I’m sitting in a hotel room in Racine, WI at 7:00 am as I write this. We were in Racine to participate in the Racine Ironman 70.3 triathlon race yesterday. The race is over, and while I’ll have things to say about it on both my other (fitness) blog, and later on here about racing costs, today’s post was going to be a “How To” on saving money on family road trips… until I read Andrea’s post this morning.
So instead of a how to, let’s talk about what we did – right, wrong, or otherwise. First, I’ll establish one thing. This trip was all about our race. This was not meant to be a family vacation; in fact, had we been able to, we wouldn’t have brought the kids with us at all. Race day lasted 13 hours, from the time we left for the race site until we returned to the hotel. My kids are older (15, 13, 9), so we left them food, money, and video games, and left them at the hotel. They would have been miserable at the race site. That said, we had to bring them with us, and bringing them added significant costs to our trip. So how did we save a little money?
We rented two hotels rooms in Racine. I rented them in a (truly) discount hotel, so 2 rooms for 3 nights cost us less than $300 after taxes, but it saved our sanity. We needed to go to bed at 9:30 the night before the race, and our alarm went off at 4:00 am that morning. Having kids in the room would have been tough. As well, with 3 kids, we always need a cot, which makes the room painfully crowded. The second room was one of the best decisions I made for the trip!
The downside of the hotel? The advertised continental breakfast consisted of…. coffee, juice, and donuts. I kid you not. Not even bread for toast. Just donuts. Sigh. So that could have cost us a lot of money, but we had planned for things like this. The hotel rooms each had mini fridges in them (score!), plus we had brought a cooler for our trip. We ate all our breakfasts and lunches out of that cooler. I brought cereal, bread, sandwich meat, cheese, peanut butter and granola from home. Once we crossed the border into the US, we stopped and bought fruit, vegetables, milk and yogurt. Compared to spending $35+ on breakfast and $50+ on lunch every day, this was huge savings. I think we spent less than $70 total on everything for breakfast and lunch for 5 days.
We had agreed that dinner each night would be at a restaurant. We are not fans of fast food, plus it isn’t that good for all of us, so budget fast food menus were not what we wanted. The first night, we stopped at… a truck stop (Bruce used to drive long haul truck, and he knew this “great place”). You know what? The food was fantastic, the service was excellent, kids under 10 ate free (score!), and dinner set us back under $60 including a generous tip. And three of us had steak! The next night, we found a terrific local pizza place in Racine. Dinner was $55 after tip, and we had leftovers for lunch the next day too.
Saturday night was not as frugal (or as good, honestly). Dinner wound up being $85. What did we do wrong? Well, the place we chose was a little higher end so the meals were more expensive, (stick with the tiny, busy local places, great food at great prices!), we ordered two appetizers, and the food wouldn’t have heated well so we didn’t have our leftovers boxed.
On race night, for various reasons, including the heat, neither Bruce nor I wanted much on race day, so we took the kids to Denny’s where we again at for $55 including tip, and brought back boxed leftovers. Tonight will be our last night on the road, I think we’ll be in Minneapolis, so we should have choices.
As for activities, as I said, this wasn’t a family vacation, but we still wanted the kids to have some fun. Friday we took the kids to the Racine zoo. Admission was $25 (turns out we got free kids admission in our Ironman race kits, but we didn’t get those kits until after our visit to the zoo). Plus we paid $15 to feed the giraffes (totally worth the experience, I got licked by a giraffe!!), and $15 more for the kids to go on camel rides. Then on Saturday, we stopped at a dollar store and bought $4 worth of sand toys, and took the kids to the beach. Bruce & I got in a last minute swim practice, and we all spent 4 hours on the beach playing in the sand. Total cost? $4. Pretty cheap entertainment.
Our biggest saving on the whole trip? Beverages. It was hot. HOT. Each day was 90F+ (32C+), and sunny, and HUMID. Staying hydrated was a must. We could have easily spent $40+ daily buying cold drinks for us and the kids, which would have blown our budget to pieces. Instead, I think we brought almost every plastic drink bottle we had with us, plus we brought a pitcher and a spoon. We bought gallon jugs of bottled water from the Racine Piggly Wiggly (love that store!), that were $.78 for the first one (we bought 2), then $.39 each to refill. We went through 2 gallons a day. The in-room fridge kept them cold, and our cooler and some ice kept our bottles cold when we left the room. The pitcher? Allowed us to make some Crystal Light (bought on sale, at home), so that we weren’t drinking just plain water all the time. We allowed the kids (and us) to order a beverage with dinner if they wanted, but any other time it was water, milk, or juice. That worked out great.
So there it is – a few ways we saved money on our recent road trip. I know we could have saved more, but this was a compromise that worked for all of us.