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Family travel on a budget…

April 6, 2011 by · 7 Comments 


Traveling with 10 kids, we should be pros at RVing on a budget.  I don’t know that we’ve arrived, but we have learned a few things along the journey.   I’d like to share a few of the ways that we cut costs, and are therefore able to do more things during our trips.  When it comes to saving money, a little planning goes a long way (though not manditory!LOL):

Find the Chamber of Commerce or City Visitor’s Center.  If you are planning a trip, contact them and they are usually happy to send you a tourist packet – be sure to ask for a city map and any coupon books that they have!  Coupons are not just for grocery stores!   If you are just driving into town, stop by and ask for the same – also, don’t forget to ask what the locals like to do in town; the best eateries, attractions, parks…are not necessarily the most popular/advertised ones. 

Free is Good!  Like the Fort Worth Stockyards, the Fort Worth Water Park, the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens… (we were just in FW! LOL!)  Ask at the Chamber of Commerce; don’t forget, you can always just call them and ask if you don’t want to drive there.

If you enjoy history and nature, the National Parks National Access Pass is your best friend!  This pass is sold by the National Park system, and allows your vehicle (and occupants) to get into the National Parks for free (a few are already free, but many charge).  Our pass pays for itself several times over each year, and the kids love to do the Jr. Ranger programs at the parks (that’s free too!).  The Jr. Ranger badges they will earn make for great (and, again, free! LOL!) souvenirs!

elephant at the zooDon’t forget that search engines are pretty good friends too!!!   (personally, I like swagbucks!)  Search online to find your destinations, but then be sure to search for coupons and deal days for those specific places.  For instance, we were recently in Fort Worth, and went to a few different destinations there.  By searching online, we found out that going to the FW Zoo on Wednesdays would save us $68. (1/2 price day)  (we further saved money in FW by stopping by a visitor’s center located next to the Texas Rangers Museum, where we saved $18 by picking up coupons to the museum).  Some museums and zoos also have free days through-out the year; those days tend to be busier than others, but hey, for free…  :)

If you are traveling with kids, or even if you are just thinking that you may want to visit a destination more than once in a year, be sure to ask about memberships.  For our family, it is often cheaper to buy a yearlong family membership than to pay to get in a museum or zoo for just one day.  A few businesses also have a family rate where you can pay a flat fee for entrance instead of a per person rate.  Employees are not always on top of the admission info – and don’t have a vested interest in getting you in for the best deal.  It never hurts to ask  :)

One of the best deals to consider if you are planning on traveling much is to buy a membership to a zoo or museum that offers reciprocal membership benefits.  If a zoo belongs to the American Zoo Association, there are zoos all over the country that will offer you free or half price admission when you show your home zoo’s membership card.  Last year we spent a few days in Carlsbad, NM, and ended up buying a $50. family membership to get into the Desert Museum there – it was cheaper than getting in once at the daily rate.  We later used that same membership to get us into the Phoenix Zoo for half price, where it saved us $97!  There are museums that offer the same deal.

If your kids are interested in a ‘resort’ destination (as opposed to ‘camping’), do check out RV Resorts – they often offer an arm-band system that will let your kids rent kayaks and pedal boats, play mini-golf, have water balloon wars, use the water slides… while you may spend a little more on the nightly site rental, the kids will be so busy that you may very possibly save money since you won’t need to leave the park to find fun stuff to do and pay for ‘extra curricular activities’ on top of your site rental. (worked for us!LOL!)

Also, if you are planning on staying in one place for more than a couple of days, consider making it a full week – many rv parks offer a weekly rate that may save you a full night or two off their daily rate!  Often you must ask if they have a weekly rate, it sometimes isn’t posted on their website.

Another way that our family saves on tickets for experiences (and even a great source to find fun, new things to do) is to watch for them on Groupon or Eversave, or a new site that I have found - Zozi.  Groupon and Eversave offer daily deals at restaurants, online shopping (eh, not so RVish), stores, and local fun things to do… everything from a $20 restaurant voucher to a local Thai restaurant for $10 – to half price zip line tours or go-karts.  I love that I can sign up to get daily emails for whichever cities I choose (I always get Phoenix, San Antonio, and DFW as I KNOW that we will go there every year!) and can tell what the deals are without even opening the emails – I just delete them if I’m not interested in the deal. 

Zozi is an exclusive kind of deal site - it is pretty new, and they are still working on getting all the cities up, but they are unique in that they specialize in DOINGS!  Only experiences – from discounted kayaking tours to a deal on sailboat lessons to top half price chef classes to cheap golf at a upscale course.  Check them out – we have found some great (and inexpensive!) things to do through these sites!

Traveling with a family creates memories that your children (or grands!) will cherish for the rest of their lives.  With fuel prices skyrocketing, it is worth the time it takes to look around for a deal – and may just mean that you get to do a few more fun activities along the journey!  Hope that you have found some ideas here to help your family stretch their travel dollars! 

 Happy RVing!!!


7 Responses to “Family travel on a budget…”
  1. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Dana T.,
    Thank you, for all of this great info !!!! How many trailers are you pulling to sleep 10 kids!!!!!!!!!! I saw
    a trailer that slept 9 for sale the other day on PPL RVs… The next time y’all are in THE GREAT STATE OF TEXAS come on by the RunningStar Ranch and see my mini horses… Of course, we’re not anywhere near the Poisonplex(D/FW); we’re out where the ‘good’ air is !!!!!!!! AND WE’VE GOT ZOOS

    Smooth roads & balmy breezes !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Patti Faustini says:

    Hi Diane, I’m going to pass your blog on…I know a family who will be traveling the country in a converted Bluebird Bus with kids…you have some great ideas. Thank you.

    Happy Tales,


  3. dana t. says:

    Thanks for the invite Butterbean! Be careful tho, we may just take you up on it!!! LOL! My girls LOVE miniature horses!!! We spent the last 2 months in TX – traveled her from El Paso to Fredricksburg, then to Padre Island and the RGV and on to Amistad. Hit Austin, Galveston, DFW, and back out through El Paso! (highlights of course)
    We LOVE TX!!! ;)

    And thanks for passing the blog on Patti – I hope that they can find some good info on it, or at least some reassurance and encouragement! :)

  4. Thank you for some great ideas. Free is always the best!
    Internet can offer so much info on how to save a few bucks here and there.

  5. Charity Birr says:

    Dana T. I would be interested in using your blog as a reference in a research paper I am doing for my Composition II class about budget friendly family camping. I would like permission to use it and I assure you I will give credit due on any portion that I refer to. I would gladly send you a copy of my paper also if you like. Thank you for considering my request. Charity B.

  6. Hi Charity~

    I just sent you an e-mail giving permission to use this article in your paper. Good luck! Hope you get an “A”!

  7. Gail says:

    I don’t know if this is available in the U.S. or just in Canada, but WagJag is also great for offering online deals for a variety of things, and you can specify which cities you want to see for deals. You can save substantial amounts (i.e. up to 70%) on a wide variety of merchandise and activities: oil changes, bowling, dining, spa treatments, and haircuts, just to name a few. You usually have several days to purchase anything you are interested in, and each deal tells you how many you may buy and when they expire, which helps make it a little easier to plan outings.

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