Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Family Road Trip

This week on ABC NEWS NOW, I talked about how to take a Family Road trip that won't traumatize your children! I remember my dad stuffing us kids in the back of a VW bug and traveling from TX to IN, making about 600 miles per day. Need I say more?

Here are some ideas that will make your family trip a lot more fun and affordable.

Q. First of all, let’s look at a question that many families are asking: is it cheaper to take that long family road trip, or is it more cost effective to fly?

ELLIE: It’s all in the numbers including how far you have to travel, how many family members and how many nights on the road. It’s going to be pretty easy for you to calculate the bottom line for flying versus driving. Just go to to calculate the mileage, gas, travel time and carbon footprint of anywhere in the US. You’ll also need to go to to add that expense to your total. Then, go to to find the best price on airfare. This site will compare the prices from other travel sites such as expedia, orbitz, Travelocity, cheaptickets and more. Don’t forget the rental car if you’re flying, you can research that on .

Q. One of the greatest expenses while traveling down the highway is for snacks, lunch and dinner. It can not only get pricey, but these purchases can also take a toll on health as there seems to be an emphasis on eating fast food while on the road. Do you have any ideas on other options?

ELLIE: If your children are little, the stops you make on the road are essential for them to be able to get out and stretch their legs—adults need that, too. When our kids were little, we packed a lunch for the first day on the road and stopped at roadside parks. It’s easy to plan these stops with the assistance of your GPS or your smartphone, just locate a parks along the way and plan accordingly. To save money on snacks, pack some healthy options in individual bags for each family member and include options such as carrots, grapes, cherries, pretzels or trail mix.

Q. One of the tips you share is to set realistic expectations. So how long can you realistically expect to travel in a car with a three year old?

ELLIE: I think that you shouldn’t try to conquer more than 300 miles a day with a preschooler, because they’ll arrive tired and cranky at your destination AND SO WILL YOU! You need to know your child(ren) and adjust your expectations accordingly. Are you one of those blessed families whose kids sleep as soon as you get in the car? Then you can probably handle a few more miles a day. Does any of your family members have health issues that require frequent stops, then add some extra time to your trip so you aren’t stressed. Setting realistic expectations will help you and your family have a better trip.

Q. Another challenge for families is keeping the kids occupied. Older children can use their Ipods to stay busy and everyone enjoys movies on the way. But even these options can lead to the inevitable boredom as kids start to get restless. You’re a mother of many, what do you suggest?

ELLIE: I think this is where creativity comes into play. When our kids were all school aged and we had a long trip (or a military move), I shop ahead of time for small games, books, activity puzzles, little toys and other trinkets I knew they would like. Then I’d wrap these “surprises” in gift paper and put each child’s name on it. At the top of every hour, if they were good on the road, we would give them their individual present. Sometimes, a grouchy child wouldn’t get his because he wasn’t co-operating. He’d watch his siblings playing with their gifts and it would motivate him to behave. I also think that an adult should be in charge of not only disbursing the surprises, but also handing out the individual snacks at certain times as well. You can give them out at certain mile markers that the kids can look for and it becomes an effective way of passing the time.
This is also the time to develop your own traditions. My older kids liked creating Mad Libs and played slug bug or I Spy. But our younger kids developed a game called, “Name that movie line” which became a tradition in our family. We still play it when we get together and find it creates family bonding moments and is a unique Kay Family Tradition.

Q. How do you feel about souvenirs? Do you think that saving money means you just say “no” to the t-shirts, coffee mugs, statues and commemorative books?

ELLIE: I think that souvenirs are an important part of any vacation time but it’s also important to not overspend on these category. We give our kids a budget for souvenirs and let them choose. We also encourage them to pick things that are of a better quality and yet inexpensive such as spoons, shot glasses, or magnets.

Q. What if you haven’t taken a vacation yet and don’t know if you can afford it. Do you have any creative ways to save money on a place to stay on the family road trip?

ELLIE: If you have friends that you like a lot and think your friendship can survive the test of a family road trip and vacation, then double up with that family and cut your bills in half. For example, the normal price of a week-long mountain cabin rental with three bedrooms in Manitou Springs, CO was $900. If each family pays $450 instead of the full price, they may be able to afford a vacation that might not have been available to them otherwise. You can go to or Suite hotels that offer extra rooms are also an option such as the ones found at or For those who love the great outdoors, sharing campsite fees or RV rentals can split the price of a camping adventure. At we found rentals across the country that ranged from $117/day to $385 per day. Depending on the owner of the RV, other charges to consider are hospitality kits, kitchen kits, and/or emergency road kits. Cleaning fees will apply if the RV is not returned in the condition in which it was rented.

Q. What about saving money on food and entertainment once you get to your destination?

ELLIE: I recommend you go to and enter the zip code of where you’ll be traveling in order to preview their entertainment books for that destination. These are currently on sale and you can find discounts on food, movie tickets, amusement parks, hotels and much more. Also go to and enter the zip code to get gift certificates for half price and while you’re there, see if they have any sales. I recently bought $25 gift certificates at that site for only $2. Plus, use your smartphone by entering the attraction’s name to see if there are any coupons or codes you can download on your phone and use on the spot.

Enjoy your Family Road Trip!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

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