Frugal Road Trip with Kids – Plan Your Route

Frugal Road Trip with Kids – Plan Your Route from The More With Less Mom

Frugal Road Trip with Kids Series: Frugal Road Trip with KidsBe Positive – Plan Your Route – Safety FirstWhat to BringFood and SnacksFun StuffFun in the DarkFun in the HeatClassic Games

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!

Plan your route ahead of time. Use sites like Road Trip USA, National Geographic’s Drives of a Lifetime,’s Scenic Byways, or America’s Byways. You can also use Google Maps or Mapquest and click on Avoid Highways.

I have two print-outs of directions, one the highway way and one the scenic way. Luckily we can take one of those routes that used to be the highway before the interstate went in, like Route 66 (Route 20 in NY). The drive isn’t too whacky, but the scenery is much better and stops more interesting. I printed both just in case we change our minds at some point. In theory we don’t need to print these at all, we have a GPS for the van and our prepaid phone has a GPS app for $1 a day. But if I print it we won’t need it, so better safe than sorry. FYI that GPS app is a huge power suck on the phone.


We also have the Rand McNally Road Atlas, which includes a directory of WalMarts for every state. And we know how to read it. This is super useful if you have kids and find that a need for something has cropped up, but you don’t want to spend a bunch of money at the first store you stumble across. Also many WalMarts are open 24 hours and have restrooms, which can be harder to find if you aren’t on the interstate. Having the map also allows you to freestyle, if you decide you want to cut down through the state forest on the map you can do that. Reading a map is another life skill you can teach the kids while on a trip.

I used Mapquest to find WalMarts along my route. Enter your addresses, click Avoid Highways and Avoid Tolls if you’re going the back way (under options), and then in the top left of your map are some buttons. You can check for Activities, like Tourist Attractions, Museums, Zoos, or Parks. You can also use the Search to find WalMarts along your route. This is easier than the atlas if you are not on the interstate. FYI every time I try to use my GPS it isn’t helpful. Maybe we drive in the middle of nowhere too much. There was one gap with no Walmarts for like 6 hours, so I found a McDonalds there. I plan my stops to be 2-3 hours apart. If you are taking a long trip you may want to break it up into states or regions.

Next I used Mapquest to create a 2013 Summer Trip Map under My Maps. I added the addresses for my stops. If you use Google Maps to create a map you can’t get directions between your stops. If you use Mapquest you can enter your beginning and ending destination, get directions, and then click Add to Route on your stops and it will add them in the order that makes the most sense.

Then I went looking for fun places to stop. There are several good sites for this.

On Roadside America you can select a state map and drill down to your route. Some of these are quirky stops, some are unlikely to be worth stopping for. But if you are especially excited about a Spinning UHaul Truck on a Pole you can find it. Remember, to check another state you have to go to the map for that state, you can’t see that from the one you’re already on.

RoadTrippers is another good site for finding stops along your route. Once you enter your address there is a little squiggly road icon at the top to switch to byways. Under Find Places they have categories like Family, Offbeat Attractions, Tourist Attractions, etc, and you can check several of these and then drill down on the map.

Trekaroo found a bunch of places, but they don’t have all the states.

Also check the tourism site for each state you are visiting, many of them will have a map split into regions so you can look for things close to your route. Most even have online trip planners that are handy. Then add the likely places to your Trip Map. When you add them include phone, hours and admission prices in the Notes.

You can also try to look for splash pads along your route. I had no luck searching for splash pad on Mapquest. I did have some luck typing town names in Google with the keywords splash pad. You can also check a listing like the one on Best Kid Friendly Travel

Next mentally plan your stops. Be flexible. For example if you leave early enough in the morning you can get to the cavern tours before they stop for the day. If you do the cavern tours you don’t need to go to the Walmart in the next town over, and then you can make the long stretch between that and a whole lot of nothing. Then throw the whole plan overboard when you see a fabulous park with a splash pad right on your route when the kids are starting to get cranky.

I printed out my Trip Map. I also printed out a sheet/flyer/brochure for places I wanted to stop, or sent for one.

I compared my driving directions with directions for my trip including the stops and noted on the directions when I will need to change them to get to my next stop. This way I will know when I need to set the GPS for the new destination if I decide to go there.

Gas prices

Then I went to and found the average price for gas at each stop. This way I will know which stop is more likely to have more expensive gas and can fill up accordingly. Since the rental truck uses diesel I also wrote down the most affordable station that has diesel on our route and how much it was. I added this info onto my Note for each stop.

Also round WAY up on times. I know that the trip that says it takes 7 hours 18 minutes will actually take us closer to 12 hours. We stop every two to three hours and stops take 45 to 60 minutes. And that’s if we don’t stop to actually do anything, like wander around the Grand Canyon of the East (Letchworth State Park in NY). Or get stuck in stop-and-go traffic because of an accident. Or go in to Walmart and actually buy anything. The trip will take longer with small children, it just does. I have tried making stops faster, but then inevitably 15 minutes after you get going somebody has to go potty or something, and the trip ends up longer. We make several thorough stops, and I always plan to stop for a while around dinner time. When everybody starts to get sick of driving between 4 and 6 is a good time to kick everybody out of the car for a while.

On a side note, if you are moving and have a honking truck (or RV, even) to drive, check clearances before you go and stay alert along the way. I have personally seen what a low bridge can do and you don’t want to pay for it. You can check your route on this site for clearances. I then added these to my Trip Map and figured out how to get around it, then added that info to my Note.

Are you a planner or a seat-of-you-pants kind of person?

More With Less Mom

We hope you enjoyed our Frugal Road Trip with Kids from a Mama Pro – Plan Your Route

Photo credits:
Directions photo by The More With Less Mom
Gas prices photo by A Siegel on Flikr

Frugal Road Trip with Kids Series: Frugal Road Trip with KidsBe Positive – Plan Your Route – Safety FirstWhat to BringFood and SnacksFun StuffFun in the DarkFun in the HeatClassic Games

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