Even though gas prices are down from their recent highs, a family road trip this summer can still be expensive. especially if you stay at $150-a-night hotels, and eat out for $60 every night.
And that doesn't include an admission to activities or theme parks.
But there are ways to keep those costs down.
Big Trip, Small Budget
For many families, a week's vacation costs $2,000 or more. Not for Amy Graff and her family.
This San Francisco-based travel blogger is driving cross-country on a $200 a day maximum budget, including food, hotel, and entertainment.
"We are on a family road trip," she said. "We started in Pittsburgh and are driving 800 miles."
"We've driven the length of the Mississippi River, we've done Route 66, we've driven Highway 5 in California, Washington, and Oregon," Amy said. So she knows how to travel.
Save on Driving
Amy's first tip for saving: Leave the full-size SUV at home. "It's very tempting to take the SUV, it's roomy. But those things are gas hogs," she said.
A midsize car, she says, saves hundreds of dollars in gas. And yes, the kids are comfortable.
And as you travel down the highway, Amy recommends the Gas Buddy app to find the cheapest gas at every exit.
Save on Hotels
Then onto hotels. Full disclosure: Amy's blog is sponsored by Best Western Hotels.
But Amy says any modern roadside chain will work.
She says you can still find clean rooms for under $100 a night if you avoid downtown or the heart of a tourist town.
The Trip Advisor.com app or Trip Advisor website can help you find a good one with free perks such as free breakfast, free parking, WiFi access, she says.
Free breakfast can save a family $40 a day.
Another hotel booking tip: Amy makes sure the hotel has a pool for free kids play time.
"That is great entertainment for kids, for hours. Let's face it, all kids really want to do is swim, on a summer vacation," she said.
Save on Activities
Also free, or almost free: State parks, where you can fill an afternoon with hiking and exploring.
"Our budget for entertainment and activities is almost nothing. We have $10 a day, many days."
On days where they need to spend a few more dollars, Amy and her family visits theme parks and museums late in the day for discounts. They will often eat dinner (at an early bird special), then go to an attraction, which is the opposite way most travelers do it.
That's how they did the Andy Warhol museum for just a few bucks.
"We went Friday night, after 5:00, when admission is half off," Amy said.
Save on Time Lost in Traffic
A driving trip can become miserable if you are stuck in a 45-minute traffic jam due to construction.
To avoid those frustrating summertime traffic jams, be sure to have a real time traffic app like Waze or Inrix , if you are traveling with a smartphone.
Save on Food
And cheap eats? Amy says skip the sit-down chains, except for a special dinner, because a family can easily spend $60 a meal. If you do hit chains, she suggests going early for specials, and to avoid the dinner crowds.
But your best bet, she says, is first visiting the site Road Food.com , which finds inexpensive places where the locals eat.
It steers you to seafood dives, diners, and other places with good, affordable food, and memorable experiences: The type of restaurants you will want to take a photo of, standing next to the owner.
Bottom line: With a little planning, and avoiding the road (and restaurants) most traveled, you can lower the cost of that family road adventure.
And that way you don't waste your money.
Follow Amy's family's travels at On the Go with Amy .
Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.
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