Don't Waste Your Money: How to save on family vacations - Toledo News Now, Breaking News, Weather, Sports, Toledo

Don't Waste Your Money: How to save on family vacations

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(Toledo News Now) - Have you calculated the cost of a family vacation lately? Not including airfare, you can end up paying $300 a day on hotels, food, and activities. But there are ways to cut those costs.

For many families, a week's vacation costs $2,000 or more. Not for Amy Graff and her family. Graff, a travel blogger, is driving across the country on a $200 a day maximum budget, including food, hotel and entertainment.

"We are on a family road trip," Graff said. "We started in Pittsburgh and are driving 800 miles."
    
We caught up with her in Cincinnati.

"We've driven the length of the Mississippi River, we've done Route 66. We've driven Highway 5 in California, Washington, and Oregon," Graff said.  So she knows how to travel.

Save on Driving

Graff's first tip for saving: Leave the full-size SUV at home.

"It's very tempting to take the SUV. It's roomy. But those things are gas hogs," Graff said.

A mid-size car, she says, "saves hundreds of dollars in gas. And yes, the kids are comfortable."

As you travel down the highway, Graff recommends the Gas Buddy app to find the cheapest gas at every exit.  

Save on Hotels

Then onto hotels. Full disclosure: Graff's blog is sponsored by Best Western Hotels.

But Graff says any modern roadside chain will work. She says you can still find clean rooms for less than $100 a night if you avoid downtown or the heart of a tourist town.

The Trip Advisor.com app or Trip Advisor website can help you find a good one with free perks, such as free breakfast, free parking, and Wi-Fi access, according to Graff.

Free breakfast can save a family $40 a day.

Another hotel booking tip: Make sure the hotel has a pool for free kids playtime.

"That is great entertainment for kids for hours. Let's face it, all kids really want to do is swim on a summer vacation," Graff said.

Save on Activities
    
Also free, or almost free: State parks, where you can fill an afternoon with hiking and exploring.
"Our budget for entertainment and activities is almost nothing," Graff said. "We have $10 a day, many days."

On days where they need to spend a few more dollars, Graff and her family visit theme parks and museums late in the day for discounts. They will often eat dinner (at an early bird special), then go to an attraction, which is the opposite way most travelers do it.

That's how they did the Andy Warhol Museum for just a few bucks.

"We went Friday night, after 5, when admission is half off," Graff said.

Save on Time Lost in Traffic

A driving trip can become miserable if you are stuck in a 45-minute traffic jam because of construction.

To avoid those frustrating summertime traffic jams, be sure to have a real-time traffic app like Waze or Inrix , if you are traveling with a smart phone.

Save on Food

And cheap eats? Graff says skip the sit-down chains, except for a special dinner, because a family can easily spend $60 a meal. If you do hit chains, she suggests going early for specials, and to avoid the dinner crowds.

But your best bet, she says, is first visiting the site Road Food, which finds inexpensive places where local residents eat. The website steers you to seafood dives, diners, and other places with good, affordable food, and memorable experiences. The type of restaurants you will want to take a photo of, standing next to the owner.

Bottom Line

With a little planning, and avoiding the road and restaurants most traveled, you can lower the cost of that family road adventure.

That way you don't waste your money.

Follow Graff's family's travels at On the Go with Amy .

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