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The Best Ways to Save Money on Road Trips with a Large Family

Planning and taking road trips with a large family doesn’t have to be overwhelming or exhausting. Family road trips also don’t have to dry up your savings account either. Honestly, I put traveling on the back burner for a long time because I thought it would cost too much. I was thinking through the lens of things I had seen on social media and… yeah… no. While hopping on a plane and going overseas is ideal for some people, I started to discover I can save money on road trips when I search out adventure near my own backyard – and that’s where road trips came in!

Viewfinder on the Wildwood Boardwalk

What is a road trip, really?

The idea of a road tip is traveling by automobile, typically for a long distance. While that may be the “official” definition, a road trip for our family sometimes consists of a day drive to a few country towns over. Other times family road trips involve visiting a different state. A road trip can be as creative and affordable as you want to make it. And that’s where my best tips and suggestions for saving money on family road trips come in handy.

The Best Ways to Save Money on Road Trips with a Large Family

Tips to Planning Inexpensive Road Trips with a Large Family

Decide to go.

Before taking any road trip, you must first decide that it’s something you actually want to do. There was a period of time where we enjoyed being homebodies. Our adventures with a growing family were venturing into our backyard, picking flowers, and taking neighborhood walks. But then we started getting the inkling to venture out more and the ideas started rolling.

Start small.

I briefly talked about the perspective of traveling through the eyes of social media. Do one quick travel search on Pinterest, Instagram or Google and you’ll find all kinds of exotic locations and trips that cost hundreds and thousands of dollars. Again, those are great, but when we’re talking about loading up a van full of kiddos, we need to KISS – keep it SIMPLY sweety.


I started by asking the hubs places he’d like to go. For him, anything woodsy and rustic would be a trip well spent. For me, anything beachy and ocean is my sweet spot. And for the kids, we had a range of answers from volcanoes to wild animals. In other words, get your family involved in the process early by asking what they’d like to travel and see. It’ll make the next step much easier!

Start researching places nearby.

It may surprise you to find what’s hidden in towns and cities near you. We just so happen to live in a unique spot in south-western Kentucky, and puts us a 30-minute to 1-hour drive from 3 different states. There are infamous cave systems, Dinosaur World, a legit castle, and more that are all a drive away.

Families in New Jersey are doubly blessed. They have New York and New York City to the north and Pennsylania with Philadelphia, Hershey, Lancaster, and the Poconos to the west. Both states and even their own New Jersey offer exciting and affordable destinations to visit including a castle, Chocolate World, a construction-themed amusement park, hiking trails with waterfalls.

As you find places you think you’d like to visit, write them down. Don’t forget to check for state parks, museums, and other things that would be free. Even if the attractions on your bucket list don’t have free admission every day, there are usually special occasions where admission is free or discounted. That’s one of the main keys to keeping road trips inexpensive.

Plan your road trip!

This is where it gets exciting. Whether you want to start with a day trip to a town over or go for a 3-day road trip and stay in another state, it’s time to plan for it! I basically take all the previous suggestions I mentioned above and put them into action like this:

  • We decide that we’re in fact taking a road trip.
  • Then, we check the calendar for the best time to go.
  • We also talk about places we’d like to visit within the time frame we carved out (the longer we stay somewhere, the more we can do).
  • I look for lodging (if we’re staying overnight).
  • I make a rough itinerary of where we’re going and things we’ll be doing on our road trip.
  • Then we take the journey!

Tips to Save Money on Road Trips with a Large Family

Decide on your budget beforehand.

All trips will cost something. At the very least you’ll have gas expenses. There are also food and beverage costs. In addition to those foundational costs, you may have other expenses depending on any activities and attractions you’re planning to do during your road trip. Before worrying about those, set a budget first and decide if it’s a firm budget or adjustable.

If you want to make sure you have the money for your road trip, create a savings account and start depositing to it! Some bank accounts will let you set up automatic transfers between your accounts. Transferring $20-$50 per week or paycheck can easily add up to a nice vacation or road trip fund.

Go for all things cheap.

Okay, maybe not all things, but there are several things that you can intentionally look for the best prices on. For example, consider using an app like Gas Buddy to locate the cheapest fuel prices along your route.

If your trip includes lodging, look for the best possible place for the size of your family. We have personally found it more economical (and amenity-friendly) to stay in an Airbnb when we travel.

Two double beds in hotel room at the Adventurer Oceanfront Inn hotel in Wildwood Crest

While planning activities, look for the freebie places like local museums, nature trails, and exhibits. We made reference to this before, but many museums have free admission days or pay what you wish days. Do some research on Google as you plan your trip so you can plan accordingly. Here’s a few guides to help you get started.

Museums and Attractions with Free or Almost Free Admission by Region

National Historical Park Paterson Great Falls in Paterson New Jersey
Admission is always free to Paterson Great Falls, a National Historical Park in New Jersey

Other guides that help you save money on road trip attractions, museums, and destinations

Jersey Family Fun can also help you buy discount tickets to attractions and destinations

By working with affiliate partners, Jersey Family Fun makes it easy for families to save money on road trips. Using the links below you can receive a discount on these attractions and resorts and we earn a small commission that goes back to supporting this site.

a person's hand holding museum tickets
Photo by Andy Li on Unsplash

Another way to save money on road trips with a large family is to meal plan. It may seem easier and more convenient to hit up gas stations and fast food joints for a bite to eat, but meal planning will save you much more money.

  • Bring packets of instant oatmeal. Use the hotel room’s coffee maker for hot water and you have a cheap option for breakfast.
  • If you are staying at a hotel look for hotels that offer free breafast. Even if their dining room is closed many hotels are still serving free breakfast. Some hotels even offer an afternoon happy hour with baked goods and snacks. Hotel guests just take the food back to their room.
  • Additionally, search out hotels that cater to business travelers. Often the rooms have kitchenettes and are cheaper on the weekend when business travelers are back at home with their own family.
  • Look for coupons and promotions on restaurant apps and take advantage of kid eat free days.

On our road trips, we like to pack snack and picnic foods to (1) prevent from eating out too much and (2) save money!

mother and daughter reading together while having a picnic
Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Don’t stay overnight

Oftentimes it’s the lodging that can be the most expensive part of a family road trip, especially if your family needs 2 or more rooms to accomodate everyone. You don’t have to stay overnight. You can save money on family road trips by getting up early, heading to your destination, and then heading back home in the afternoon or evening. Everyone will be able to sleep in their own beds and you’ll have less to pack in the car too.

Disney Summer social event
Kids can always sleep in the car as you drive.

Be on the lookout for free and cheap souvenirs

Not all road trips have to involve a stop to the gift shop. Ticket stubs, free maps in visitor’s centers, hotel room keys, drink coasters, restaurant kid’s menues, etc can all make for great souvenirs. Also ASK. Many attractions offer free souveniers that they never publicize. You just have to ask.

Make your road trip about the family.

While it’s nice to do all the things and see all the things, sometimes a road trip is the most fun when it is family-centered and moves at a slower pace. You don’t have to hit every free attraction. Rather you could opt for spending a full day at one museum versus driving all over town to get to multiple different museums. Or take a family picnic at the park versus going out to eat. You do you! The most important thing, whether saving money is a focus or not, is to plan a road trip the whole family is involved in and can enjoy.

Penn Museum in Philadelphia

For more helping planning a family road trip visit our guide to The Best Road Trip Tips for Large Families.

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