We are a family that loves to road trip. In fact, over the past 18 years my wife and I, along with our three kids, have logged more than 65,000 miles on over 20 road trips.
During this time, we’ve learned how to create some pretty memorable vacations with our kids. We’ve also figured out how to make them extremely affordable.
When I began blogging a couple of years ago, I decided to document these “Super Frugal Road Trips”, as I now affectionately refer to them, to show others just how affordable a family vacation can be.
Road Trip Recap
This summer, we set a budget of $1000, as we had managed to keep the cost of our trip under that amount in previous years.
I’ll admit, while we were on vacation, I had some doubt as to whether we could pull it off. Well, I’m pleased to announce that we did pull it off, with a couple hundred dollars to spare!
This trip was one of the best yet, proof that a memorable family vacation, filled with adventure, can also be affordable.
Here are a few of the highlights:
- 18 day road trip.
- We travelled over 3700 miles
- I met up with a fellow pf blogger! – a highlight for me 🙂
- Visited 8 states & provinces
- Stayed in nice hotels
- Ate at nice restaurants (and a few fast food joints)
- Our kids went swimming no less than 11 days. (they love water)
- Saw Paramore/Foster The People in concert
- Shopped on Michigan Ave in Chicago
- Spent a day canoeing/kayaking
- Drank great coffee
- Visited a nature conservatory
- Played tennis
- Spent time outdoors everyday
- Most importantly, spent lots of time with family.
Remember, we did all of this while keeping the cost of our vacation under $1000.
Without further ado, here is the full breakdown of our vacation expenses, followed by a more detailed description of each line item:
Note: All amounts are in US Dollars.
We spent four nights in hotels, which came in at $671. Fortunately, we were able to cover the full cost with our credit card reward points, resulting in a net expense of $0.00. I should note, spending two nights in downtown Chicago definitely drove up the price of hotels. But because I booked a suite, complete with a full kitchen, we were able to prepare healthy meals in our hotel room, and avoid the expense of eating in restaurants. We did splurge a couple of times, however.
There are two parts to this. First of all, we spent $377 on food (restaurants $176, groceries $201), but our net expense was $0. How is that possible? As I explained earlier, when you’re budgeting for a family vacation, it’s important to realize that there’s a cost to staying home. Had we not gone on our road trip, we would still spend approximately $400 on groceries over an 18-day period. By subtracting this from what we did spend on food, we arrive at our net vacation expense.
The other part of this is the $377 we spent on food during our trip.
To make this happen, we:
- treat restaurant meals as an exception rather than the rule.
- pack a cooler with healthy food and snacks for long driving days.
- book hotel rooms with kitchenettes for multi-day stays.
- only stay at hotels that serve a hot, continental breakfast.
- wherever possible, we buy food form grocery stores, as opposed to restaurants.
I should note that we do splurge on a couple of nice restaurant meals, as well as a few fast food stops, for the kids. But it’s not every day.
We load our family of 5 into a Toyota Sienna, which in my opinion, is simply the best vehicle on the market for families with more than two children. There are many reasons for this, which I’ll share in a future post. As for fuel prices, they were slightly higher this year than last, but we still did fairly well. We spent $386 on fuel, with our net expense coming in at $265. I’ve discounted what I would have spent on gas for our two vehicles, had we stayed at home ($120).
And if that seems like a lot, it is, because I don’t love close to where I work, plain and simple. Hoping that will change someday soon. 🙂
I got an oil change and inspection on our van prior to leaving on our trip. The net expense is pro-rated to reflect the number of miles we would normally drive at home.
We paid $48 driving on toll highways during our road trip. $18 was incurred in the Chicago area, and we also paid tolls at the US/CAN border. The most expensive however, was taking the 407 tollway in Toronto to avoid the insanity that is the 401.
Someone told me it’s the most expensive toll highway in the world, and I believe it! Normally I wouldn’t splurge on something like this, but I wasn’t in the mood for sitting in Toronto traffic on that particular day.
This expense hurt. We spent $122 for valet parking (2 nights) at our hotel in Chicago. Fortunately, the amount was added to our hotel bill, so I was able to cover the full amount using our credit card travel reward points, making our net expense only $4.50.
By the way, I would love for someone from Chicago to tell me how I can spend less $$$ on parking. Is it possible?
I will say, the valet parking was incredibly convenient, the attendants even unloaded our van and delivered our bags right to our room! Our only other parking expense was at a nature conservation area we visited.
PARAMORE / FOSTER THE PEOPLE
I’m a big believer that money is better spent on experiences than on stuff, and for me, this was Exhibit A. While we were in Chicago, my son, youngest daughter and I, went to see two of our favourite bands play at the Huntington Bank Pavilion.
Watching live music with 8000 other people, in 90 degree weather, while behind the stage the sun sets on the Chicago skyline is something to behold.
It’s a memory that none of us will ever forget, and was certainly worth the expense, which was $202, by the way.
While we were in Ontario, we spent a day at a provincial park with some friends and family. We swam at the beach, and decided to rent a couple of canoe’s. It was a great idea, as the kids loved being out on the water. Again, experiences > stuff.
We did buy a few small items during our trip, including two pounds of coffee from a shop we love, a few books from a used bookstore, and some clothing items from a couple of thrift stores. Every year, our daughters love to go “thrifting” with their grandmother, so this was a must-do.
I also bought a Paramore tour t-shirt for my daughter, from the aforementioned concert. It’s now her favourite piece of clothing.
While experiences > stuff, Mrs. MMM and I are not so restrictive that we don’t allow our kids to spend any money on vacation.
Not by a long shot.
Our kids brought their own spending money to do some shopping, but we also gave them some extra cash for the trip.
While in Chicago, we spent a few hours shopping on Michigan Ave, and we also went to an outlet mall in Ontario. I included the money we gave them ($160) as a vacation expense.
Gross vs. Net Expenses
Our gross vacation expenses ($2,102.50) represent the money we actually spent on our trip. By leveraging our credit card reward points, we reduced that expense by $775.
We saved an additional $500 by taking into account something that a lot of people overlook when they’re planning a vacation.
From our gross expenses, we also subtract the money we are saving by not being at home.
In other words, when you’re away on vacation, you’re not buying groceries or putting gas in your car for the daily commute.
As long as you haven’t removed these items from your regular budget, you can subtract them from the cost of your vacation. Make sense?
When you look at it this way, travelling instantly becomes more affordable.
In our case, we saved over $500 by not being at home, making the final cost of our vacation less than $900!
There you have it, Super Frugal Road Trip 2018 is in the books! In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your road trip experiences as well as any related money-saving tips you have to share!