Get your motor running: Plan a budget-friendly road trip

Wynne Everett

Hoping to save some pennies on family vacations this summer? Forgo expensive flights and hit the road instead.

“Driving 10 hours or less is always going to be more cost efficient (if you) put two adults and two kids in a car,” said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, editor of the family travel site “The air fares this year are not as amazing and gas is not as expensive as it was last summer.”

But a poorly planned road trip can zap any money you saved by avoiding air travel, so here are a few tips for stretching your family road trip budget. “If you are a little creative and a little organized, you can make the trip special,” Kelleher said.

The car

Check the tire pressure. Driving on underinflated tires can reduce your vehicle’s fuel efficiency by 2 percent. If gas costs $3 a gallon, that means you’re wasting 6 cents a gallon.

Make sure you’re up to date on the vehicle’s oil changes and other routine maintenance. Breakdowns and repair bills will ruin a road trip.

Get a AAA membership. “The discounts and coupons alone will probably be worth the cost of an annual membership,” Kelleher said.

The food

Stay in a hotel with a kitchenette, even if it’s just a miniature fridge and a microwave. You can dramatically cut your food budget when you’re not eating out every meal, plus you have control over the healthiness and quality of snacks. “Just having a few groceries in the fridge is going to make you more flexible,” Kelleher said.

Buy snacks before you leave home and pack them in individual-sized snack bags or other containers. This controls quantity and cuts down on fighting over a family-size container of snacks the backseat inhabitants are supposed to share.

The supplies

“Ziploc bags are every traveler’s best friend,” Kelleher said. They can hold everything from snacks to little souvenirs like rocks or shells your kids pick up. And they’re pretty good in a car-sickness emergency, she said.

Consider buying an entertainment coupon book ( for the city you’ll be visiting. The books often are discounted partway through the year, and a vacation’s worth of dining out and seeing the sights means you’ll more than break even on the price of the book.

Take along a washcloth or two from home that you can keep in a resealable bag, Kelleher advises. Dampen it with soapy water and use it for wiping kids’ faces and hands. It’s cheaper than using disposable wipes, and you can wash it out when you stop for the night.

Happy passengers

Sure, iPods and video games have made entertaining kids on road trips easier, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon the classics for your family’s trip. Kelleher suggests taking along a rolls of quarters and copies each of lists of the 50 states and coloring-page maps of the United States. You can play three variations on the classic license-plate game by crossing off the states you see on the list, coloring in the states you see on the map or handing out quarters for each state’s license plate you spot.