Frugal Road Trip with Kids – Tips from a Mama Pro

Frugal Road Trip with Kids  - Tips from a Mama Pro from The More With Less Mom

Frugal Road Trip with Kids Series: Frugal Road Trip with Kids – Be PositivePlan Your RouteSafety FirstWhat to BringFood and SnacksFun StuffFun in the DarkFun in the HeatClassic Games

Avert catastrophe! Save yourselves! There’s nothing like stuffing a brood of kidlets in a car for hours on end to bring out the screaming and the craving for wine. I have survived multiple cross-country car trips with various children of various ages, and am here to impart my wisdom unto you.

This is a series of articles on how to survive a road trip with four kids, including a toddler and a preschooler, from a frugal mom who has done it on the cheap many times. Chock full of 244 fantabulous tips for your long car trip!

Grand Canyon

In this article: PrepWhen You StopBuying Stuff

I have done a week long ocean to ocean trip with four kids. I have done twice yearly three-day trips with two kids. I have moved from NH to AZ in a car with two kids and five cats. I am approaching what is hopefully my last long non-vacation trip, moving from NY to NH with four kids in a trip that should take 12 hours. For this trip we will have a fifteen year old boy and Dad driving the truck. My thirteen year old girl will be helping me in the van with the three and the one year old. And the millions of cats. Ok just five cats.

Here are some tips that I have learned the hard way over the years. Or I learned it by watching Pinterest.

You haven't lived until you've taken a photo of your kids with their heads in a touristy photo op cut-out


Lists: To pack, to buy, to make, to do. My actual lists for this trip are Trip Shopping List and Trip Packing List, broken down into people and uses (and then there are the lists for the move, yikes!). I also have a Pinterest board for activity ideas for the littles. I have a bunch of Tasks set up in Outlook to remind me of stuff.

Car: Clean it, fill the tank, change the oil, fill the tires. If you’re going on a really long trip you should get a tune up and have the ac serviced. Before is better than breaking down during the trip.

House: Do all the laundry. Clean the house. Empty the fridge of things that will spoil. Empty garbage cans.

Cell Phone: Make sure your phone is updated with contact info for neighbors, relatives, doctors, and insurance companies.

Purse and Diaper Bag: Clean out, reevaluate, add stuff as necessary

Start packing: A few weeks before I start to pack. Pull out your luggage, designate the backpacks for fun bags. Start pulling the items you need for the trip. Wash the clothes you need to bring with. Pull food items you don’t need between now and then. Start your lists and shopping.

Kids in a wagon at Wall Drug in SD

What To Do When You Stop

Feed everyone

Pull out snacks for the next leg

Refill snack basket from Box of Food

Refill water bottles

Walkies: EVERYONE has to get out and at least walk. If it’s cold out I make them run to the bathroom, and then run around the car ten times. You have to keep your circulation going. When I was very pregnant and road tripping the doctor told me to at least walk around the car 10 times, so that’s the minimum even twisted-ankle limping children have to do.

Potty everyone Everyone has to at least try to go potty (except the one in diapers)

Check the diaper on the baby

Refill diaper wallet

Empty all trash bags and put them back where you got them or replace if toss-ready

Anything that needed new batteries or the charger plugged in should be taken care of

Fun up everyone – Line up your entertainment for the next leg, pull out your movie, cue up your playlist or new CD, pull out your next book.

Evaluate your comfort and clothing, pull out a sweater or put away extra layers, fetch your sunglasses from under the seat.

If you’ve been sweaty reapply deodorant

Review the tantrum triggers for prevention – hunger, tiredness, too cold or hot, frustration, and overstimulation

Mom and Dad review the plan for the next leg, and possibly the rest of the day

Mt Rushmore photo op at Wall Drug in SD

Buying Stuff

We don’t. The best way to save money is to not spend it. Be as prepared as you can, budget for things you know you will want to spend something on, and be willing to make do or do without. This is one of the reasons I go bonkers with the planning.

My kids know before-hand they will only be window shopping in the gift shop. If they see something they really like I will look for it online when we get home. You can also look beforehand for good prices online. Check eBay and maybe one of your surprise packages could be tshirts for everybody.

We do buy postcards, or even a book of postcards. I make sure before we leave I have addresses including zip codes in my phone contacts for anyone who might get a postcard. Little friends, cousins, neighbors, grandpa… The next time we have some down time we fill out some postcards and mail them with the postcard stamps I keep in my wallet. I try to keep a Note in my phone of who we have sent postcards to just to keep track. We wouldn’t want grandpa to feel neglected if he doesn’t receive a postcard from the littles of a giant-roadside-aluminum-tepee-turned-gift-shop. Most Walmarts will have a section of touristy things for their local area, where you could even splurge on a magnet.

I feel it’s ok to spend money if I am making an informed decision. At Niagara Falls they take a commemorative picture. It is an overpriced picture, and ours was not very good, but I still wanted it.

Another example is paying $4 each for dots ice cream at the Tucson Zoo when it was a million and two degrees out. It would have been cheaper to get ice cream after, but we might have melted to death by then. These things were in my budget and I felt not a quiver at spending the money. I believe everything is good in moderation, including skipping my tightfisted ways, so I plan my splurges to get the most bang for my buck.

Mt Rushmore

Hello my beautiful pinners!
Frugal Road Trip with Kids Series: Frugal Road Trip with Kids – Be PositivePlan Your RouteSafety FirstWhat to BringFood and SnacksFun StuffFun in the DarkFun in the HeatClassic Games

What’s your best frugal road trip tip?

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We hope you enjoyed our Frugal Road Trip with Kids from a Mama Pro

Photo credits: All photos by me from the early 90s
Mt Rushmore photo by The More With Less Mom
Grand Canyon photo by The More With Less Mom
Space cut out photo op photo by The More With Less Mom
Wagon photo op photo by The More With Less Mom

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Frugal Road Trip with Kids – Tips from a Mama Pro — 7 Comments

  1. We drove 3 days each way when our son was 2. My cousin gave me 3 valuable tips:

    1. MagnaDoodle. Less mess than crayons and paper; hours of fun.

    2. Plan a stop every 100 miles: Find a park or other area where you could spend some time. You will NOT use them all, but when the kid gets whiny, it’s great to be able to say, “Only 20 minutes before we get to the park!” and hang in there for a few more miles, then enjoy a playground, walk around a pond, etc.

    3. Check out 2 bags full of picture books from the library and don’t look at them until on the road. First day, one bag is in the car for reading, other bag is in the trunk. Next day, swap them. Keep alternating, and you won’t get bored.

  2. Thanks for sharing your tips. My friend has 4 boys and I have 1. Every summer, we leave our husbands at home working while we take the boys on out-of-state tent camping trips. My biggest tip is to make sure you have a fully stocked first aid kit. Actually, my biggest tip is to make sure to take your sense of humor with you on the trip because things will go wrong. Even some of the trials of being on the road with 5 kids under the age of 11 make for good memories and great stories.

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