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By the author of The Flat Broke Cookbook and The Ultimate Guide to Frugal Living
It’s that time of year again. Get ready to load up the car with gifts, strap in the kids, and embark on your holiday travel!
Whether you’re going near or far, we’re here to help you spend less money on your trip.
When my daughters were young, and we lived in Canada, we were 23 hours away from my family and 2 hours away from my husband’s family. Needless to say, they have ridden many miles in the car, with both of them starting on long road trips before the age of 6 months.
Many of us stay with loved ones during the holidays, rendering the need to rent accommodations obsolete. But if the family house is jam-packed with humans or you want to give your kids some downtime away from all the hub-bub, you can still save some money on lodging.
Book early: This ship may have already sailed for the current year, but whenever possible, try to book your room at least a month in advance to get the best price.
Book late: Alternatively, if you’re the gambling type, websites like Priceline and Hotwire often have last-minute hotel deals to fill any empty rooms. (Always have a backup plan, though, especially if your destination is a small town.)
Get a hotel credit card: I hesitate to add this suggestion, but if you are a person of self-control, you can often score several free nights when you open a new credit card account specific to a hotel like the Wyndham Rewards card or the Marriot Bonvoy card.
Join a rewards program: Generally, when you open the card, you’re automatically enrolled in a rewards program which can help you save even more money if you’re a frequent traveler. I haven’t paid full price for a hotel room in ten years due to the points I accumulate.
Stay in a budget hotel: Chains like Motel 6 and Days Inn are some of the less expensive choices, although it really depends on your destination. Please, for the love of puppies, check the reviews before booking. I’ve saved myself a world of hurt by paying attention to what others say and landed in some unpleasant accommodations by ignoring the warnings.
Saving on fuel
We can’t control the price of gas, but there are multiple strategies we can use to make the most of the fuel we get.
Membership cards: I have a membership card from my grocery store that gives me ten cents off the price of gasoline at their station. As well, each month, I accumulate points to save even more. If you choose to do this, make sure to note whether or not their fuel is about the same price as everyone else’s to ensure that you’re actually getting a deal.
Use Gas Buddy or other fuel-price apps to compare: If you have a smartphone, there are several different apps you can get that help you out by showing you the prices of the gas stations before you get off the exit. If you’re anything like me, if you end up taking an exit, you’ll get gas there just to get back on the road faster, even if the price is higher than a station a mile down the road might be.
We also have some great articles on making the most of your fuel:
- How to Save Money by Boosting Your Car’s Fuel Efficiency
- 10 Ways to Cope with High Gas Prices
- Save Money on Gas by Adding THIS
Keeping the kids entertained
If I never hear this again, it will be too soon. Traveling with my 22-year-old – ahem – a small child – you hear it a lot. (Just kidding – both my girls are AWESOME travelers and always have been.) I staunchly object to stuff like video players in vehicles and think that children should learn to be entertained without devices when traveling.
There are three entertainment strategies I’ve used for decades.
New stuff: All summer long, I visited yard sales and squirreled away interesting new-to-them books and car-friendly toys. A formerly unseen Barbie or truck can go a long way to keeping your children busy for a while. During the holidays, I like to wrap these things up in Christmas gift wrap to make it feel like an early gift.
Audiobooks: I’ve always been a book person, and so are my daughters. During long car rides, we used to “rent” audiobooks from Cracker Barrel. I know they don’t do that anymore, but the girls had loads of fun choosing the story they wanted to hear. We enjoyed many classics like The Swiss Family Robinson and Treasure Island, as well as popular-at-the-time books. Later, when Audible became a thing, I would grab a membership and download several books that were included with the subscription to listen to in the vehicle. A long drive is a great time to listen to a book you’ve wanted to enjoy but haven’t been able to get around to yet.
Car games: Does anyone play car games anymore? We have covered many miles playing I Spy with My Little Eye, License Plate Bingo, and car bingo with stuff commonly seen on road trips. We used to have actual bingo with a card where you push down the corresponding key and a popper to read off the number and letter, but I was unable to find anything like this currently. For more car game ideas, check out this book – it has great reviews and would be well worth $10 to keep kids entertained for many road trips to come.
Here’s the thing about road trip food.
You can bring cheap food from home but shouldn’t road trip food be fun? A little more special?
Homemade treats: I used to make all sorts of goodies that I wouldn’t normally feed my kids, such as buttery homemade Chex mix, Rice Krispie treats, cookies, and trail mix.
Eat it as a picnic: If you’re traveling someplace warm, it can be fun to get out of the car and grab a picnic table. The kids can gallivant around and burn off some energy, sandwich in hand, and you can stretch your legs and get some fresh air. It’s a nice break from a lengthy stint in the car.
If you have room in the budget, plan for a meal out every day. We always ate food from home for breakfast, snacks, and dinner in the room, and we ate lunch at a restaurant. If you want to stop, you can often get the best price of the day at lunchtime, and if you want to do the drive-thru and eat on the road, you can look for coupons to save a few bucks.
Bring Christmas-themed snacks. One way to keep the kiddos interested in the snacks you have is to make them holiday-themed. I used to cut pb&j sandwiches with a Christmas tree cookie cutter and add red and green sprinkles to the Rice Krispie treats. You can also make each child a little holiday bento box with cheese, crackers, red and green grapes, and a Christmas cookie.
Be prepared, just in case.
The thing with winter travel is that the weather can turn on a dime. A couple of years ago, my daughter and her boyfriend ended up stranded in the I-95 gridlock in Virginia for 16 long hours in the freezing cold. Having some supplies with them made a horrible situation a bit less awful. Make sure you’re prepared for any eventuality.
Make sure you stock your car with the following, at the very least:
- Drinking water
- A way to use the bathroom
- Blankets and cold weather gear
- Something to do
- A portable phone charger
As well, check your car insurance policy to see if you have roadside assistance included with your policy. If not, you might want to consider a AAA membership. This will save you a fortune on towing, battery boosting, and getting to the station if you run out of gas.
How do you save money during holiday travel?
Do you hit the road during the holidays to visit family? If so, how do you make the trip budget-friendly? Share your holiday travel tips in the comments.
Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, adventure-seeking, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites. 1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty; 2) The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived; and 3) PreppersDailyNews.com, an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. Her work is widely republished across alternative media and she has appeared in many interviews.
Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books, 12 self-published books, and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses at SelfRelianceand Survival.com You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.