Jun 26

Top 9 Frugal Road Trip Ideas

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Here are the Best Frugal Road Trip Ideas that can save you a bundle AND help you enjoy your vacation more than you might even imagine.

Summer is a great season for road trips. But car travel with children can drain both the wallet and the patience of parents. Here are some thoughts on how to save your money (and your sanity) and have fun while doing it.

Anyone who has ever been on a road trip with children likely has a funny story about it. My favourite involves a desperate search for a toilet in northern New Brunswick. When we finally came upon an ice cream shop near the highway, the proprietor refused to unlock the bathroom unless we bought ice cream cones for all three children. Well, you can lock up a bathroom, but  not the field next to it. And the money we saved on ice cream went toward doughnuts further down the road. Hospitality matters.

Family road trips can be a real test of what is most important to you. There are endless choices: Where to go? What to do? When to stop? Where to eat? What to buy or not buy? The answers will be different for everyone. But here are a few simple ideas to consider.

Top Frugal Road Trip Ideas

Top Frugal Road Trip Ideas

Frugal Road Trip Idea #1 – Dare to ditch the DVD player

For me, this sets the tone for the whole trip. Why are we going? To be together and experience new things? Or to tune out our surroundings and be entertained with minimal thought and effort? Audio books are a great alternative. Listening rather than watching leaves kids free to imagine, or simply look out the window and see the world go by. Everyone (including the driver) can participate. And by choosing books related to your destination—like listening to Anne of Green Gables on the way to Prince Edward Island—you can generate some real excitement.

Frugal Road Trip Idea #2 – Keep the in-car activities simple

I have spent far too much money on fancy activity bags. These days I stick to simple items from home: a cookie sheet with sides to serve as a lap-desk; paper and notebooks; crayons and coloured pencils. Most kids love maps, so let them follow the route. Crayon rolls (a smaller version of the fabric rolls artists use to hold brushes) keep the crayons from ending up on the floor of the car. But just in case, bring along the barbecue tongs. Seriously. They work like a charm for picking up whatever falls (and for passing Timbits to the back seat).

Frugal Road Trip Idea #3 – Prepare your own snacks

Pre-packaged snacks are expensive and generate a lot of garbage. Before you hit the road, get the kids to help you make muffins or homemade granola bars. Add some fruit and cheese and re-usable water bottles and you’re good to go.

Frugal Road Trip Idea #4 – Buy only one meal a day

Hotels with breakfast included can save you time as well as money. We also skip the fast-food chains in favour of rest-stops with picnic areas where we can stretch our legs and enjoy a simple lunch from the cooler. Supper at a restaurant then becomes a real treat.

Frugal Road Trip Idea #5 – Search out free events before you go

A lot of communities offer free or inexpensive events, especially during the summer. Check them out online. Are there any festivals happening? Parades? Ceilidhs? Outdoor concerts? Theatre? We have spent happy afternoons listening to buskers—always giving freely when the hat is passed. One year we enjoyed a wonderful performance of The Great Kapok Tree by local school children. Another year the highlight was a family version of The Magic Flute for a fraction of the cost of a movie.

Frugal Road Trip Idea #6 – Have fun with storytelling

In the car or around the campfire, my kids love to make up stories—the sillier the better. Fill-in-the-blank stories are based on our daily adventures. Fortunately…Unfortunately… is a hilarious game where one person begins a story, leaving it hanging with an unfortunate event. The next person resolves the problem, beginning with, “Fortunately…” The game continues, alternating between “fortunately” and “unfortunately” until the story is told out. Entertainment does not get any more frugal than this.

Frugal Road Trip Idea #7 – Skip the expensive souvenirs

Chances are what your family and friends really want is to know that you are having a good time and thinking of them. So hand-write a post-card. Or make something out of objects you find, like necklaces out of beach glass and jewelry wire.

Frugal Road Trip Idea #8 – Treat yourselves

Of course, the whole point of being frugal is not to deprive yourself, but to gain the freedom to enjoy things you really love. Savour a wonderful meal. Go to a concert or the theatre. Buy a piece of art. Watch whales. Have an adventure. Whatever you choose, enjoy it.

Frugal Road Trip Idea #9 – Make your own memories

Over the years we have tackled everything from soap-making to sand-castle building. Some workshops are expensive, but other do-it-yourself activities cost next to nothing. Look for beach glass. Rent a metal detector and go treasure hunting. Collect shells or stones. Try geo-caching. Pick a theme and create a photo gallery. Connect with local artists and artisans. Once, when my kids were getting restless at a pottery studio, the potter gave them each a lump of clay to work with while they watched her at the wheel. They were mesmerized. At Happy Glass in Charlottetown, artist BJ gave the kids a private demonstration of glass bead making. We turned our photos into thank you cards. When we paid BJ a visit the following summer, the kids were thrilled to see their cards pinned up on the wall of her workshop.

That’s Life…

Last year as our vacation was coming to an end, my youngest daughter and I went for a walk on the beach. She thought the clumps of seaweed looked like mermaid hair. So we gathered some, along with shells and stones, and made mermaids. When we were finished, we took one last look, knowing that they would be gone with the next tide. It was a lovely moment—all the more precious because it could not last. But that’s life.

A road trip is like life in miniature. Full of choices. Frequently frustrating. Often achingly beautiful. And it goes by more quickly than you thought possible at the beginning.

That’s why frugal living matters. Being frugal forces you to think carefully about what means most to you, so you can invest your energy and resources in the best way possible.

So go ahead. Spend time with the people you love. Be creative. Try something new. Order dessert. Look for beauty in unexpected places. Laugh when your plans go topsy-turvy. Pay attention.

And happy travelling.

–> View MORE Frugal Living Ideas

Do you have any additional ideas to share?  Do you agree or disagree with anything stated here?  Please leave a comment.  Please also share this post with all of your friends who are looking to save money on a road trip.

Author: Laura Alary Google


Laura Alary is a writer, teacher, story-teller and mother of three. She has always loved stories, especially picture books, folk and fairy tales, and mythology from different cultures. When she was little she used to make her own books out of manila paper, mucilage and crayons. These days her books look a little different, but the joy of creating them is much the same. You can find Laura and her books online at www.lauraalary.ca

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Frugal dad – focusing my money and energy towards happiness and the things that matter most since around 1985.

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