When I was a kid, my parents stuffed three children in the back of a Volkswagon Bug and hit the road from Texas to Indiana to see Grandma Laudeman. It seemed like our travel days lasted for weeks. My dad had two goals: 1) to never stop the car and 2) to avoid hearing “Are we there yet?” My mom also had two goals: 1) to save money and 2) to keep dad happy.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I found myself as a mom with seven people stuffed into a Suburban, traveling from coast to coast on a family vacation. Not surprisingly, my husband’s road goals are the same as my dad’s and like my mom, my goal is to save money and keep the peace.
There are ways to make the miles go smoother, and also save money on your road trip, even if you do have to stop occasionally along the way. Here are some trends and tips to keep in mind when planning this year’s travel.
Better Early Than Late
Pack everything the night before and plan on waking the kids by dawn’s early light. In doing this, you not only save money, but you’ll also save your sanity as well. Those who hit the road early tend to avoid traffic, slow downs and traffic jams, which saves on gas mileage. By embarking while the kids are barely awake, you will get 2 to 3 more hours of quiet time while they sleep and you get to enjoy a conversation with your spouse without being interrupted.
No, I don’t mean you should put your kids into a crate, but you should assign a small box for each child to pack for the road. This saves money on the road. You can help them pack their favorite, healthy snacks and drinks, some toys, books, art supplies or anything else that will keep them distracted and happy on the road. Kids who pack their snacks and meals are five times more likely to be content with their food options and far less likely to complain. Keep the crates within arms reach of the child and have them ask permission before they open it or you might find out that they’ve eaten all their food within the first hour! You can add inexpensive “surprises” to each child’s crate, that they get to unwrap every hour on the hour if they don’t ask the verboten question: “Are we there yet?”
Fun Eats and Tech Savvy Treats
Be on the lookout for specials in your destination’s area. For example, on travelzoo.com, you can not only find sales on hotels, but you can also receive notification when Restaurant.com puts their $25 gift certificates on sale for $2. At entertainment.com, you can find values by entering your destination’s zip code and previewing coupons for attractions, hotels, restaurants and more. These coupon books cost around $35.
There are some great phone apps that can save you money such as Coupon Sherpa, which eliminates the need for a traditional coupon book by providing hundreds of in-store coupons for many merchants on your iPhone or iPod Touch. The coupons can be scanned by optical scanners from your phone. Save money on food, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, travel, and more. You can find coupons by category or store name, email coupons to friends, create your own favorites list of stores and find the store nearest you.
Another free app to launch on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or android phone is Yowza. It instantly goes about finding deals and coupons in your geographic area. When you walk up to the cashier, just show the deal on your device and let them scan the barcode or type in the coupon code. No need to remember which location that restaurant coupon was good for. It features city and zip code based coupon searches, notifications when your favorite store adds a coupon and you can share your savings via Twitter, Facebook, or Email. To get the best value in a travel or vacation related app, go to the review site Appolicious.com.
Social media sites such as Groupon, facebook and twitter are great resources. From these sites you can discover “flash sales” for everything from restaurants, ice cream, theater tickets, and hotel sales. It’s also a great way to get insider information about last minute deals.
The most important part of your road trip is spending time with the family. Keep in mind that sometimes a new experience for a child becomes an adventure as well, so look for new activities and open the doors for loads of fun. Creating forever memories with your family is what a successful road trip is all about!
America’s Family Financial Expert (R)