun things. The one with the most at the end of the day wins a prize (or let everyone win something just for participating).
- Know your route – With online mapping, a good old road map and GPS, gone are the days of driving around aimlessly off route with everyone losing their cool and the gas being guzzled away. And if you do get lost or off course, enjoy the adventure and stop and ask for directions!
Once you’re there
- Now it’s time to put all your research to good use and have fun! Here are a couple of extra tips to help.
- Check local papers – grab a copy of the local community paper, they’re often filled with local activities and coupons for eating out that you might not have found online.
- Put your kids in charge – if they’re older, give them a daily “allowance” and let them take charge of planning the day. It’s amazing how much less whining you get when the kids are actively involved in the planning (and spending).
Remember, all of these tips can be used just as effectively for a staycation in your own city.