It’s finally here! Road trip season!
We love road trips, but planning a road trip, especially with a family of 5 can be expensive yet one of the best values in family travel. You get to see much more than if you just flew to one destination and the opportunities for adventures are endless. Here are some of the things to keep in mind when planning your own road trip.
Sometimes before your road trip, you have to fly to your starting point. When we fly with our children, we try to avoid connecting flights as much as possible, but because we also aim to travel from the nearest airport to our house, sometimes we end up at destinations that are not a major airline hub, which require connections. We have even been known to take red-eye flights with our kids to save money and/or time.
Take note that all these details can add up: Do you want a direct flight? Are you willing to travel with a different airline than what you normally choose (We have paid a little bit more to fly with a specific airline)? Do you want a flight out of your local airport? Is it a major hub? Are you willing to take earlier/later flights?
Also note that if you fly with your children often, it doesn’t hurt to sign them up for airline miles as well. Never too soon to start accumulating those benefits!
We often set up our lodging experience to be as diverse as the places we will be visiting. In one trip we have been known to stay on campsites as well as stay in hotels. We reserve our campsites very early on because these tend to book very quickly. Many camp areas require a non-refundable deposit, equivalent to a one-night stay (and cabins can be harder to come by the longer you wait).
If you plan on traveling during major holidays, such as 4th of July, it may be it hard to find a hotel in major cities. We will often book outside of the cities to save money, but also to get more room. Be flexible when booking your hotels. If you stay right outside city limits you increase your chances of finding more affordable options and better deals.
We also often decide to dish a little extra on hotels that offer us more space, free breakfast, and laundry whenever possible. But spending a lot of money on hotels is not necessary. If you have a tighter budget and would rather splurge more on activities, there are many nice hotel options out there to meet your basic lodging needs and where you would feel comfortable staying with your family. Research each location carefully, as individual hotels, even within the same brands, can sometimes shift in quality levels.
Many resorts offer vacation packages that include excursions and other experiences as part of the deal. We often check out smaller hotels along the way as well, as it not only contributes to supporting small business but also because these were easier to find in smaller towns. We research them online and book all our stays through the hotel website directly as they offer the best deals. Some of these smaller hotels can’t afford to be listed on deal sites, so it’s always a good idea to check the destination tourism sites, where they are regularly listed.
When you are taking a road trip you must consider whether or not you will be taking your own vehicle or rent a car. When we did our road trip from NYC to Austin, TX in 2010 we had to rent a car last-minute because after taking ours in for an inspection – which you should always do before a trip like this – we were told that our car would probably not make it. The rental was pricey, but worth it because it spared us the pain of dealing with car problems while traveling.
A car rental that requires a pick up in one city and drop off in another can be expensive, but sometimes unavoidable. So search early and reserve early, a good call as prices almost double as as you get closer to date.
Always, always, always connect with the local tourism group and/or visitors center of the destination you are visiting. They are happy to help with information that fit what you are looking for. Planning a date night while on the road? Need a sitter service? Any local events to check out? Deals, coupons, discount passes? They’ve got you covered. I never travel without connecting with them because they are so helpful in helping plan our visit.
The Total Cost
Our 2013 out-of-pocket costs (and estimated budget) total for this 2 and a half week road trip, for a family of five, along the West Coast was $8,000.00.
It took us a year to save up for it. We reserved the car and hotels early, and purchased our airline tickets a couple of months before the trip.
We really pulled in a lot of our resources for this one and I freelanced a lot of hours to make it happen. My husband stayed up late digging through websites in search of good prices and scouting hotel locations. It wasn’t always the most fun trip to prepare for, but once we had everything in place, I felt it was so worth it. All the planning beforehand allowed us to relax during the trip. (Bonus for the 2013 trip was that even though we had it all planned, budgeted, paid for and reserved, I ended up partnering with G Adventures and Onstar – read here – which was a really cool, unexpected plus! However, because this happened much later after the planning stages, costs for the trip were already set up and even incurred.)
We hope this insight helps you if there is a trip that you have in mind. Just remember that with patience and careful budgeting and planning, you can make it happen and have the time of your life in the process.
To see images of all the stops we made along the way during our West Coast road trip, check out the #Gadvroadtrip hashtag on my Instagram (@GirlGoneTravel).