How to Have a Fun Family Road Trip Without Breaking Your Budget

You’ve got your budget-friendly destination. You found the best hotel rate. You’ve got activities and meals in mind that won’t eat up your savings. But what about the expense of the actual travel? From snacks to fuel to entertainment to handling the unexpected, these tips will help you keep costs low while you’re on the road.

Be strategic with fuel

There’s not much you can do to control the cost of fuel, but you can make sure your vehicle is as fuel-efficient as possible. The best way to do that is to keep your car well maintained. Keep up with regular oil changes and tire alignment, and your car will run cleaner, cooler, and have less drag.

Also, don’t wait until your tank is on empty and you’re forced to use the nearest gas station. Instead, use a service like GasBuddy to find nearby gas stations with the best fuel prices. Plan your stops accordingly; if you’re traveling with young kids, chances are one of them will need to use the restroom, anyway. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Road Trips)

Pack snacks and beverages

The most cost-efficient way to have plenty of snacks on a road trip is to bring your own. You can’t be sure what fast food joint or gas station offers will be available. And how much beef jerky can you eat before you start to regret it? Buy or make your family’s favorite snack foods in bulk before you leave, then package into single servings. Choose snacks that make the least possible mess. It’s much easier to vacuum up crumbs than it is to clean gummy, sticky stains from car upholstery.

Water is the best beverage for road trips. Take a cooler with ice and a couple of one-gallon jugs filled with fresh water. Refill individual bottles as needed. Juice, tea, or soda will lead to endless needs for bathroom breaks. Coffee, of course, fuels many drivers, as well. I prefer to start the journey with my own home-brewed coffee in my travel mug. You can also pick up coffee to go from any restaurant or gas station for very little. (See also: These 15 Road Trip Snacks Make It All About the Journey)

Bring on-the-go entertainment

The biggest challenge for road trips with children is keeping them entertained. As with food, bringing your own entertainment options from home saves time and money.

You don’t need special items for road trip entertainment; you just need portable options. Mess-free art materials are great: colored pencils, washable markers, and sketchbooks. Download a selection of audiobooks before you go; Librivox offers hundreds for free. Update your music playlists, and download movies for them to watch on tablets you bring along. (See also: 9 Things You Must Do If You’re Traveling With Kids)

Travel based on time of day

The best time of day to travel depends on time of the year, personal preference, destination, and the length of the trip. Many parents of young children find it easier to travel at night, when the kids will sleep for most of the way. That’s a great option if the driver can stay awake.

During the summer, driving at night can also keep the temperature lower, meaning less stress on the engine and better fuel efficiency. The calculable savings is minimal, so compare it to the increased coffee you’ll require to drive all night before you make a decision.

The other factor to consider is traffic. If your timing will have you entering a major city at rush hour, change it. Leave earlier, leave later, or plan an extended rest stop along the way. Sitting in traffic is uncomfortable and stressful, and the stop-and-go movement is hard on your car and fuel efficiency.

Prep for travel emergencies

Take baby wipes. I cannot stress enough how handy, no, how essential a pack of baby wipes is in any car. Don’t have a baby? Doesn’t matter. Baby wipes will save the day in so many ways.

Coffee spill? Baby wipe. Messy face? Baby wipe. No napkins from the takeout place? Baby wipes. Smelling a little less-than-fresh after eight hours on the road? Baby wipes.

A first aid kit is essential, too. Buy a pre-packed one, or make your own and keep it in the car. You can include the essential items you know you’ll use the most, as well as any specialized care items you might need.

The other item that can save you from excess stress and cost is a car emergency kit. You should have the supplies to change a tire as well as a spare tire, flares, and jumper cables. It’s helpful to have a flashlight and basic tools on hand, as well. I’ve found it’s also helpful to have someone who’s adept at changing tires. (See also: The 5 Best Jump Starter Kits)

Regardless of your skill level, though, preparation can save you in many ways. When you’re prepared with snacks, entertainment, and emergency supplies you’ll spend less and be more relaxed. That makes for a much better road trip.