Frugal Fun: How to Save Money and Your Sanity on the Long Car Trip

Despite cringe-worthy gas prices, the long car trip is not a thing of the past. In fact, my hubby and I have just about become experts in the art of driving cross-country with two kids in tow. No, I assure you, we haven't taken leave of our senses; rather we are sane, rational adults who have chosen to drive instead of fly ever since our two precious bundles entered the world.

If you have a long car trip coming up, here are some thoughts on how you can get to your destination with your sanity intact and your wallet fat (or at least not completely deflated).

Become a 7-11 on Wheels

One thing we make sure to do (okay, I make sure to do, if we're being totally honest) is to stock up on snacks and drinks before we head out the door. At times we've taken a large cooler and at others we've just made do with a smaller, lunch-sized cooler. The point is to be prepared for any and all snack attacks.

The week before (or the day before, for the procrastinators) you back out of the driveway, take some time to hit up the grocery store for some non-perishable munchies and bottled water, mini cans of soda pop and juice boxes. If you can shop the sales and use coupons, all the better. But no matter if you nab the sales or not, trust me, you will be saving money: you won’t be forking over $2.79 for a tiny bag of stale Cheez-Its in some dimly-lit, middle-of-nowhere gas station when hunger strikes the young (and the young at heart).

Plus you'll be able to save your sanity when your kids start whining: a 100-calorie portion of Oreos can work wonders by putting a smile on even the poutiest of faces.

Also, if you have room in the cooler, packing a bit of lunch meat, cheese, and yogurt can help stretch the food budget; the perishables can be eaten as lunch on your first day out. Another favorite tactic of ours: pack some PB&J sandwiches. There’s no refrigeration necessary and they’re generationally pleasing.

Homework Now Equals Great Price Later

If you're staying overnight somewhere, try to take some time before you leave to search hotels in the area. We've done the Buffalo to Kansas City trip many times and know that, on the way, we'll end up overnighting somewhere between Indianapolis and the western Indiana border. Knowing an approximate stopping area allows me to look up potential hotels and their prices, thus eliminating the midnight door-to-door hotel hopping in search of an available room with two beds.

Two other things we've found handy in the past include our hotel rewards program and discount savings coupons (which are available in rest areas along the interstate). The rewards program is nice because it's enabled us to call an 800 number, tell them where we're going to want to stay, get hotel options and book our room right over the phone. Both the rewards program and the coupon books have also nabbed us some great deals in the past.

Speaking of rooms, consider "splurging" on a hotel with a pool. I say "splurging" because most of our hotel-with-pool searches have produced decent rooms at very decent prices. Trust me, your kids are going to want to go crazy after being cooped up in the car; be nice to your hotel neighbors (and yourselves!) and take the kiddos to the pool. Traveling in winter? An indoor heated pool should be your number-one criterion when looking for a room.

It's a Gas

I have a love-hate relationship with www.gasbuddy.com. The concept is brilliant: look anywhere in the United States for gas prices and find the cheapest price per gallon around. The site even has a trip planner which enables you to plug in your car specifics and your route, and then gasbuddy tells you the cheapest gas stops along the way along and estimates how much you'll spend for fuel.

When the site is accurate (and I should clarify that the accuracy is entirely dependent on kind-hearted souls sharing the gas prices they've recently spotted), it is awesome to find that gas station just over the county line that beats the other area stations by a quarter. But keep in mind that sometimes the gas price sightings are on the "older" side – think forty-eight hours – and may be obsolete by the time you roll up to the pump. Overall, though, it is a nice site for planning out costs associated with fuel.

So as you plan your next long car trip, remember that getting from A to B may take hours of interstate, three fill-ups and about twenty pit stops, but with a little advanced planning, it doesn't have to take your sanity or all of you money.

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Anonymous's picture

Canadian Finance Carnival #38 « Dividend Yield Ana wrote:

Sun, 05/29/2011 - 09:17 Comment #: 1

[...] at MomVesting presents Frugal Fun: How to Save Money and Your Sanity on the Long Car Trip, saying “Despite cringe-worthy gas prices, the long car trip is not a thing of the past. [...]

Anonymous's picture

William Brown wrote:

Fri, 06/24/2011 - 11:21 Comment #: 2

Thanks for sharing your experience some good points you have made which will really help thanks for sharing. No credit check loans

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