For many families, summertime often means travel time. However, as the cost of travel increases, more and more families are discouraged and dissuaded from hitting the open road.
However, there are ways to help your family have a budget-friendly trip this summer without sacrificing the experience. Here are some tips.
1. Drive. I know flying is much more time efficient, but it is hard on the wallet. The difference in cost between a family of four driving versus flying from Omaha to California is an estimated $1,300. If you do drive, though, it's best to make sure your car has had a tune up before taking it on the road.
2. Plan your route. Planning your route ahead of time allows you to see just how long and where your trip will take you. Knowing where you’re going allows you to pre-plan for gas, food and lodging. These are all big money savers in the long run. It also allows you to customize your route based on your family’s needs. There are great website to help you map your trip, including AAA and Rand McNally.
3. Create a budget. Allot a certain dollar amount for the cost of your trip and stick to it. Plan meals, activities and travel costs around your set budget. Also, prioritize what is most important to you and your family as far as where spending should be allocated. Is a nicer hotel the trade-off for forgoing airfare? Is it better to splurge on food or fun? Keep track of spending and receipts as you go.
4. Pack snacks. One of the things I remember most on road trips is my grandparents packing a picnic to eat at a rest area. I’m sure it saved them a ton in dollar amounts, and I remember it far more than any restaurant we may have ever stopped at. Bring a cooler full of waters and juices and pack non-perishable snacks to enjoy on your journey. This will keep gas station splurge purchases to a minimum.
5. Don’t eat at hotels. Unless your hotel provides breakfast, avoid hotel dining. The food is incredibly up-charged and usually mediocre at best. Also, I like to opt for hotels with a small kitchenette, especially if I’m staying a few days. It’s cost-effective to not have to eat out at every meal.
6. Avoid tourist traps and souvenirs. The purpose of a tourist trap is to lure you in and take your money. Be careful not to get caught at one of these. Additionally, avoid buying silly souvenirs that will take up space in your car, break, get lost or get shoved at the bottom of a drawer once you’ve returned home. Souvenirs use up money that could be better spent on experiences.
7. Do as the locals do. When vacationing, there are two areas where I use the phrase “Do as the locals do." The first is food. What are the hidden (inexpensive) gems of the city? Think about Omaha’s food scene and how many we have. If the place is hoppin’, there’s probably a reason. The second area is entertainment and recreation. What are the parks, beaches, museums, etc., that locals deem weekend worthy? They’re probably onto something. You can find great food and fun entertainment for a fraction of the price this way.
Any other great budget-friendly travel tips you and your family use? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Happy travels!
Shea Saladee lives in Papillion with her husband, Brent, and their three children. She works as an instructor at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
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