Road Trips on a Budget

The kids and I are embarking on a 10-night road trip through the South next week. We hadn’t planned on taking a road trip (Emma is spending a month in Mexico, and I’m spending a month in Southeast Asia. Those are our planned trips for the summer.), but when my dear friend, Katie, moved from New Hampshire to Atlanta in the spring, I knew that Atlanta had to become part of our summer plans.

You might be asking yourself how a quick visit to Atlanta became a 10-night road trip, which is a valid question.

Let me try to explain.

I mapped out the route to Atlanta and found that it goes through Nashville. We can’t drive through Nashville without stopping, I thought to myself. And so I added Nashville to the itinerary. The great thing about this stop is that I get to meet up with my friend Sarah (check out her family travel blog at The Wandering Rumpus) and her family.

Then I noticed that Charleston–beautiful, colorful, historic Charleston–is only a four hour drive from Atlanta. Naturally, I added a night in Charleston.

Then Savannah caught my attention. It’d be such a shame to miss Savannah. I, at first, thought that we’d just drive through Savannah on our way to Charleston (yes, I know it’s out of the way), and add an extra night to Charleston. The more I thought about this, it seemed rushed, so I added two nights in both cities.

My initial plan was to drive the entire 12 hours home from Charleston, but then I noticed Asheville, and everyone loves Asheville. Naturally, we had to stop.

And that, my friends, is how a quick trip to Atlanta evolves into a Nashville-Atlanta-Savannah-Charleston-Asheville road trip.

A past family road trip.

Here are the ways to road trip on a budget:

1. Book hotels on the outskirts of cities. Hotels in city centers are expensive, so stay just outside city limits. Instead of staying in Nashville, we booked a hotel in Murfreesboro. It was almost 70% cheaper than the options in the city, and it’s along the route to Atlanta.

2. Camping and Airbnbs. Typically you can find Airbnbs that are cheaper than area hotels, though this is not always the case anymore. In Asheville, I couldn’t find anything cheaper than $150 a night, so we’re camping. For $30, we found a beautiful campsite with incredible views. We’ve never camped before, so it’ll be another fun experience (and probably a humorous future blog post).

3. Food. This is where budgets are blown, so it’s best to plan ahead a bit. We’re packing a cooler with granola bars and yogurt for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. I like to aim for one big meal out each day, but obviously this is flexible, especially when we’re in a good food destination. 

4. Limit Museums and Tours. Realize that you don’t have to see everything listed on the ‘must-see’ lists. Pick one or two places for each stop that you must see, and then spend your time exploring neighborhoods, parks, or beaches. I feel like you get a better sense of a city by just aimlessly walking around. And it’s free.

5. Book Online. Oftentimes, you can get cheaper rates and discounted tickets if you buy them in advance. Tickets to the Biltmore Estate were $10 cheaper online. Hotels also offer discounts for paying in advance.

6. Gas. Use apps like the GasBuddy to keep gas costs down.

7. Parking. SpotHero allows you to enter an address and find nearby parking. I use this website every time I go to Chicago because it’s so much cheaper than hotel parking. I paid $15 the last time I was in Chicago. The garage was on the same block as my hotel where parking cost $40 a night.

8. Free Activities. Summer is great for free fairs and festivals. Do some research before your trip to find these. Museums will often have a free day per week. It might be a bit more crowded, but it’ll save you money.

With a little research, I learned that we’d be driving through the ‘car farm.’ I packed cans of spray paint and surprised the kids with them during our road trip through the Southwest.

9. Bring Refillable Bottles. It’s good for your wallet, and it’s good for the environment.

10. Bring Car Entertainment. I never travel without a stack of books. Pack enough so you don’t run out and want to buy more reading material along the trip.

This won’t save you money, but it’s something fun that we like to do. My daughter and I always make a new playlist for our trips. We carefully select the songs and don’t listen to the playlist in advance. I love that there are so many songs that I associate with past trips.

Happy Travels!


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